Thursday, October 21, 2010

Letting Boole's memory collapse doesn't add up

No.5 Grenville Place, Cork (via Kman999, Flickr)

George Boole was the first Professor of Mathematics at Queen's College, Cork (now University College Cork) and is generally considered as the 'father' of computer science, although he wouldn't have known that at the time.

He died in Cork in 1864 at the young age of 49, of pneumonia after being drenched; walking from his then home in Ballintemple to the University to give a lecture in wet clothes. I have often used this story in my own lectures by jokingly telling students that it is a lesson for us all: if it's raining, don't go to college and stay in bed! Unfortunately, some students take the joke literally; although that's another story.

From 1849 to 1855, Boole lived in a house in Grenville Place in the city while working at the college (for a more complete biography of Boole, see here). This house has been derelict for at least as long as I can remember and probably much longer.

This morning, emergency services attended to the building with reports of a ceiling having collapsed. It is hardly surprising given the derelict nature of some of the properties in the locality.

(via greeblemonkey, flickr)
The fact that a building associated with one of our most famous and successful scientists is in such a state and faces an uncertain future, is distressing from both a scientific and a historical viewpoint. Across the nation and across the world, buildings of historical importance have been protected to ensure that they survive to the next generation.

The National Inventory of Architectural Heritage describes number 5, Grenville Place as "Terraced double-pile two-bay four-storey former house over basement, built c. 1770, with full-height projecting bow to west elevation...This house is part of a fine eighteenth-century terrace with the six adjoining houses to the west and south-east, and this terrace forms part of a significant group with the terrace of four houses to the east. These terraces are notable pieces in the urban landscape which were built in the eighteenth century close to the fashionable former mansion house. The building is enhanced by the retention of interesting features and materials, such as the timber sliding sash windows, limestone paving, slate roof and interior fittings. The house is also associated with George Boole, the first Professor of Mathematics at Queen's College, Cork, who lived here in the mid nineteenth century."

The building at Grenville Place is a protected building on Cork City Council's list of Protected Structures (Ref PS129) and a plaque describing the connection with Boole is clearly visible on the front of the building. However, putting it on a list and erecting a plaque is not much good if roof and walls are falling down around it.

Meanwhile, at the same time as Cork is neglecting it's Boolean heritage, Boole's birthplace of Lincoln in the UK is preparing for Boolefest. This celebration of all things Boole takes place between the 29th October and 6th of Novemeber 2010 and will include exhibitions, performances and public lectures at the University of Lincoln.

Number 5 during the floods of last November (with thanks to Mon Boys Forum


Imogen October 21, 2010 at 5:32 PM  

I worked in Distillery House, opposite Boole's house, for nearly two years and shook my head in sadness at such a lovely and historic house decaying almost every day. Could we not start a heritage project to get people with skills together to renovate it? Perhaps it is owned by someone who doesn't care, but I have no idea of the details...

Anonymous October 21, 2010 at 10:48 PM  

yes you would be correct by saying you dont know the details. the owner very much does care what happens to this house, as its been in the family for generations. things look much simpler from an outlookers point of view.

Mark M October 22, 2010 at 7:45 AM  

To Anonymous - the owner may profess to care very much for this building but actions and evidence say otherwise. On lookers like myself can only see the evidence as it is presented currently, and recent pictures of this building suggest that no care is being taken to make this building safe - a pedestrian will eventually be struck with an object from this buiding - or worse.

Anonymous October 22, 2010 at 5:01 PM  

to mark. i completly take your point and looking from the outside it would seem that way. But believe me its nothing to do with laziness nor not caring about the building, but due to private circumstances. luckily nobody has been hurt, and everything is being done now to make it as safe as possible. for me personally im very saddened, as its apart of my family history for so long. thank you.

irishocity October 22, 2010 at 10:26 PM  

So, if I take your point then, the house is held in private hands? What protection is the house afforded by it being on Cork City Council's list of Protected Structures (Ref PS129)? ... When was the last time it was occupied?

Eoin Lettice October 23, 2010 at 8:59 PM  

There are (unconfirmed) reports that the house is due to be demolished, on safety grounds, in the next few days.
That the situation has been allowed to deteriorate to this point is a terrible indication of our ability to protect our historical, architectural and scientific heritage.

Anonymous October 23, 2010 at 9:00 PM  

I agree that this building needs to be saved but having done a year of planning at UCC I know enough to know that having a listed building in your possession isn't an easy thing. There are serious finances needed for some buildings with serious responsibilities and very little (almost no) help from councils or government.

UCC PhD Student

Anonymous October 24, 2010 at 2:13 AM  

do people think that because the owner owns such a big house that they have money to burn???to renovate the house would be into the millions. its amazing that people who think they know everthing actually know nothing.n for the record the owner cant do a thing to the building because of cicumstances beyond their control

Anonymous October 24, 2010 at 2:38 PM  

I went down there this morning and took these photos:

As usual, in this country, there are no advance warnings for pedestrians so you will find that you can't cross the river from the old distillery end of North Mall and you have to walk up to North Main street to get across plus it would seem that many motorists are confused as to whether or not only one side of the road is closed off and apparently a car crashed into the hurriedly erected barrier destroying some of the old railings.

Margaret Jordan October 26, 2010 at 2:11 PM  

It is a shame to see such a historic building decay like this. The whole area around it seems to be neglected by Cork City Council. The damage done by the floods in November 2009 is still not repaired a year later!

kate October 28, 2010 at 10:24 PM  

the person to contact re the conservation of this listed building is the Conservation Officer, Cork City Council. The CIty Mayor also, and the new City Manager.
Funds for our Heritage have always been low. I do not know the individual story here but it may be that the owner has no finance to cconserve it properly, or if it is like this for years, then there may be another reason..............

Digital Heritage Ireland November 2, 2010 at 3:42 PM  

As a founder of Digital Heritage Ireland and keen on developing support services in this country (Ireland) for built heritage, I am so perplexed by the lack of care of Ireland's heritage, especially buildings of significant importance.

There are far too many buildings like these in need of urgent help.

David Mullins

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