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Darley Collection

Drawings of chimney-pieces created by George and Hill Darley in the course of their work as stone-cutters in Dublin between c. 1757-1813.

The Darley Family

The Darleys were an important family of stone-cutters, sculptors, builders and architects who were active across two centuries in Dublin and Co. Down. Henry Darley (d.c.1728), was a stone-cutter and quarryman in Newtownards, Co. Down in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century. Henry’s three sons, Moses (d.1754), Arthur (1692-1742) and Hugh (1701-1771), followed him into the stone-cutting trade, as would many of their children in turn.

The middle son, Arthur Darley, married, firstly, Elizabeth Thompson (d.c.1725), by whom he had a son – Edward (1718-1794). Following his wife’s death, Arthur then married Mary Wirling, the daughter of a Presbyterian minister, and had four sons who survived into adulthood - George (1731-1813), John (1733-1785), Hill (1735-1800) and Arthur (1740-1818). All four were born in Newtownards. It is said that when Arthur died suddenly in 1742, leaving no will, his property passed to his first son Edward, who made no provision for Arthur’s widow and her family. It was therefore left to the eldest son of his second family, George, to support them and as such, aged seventeen, he travelled to Dublin.

It has been suggested that George was most likely apprenticed to his cousin, Henry Darley, a successful contractor and son of Moses Darley. An examination of the lists of Ancient Freemen of Dublin shows that George Darley, mason, was admitted by special grace in Easter 1757. Craftsmen who were not born in Dublin and who were not members of a trade guild were sometimes granted admission in this way. Indeed, George’s uncles Moses and Hugh had gained admission by special grace in 1720 and 1738 respectively. Just a few months after George, in September 1757, Hill Darley, mason, was admitted following service with Henry Darley. In 1760, John Darley, mason, was admitted following service with Moses Darley and finally in Midsummer 1765, Arthur Darley, carpenter, was admitted following service though his Master is not named. From these beginnings, this branch of the Darley family prospered.

By the 1760s, George, John and Hill were all working in Dublin as stone-cutters, while the youngest, Arthur, was both a carpenter and a builder. George is listed in Dublin directories as a stone-cutter from as early as 1761 when he was based on York Street. He moved in 1775 to 5 Mercer’s Street where he and his brother Hill operated a stone-cutting business together from 1785 until 1800, the year of Hill’s death. It should be noted that George was generally referred to as George Darley Junior, to avoid confusion with his cousin of the same name, age and occupation. It seems likely that John worked with George and Hill as he too is listed at York Street from 1768 and moved to Mercer’s Street in the same year as George, though he is not listed at the same address. Arthur operated his business from Dorset Street from 1773 until 1794, moving from no. 42 to no. 53 in 1787. He was declared bankrupt in July 1792.

The Collection

This collection of ninety drawings of chimney-pieces was donated to the Royal Irish Academy in 1889 by Sterling Ballantine, a stone-cutter of Dublin. Ballantine suggested that the Academy might be interested in the drawings as a record of ‘the high state of workmanship existing in Dublin more than a century ago’. These drawings are considered to be one of the most extensive collections of original late eighteenth-century designs for chimney-pieces in Britain or Ireland.

The drawings would most likely have been working documents, created to show potential clients the variety of designs and materials which could be provided. It is for this reason that a number of the drawings show chimney-pieces with different marble and decorative options on either side. The working nature of the drawings is further apparent from the various pencil annotations which feature - scale rules, measurements and even price. The majority of the designs are noted as costing between £20 - £75, a huge sum of money for the period. A number of the drawings have also been annotated with names and addresses.

Being as a number of the drawings bear the signature of Hill Darley and the fact that he was never listed individually in directories as a stone-cutter, it seems likely that the drawings were created by both George and Hill Darley in the course of their work together. One drawing (3 C 34/3/25) bears the name of Arthur Darley, suggesting that he occasionally worked with his brothers, presumably in his capacity as a builder. 

It is clear from one drawing (3 C 34/3/40) that by 1848, Sterling Ballantine not only had possession of the drawings but was in fact using them in his own work. That particular drawing is signed ‘Hill Darley, Mercer Street’, with a later inscription noting ‘This design is in Mr. Ennis’ House on Merrion Square, altered by S. Ballantine for the Music Room. 1848.’

The drawings have a fairly clear provenance in that Ballantine stated that it was the late Henry Darley of Stillorgan who gave him the drawings. This Henry Darley was George Darley’s grandson. However, it is not known how this transaction came to pass as there is no evidence of a business or personal connection between the Darley and Ballantine families. Interestingly, Henry Darley died in 1856, while there is evidence that Ballantine had possession of the drawings from at least 1848 so perhaps the drawings had transferred into the Ballantine’s ownership soon after the death of George in 1813.

Further information on the Darleys and Ballantines can be found in the catalogue for this collection, Special List A045, please click here to open.

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