Thursday, June 27, 1996

Mark Cross and the Building of Houses in Janeville and Connolly's Lanes

Dr. George Cross, Medical Doctor, Dental Surgeon and Gemmologist, accompanied by his wife recently travelled from his home in Christchurch, Dorset to visit Athy where his Cross ancestors lived during the last century. It was not his first visit to Athy but on this occasion he was able to positively identify properties in the town once associated with his family. His great grandfather was Mark Cross who in Slaters Directory for 1846 was described as a Civil Engineer and builder of Market Square. This of course is the present Emily Square and Dr. Cross, born in England over 80 years ago, was able to pinpoint Mark Cross's former house as the property where Dwyer and Cleary now carry on a dental practice.

Dr. Cross brought with him a map dated 1836 showing outlined in red a plot of ground lying to the south side of the then Church of England Church in Athy which ground had been originally let by the Duke of Leinster to Dr. Clayton. Clayton was a local G.P. living in The Abbey and the property on the map was that of the present corner shop and the two houses facing on to Emily Square occupied by Dwyer and Cleary and the Fennin family. I have previously come across references to that Church which stood in Market Square up to 1840's but never before had I seen a reference as in this map to Church Lane which ran from the corner of the Carlow Road towards the river as far as the entrance to Dr. Clayton's house. The road now referred to as Emily Row between the corner shop and the Credit Union Office on the map carried the notation "from the Market Square to Prestons Gate". Prestons Gate stood opposite Paddy Garrett's house in Offaly Street and if ever you are in St. Michael's old cemetery look for the tomb stone, in the corner of the medieval Church which gives Prestons Gate as the address of one James Kenna. The property outlined on the map which had been originally let by the Duke of Leinster to Dr. Clayton was apparently later transferred by Dr. Clayton to Mark Cross.

Two other maps brought from Dorset to Athy by Dr. Cross were of even greater interest. One marked "Plan of Janeville 1872" carried the additional notation "commenced 4th January 1872, finished 20th April 1872". Regrettably somebody had obliterated what would have surely been the building cost for this small scheme of houses leaving only the word "pounds" to be read.

The scaled drawings consisted of a plan and front elevation of the ten houses, five on either side of the laneway which was known as Janeville Lane. It is highly probably given that the drawings were in Dr. Cross's possession that the builder was Mark Cross, Civil Engineer and Building Contractor of Market Square. The Mark Cross of 1872 was son of Mark Cross mentioned in Slater’s Directory of 1846. Each single storey house consisted of two rooms with a floor area measuring 13 ft. by 18 ft. 6 ins. or 240 sq. ft. approximately. The tiny dwellings were bounded on the east side by Hogan's yard which is now the short private laneway at the rear of No.'s 4 to 6 Offaly Street. On the south side of the houses lay Duncan's Gardens now Lawlers and on the west side Dr. Clayton's now Mrs. McDermott-Donnellys and on the north side Hogan's Lane. In recent years we have tended to refer to the entire area to the rear of Offaly Street which is entranced between 3 and 4 Offaly Street as Janeville Lane when in fact Janeville was the name of the ten house scheme to the left of the main laneway which was officially called Barkers Row. It was that latter lane which in the 1872 map was referred to as Hogan's Lane. The name Janeville was also used in connection with the cul-de-sac leading to Janeville Cottage at the rear of the present St. Michael's Church in Offaly Street. Whey this name was so popular in this small area of Athy I have yet to find out. The Janeville Lane houses are now derelict and only a few of them remain standing in a sadly dilapidated condition.

The second drawing was noted on its reverse as "Plans of Cottages built at Meeting Lane 1872". Again Mark Cross is believed to have constructed these houses and indeed a handwritten note on the map indicates that work on them started two days after the completion of the Janeville Lane houses. Commenced on the 22nd of April 1872 the seven houses were completed on the 17th of July 1872. Tantalisingly these details were followed by the words "cost" but without any insertion to satisfy our curiosity.

But where on Meeting Lane were these houses built? The first clue lay in the map itself which showed that on either side of the row of houses was to be found Cross's garden and Connolly's garden. This raised the possibility of Connolly's Lane which late 19th century town maps showed as running off Meeting Lane at the rear of the houses facing Emily Square. Dr. and Mrs. Cross with me as their guide went to Meeting Lane and there before us in the blanked up wall extending the full length of the garden to the rear of Mrs Germaine's house we saw the outline of the houses built in 1872. We counted the five doors and ten windows of the small one storey houses which once stood on the left side of the lane. The two houses built at the end of the lane are now gone but it is clear from the map that they had been constructed out of an old barn which stood on the site.

I was delighted to have had the opportunity of showing Dr. Cross and his wife the small houses which his predecessor Mark Cross had built 124 years ago. Dr. Cross videoed what remained of Connolly's Lane and Janeville Lane ending a journey which started with the finding of the two old maps amongst family papers in Christchurch, Dorset. Dr. Cross later wrote to me generously donating the maps to the local Museum where they will soon be on display when suitably framed.

Dr. Cross's family had a long association with Athy and Mrs. Anne Cross listed in 1910 Post Office Directory as a resident of The Square was the last member of the Cross family. Of course we all remember Wattie Cross of Duke Street but I believe he was not a member of the same family.

It is amazing how far the strands of local history stretch. In this case from Athy to Christchurch in Dorset where a few small maps not otherwise identifiable as relating to Athy town provided another link in the town's hidden past.

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