THE OWNERS of the former Bewley’s Cafe on Westmoreland Street in Dublin are facing legal action following damage to valuable stained-glass windows believed to be the work of the father of artist Harry Clarke.
Dublin City Council has issued a warning letter and said it will take enforcement action in relation to the broken windows in the “Fleet Room” which, it said, are protected structures of “some significance”. The windows are the work of the Clarke family firm and are believed to have been designed by Joshua Clarke, father of Harry Clarke who made the iconic stained-glass windows in Bewley’s on Grafton Street.
The windows face on to Fleet Street and Price’s Lane and are believed to date from the late 1890s. Several panes of the leaded glass have been broken, putting the owners of the building in breach of the planning permission which requires the protection of the 100-year-old stained glass.
One of Dublin’s best-known businesses, Bewley’s on Westmoreland Street closed seven years ago and, unlike its sister cafe on Grafton Street, never reopened.
In January 2005, the council granted planning permission to Bewley’s Oriental Cafes, the then owners of the Westmoreland Street site, to redevelop the cafe and change the ground-floor use from a cafe to retail outlet.
The decision was appealed to An Bord Pleanála by the Save Bewleys Cafe Campaign and An Taisce, and the change of use was refused by the planning board in June 2005.
The premises was subsequently sold in September 2006 to a group involving former Bewley’s managing director Col Campbell, property developer Simon Kelly and the Thomas Read Group, which owned several Dublin bars and restaurants, in a deal reported to be worth about €25 million.
The Thomas Read Group was to manage the Westmoreland Street premises as a cafe and restaurant, but the plans never came to fruition and the building subsequently went into receivership.
The council had reached an agreement with receiver Jim Hamilton that repairs would be carried out to the windows by a specialist stained-glass conservator under the supervision of a conservation architect. However, it is understood that the building has recently been sold and the damage has not been repaired.
Chairman of the National Conservation and Heritage group Damien Cassidy, who alerted the council to the broken windows, criticised the failure to protect them.
“When you buy a heritage property you buy all the obligations which go with that, including the obligation to protect it properly.”
Mr Cassidy said his group offered its assistance to the council to protect the windows, but the offer had not been taken up.
“The council have allowed this appalling neglect to happen, they had a responsibility to ensure that these windows were protected – and they failed.”