To Drag Free Citizens to the Tenter-fields, and There to Torment Them

Possibly the only portrait of John Rocque – this upperclass man with his ‘way-wiser’ is drawn in his map of Middlesex – source.

In 1754, John Rocque came to Dublin. In 1756, he produced the four-sheet Exact survey of the city and suburbs of Dublin. The map extended as far north as Skerries, as far south as Enniskerry, and as far west as Carton House in Kildare. It’s an astounding source for Irish history in the eighteenth century; you can get your own copy of the highlights (and walk around Dublin with it, like a historical tourist!) for fifteen tiny euro here.

The part of Rocque’s map that corresponds to the postcode of Dublin 8 today. Click to make nice and big. It was on this part of the map, with so few buildings, that the map engraver, Andrew Dury, signed his name.

The above image from his map shows the Tenterfields. The upright rectangles that look a little like gravestones are actually posts for stretching freshly woven fabric; you can see the thinner wooden slats that run between them too. After wool was woven, it needed to be cleaned, and to prevent shrinking after washing (you can see a river course running through the map above – this is a branch of the Poddle, which provided water for this), it was stretched out to dry. The large wooden frames were called tenters (from the Latin, tendere, to stretch), and the black iron hooks that held the fabric in place were called tenterhooks.

This area of Dublin was the Earl of Meath’s Liberty, and the (seventh) Earl of Meath at this time was Edward Brabazon (d. 1772). He encouraged religious refugees, especially Huguenots, from northern continental Europe to settle there, and they came in great numbers, bring their silk-weaving skills with them.

Click to make bigger. It’s a little difficult to make out, but the street names are in white type, and correspond to the ones drawn in the map above.

The area that is shown in the above map, today. Most of the street names are the same, and Weaver’s Square has survived as a name too. It’s fascinating that a little part of the weaving fields has been left as field (well, park) in the centre of Oscar Square. You can use the streetview on Google Maps at this link to virtually walk around it and take a closer look at how the Tenterfields appear today.

An engraving from England showing the processes of washing, fulling, and hanging woollen cloth. Source.

The Tenterfields of Dublin were famous for activity other than textile weaving. Eighteenth-century magazines are full of accounts of ‘unofficial justice’ being carried out there. From the 1784 Hibernian Magazine:

June 26th. A journeyman tailor, named Boyd, from Mullinahack, was taken from his bed early in the morning, and dragged by a mob into the Liberty. In the Tenter-fields they stripped him naked to his breeches, and tarred and feathered him. The military soon appeared, with one of the Sheriffs, and rescued him. His crime was being a colt, alias a countryman, who did not serve his time regular, and wrought up English cloth. – Many other persons have been served in the same manner, being considered as enemies to the trade and manufacturers of Ireland.

The 1786 Parliamentary Register (which recorded debates that happened in the Irish House of Commons) discussed legislation for these Tenterfield Crimes, after being petitioned by the sheriffs of Dublin to “entitle an Act for improving the police of the city of Dublin”:

(The Attorney General) If passed into law… it will preserve the public peace, and that there will be an end to that branch of the police, the tarring and feathering committee. There will be an end to the … set of ruffians hired and paid by those worthy constitutional gentlemen, to drag from his habitation any citizen that refuses to take such illegal oaths as they were pleased to administer… to drag free citizens to the Tenter-fields, and there to torment them with whipping and other marks of ignominy…

Stove Tenter House, Cork St, Dublin. Source. This is an 1818 print of the south view. It still stands, and has been used by different charitable groups as a homeless shelter since the early twentieth century.

The open-air nature of the Tenterfields meant that the workers were very much at the mercy of the weather; it was high-risk labour. In the early nineteenth century, the weavers, the (tenth) Earl, and the Royal Dublin Society came together to raise money for a solution to this. The philanthropist Thomas Pleasants offered the funding for the purchase of a site, and a building. 1815 saw the construction of the Stove Tenter House on Cork Street, just down the road from Weaver’s Square and the Tenterfields. It was a huge warehouse, where all the frames could be assembled indoors, and the woven fabric hung from them to dry.


Wouldn’t it be wonderful if there were some kind of a plaque there, commemorating the history of the place, and showing a snapshot of what a very different place it was in the middle of the 18th century? I will drive there this week and report back to you if there is.


Check out this 1950’s painting of the Weavers’ Hall building, with a potted history beneath.


Thanks to Paddy Higgins, author of this fantastic book A Nation of Politicans, which you can buy online from Google Books, for sending me this image! Isn’t it fantastic! Make sure you read what is in the speech bubbles (and then this)!

Click to make it bigger.


Michael Seery, author of Enniskerry: A History has sent this fabulous picture (2 pictures stuck together for a landscape view) of the Stove Tenter House today. The window count is the same, the only difference is the missing chimney.

The chimney is missing because the floors and windows had to be lowered, thanks again to Michael Seery for finding this info out! Here’s what it said in the Dublin Historical Record, it was done soon after 1861.

This entry was posted in dublin, dublin, eighteenth century, ireland, laws, nineteenth century, weaving. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to To Drag Free Citizens to the Tenter-fields, and There to Torment Them

  1. Pingback: Weekend Reads 11 | Irish Historical Textiles

  2. Nic says:

    Love this. So great to see the 2 maps. Your research is so meticulous as always. Thanks!

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  4. I’ve placed a link from my blog ” St Patrick’s Cathedral & Glorious Revolution” to your great article on the Tenters Have a look at my web-site and blog


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