Updated: Apr 2
Among the exhibits at the Museum of Country Life at Turlough, Co. Mayo, is the Velocipede, affectionately known as the “bone shaker", sold by James Robinson of Grafton Street, Dublin. James Robinson's name is linked to Herbert Hill house, one of the last large-scale demesne sites in Dublin's Dundrum to be developed for modern apartments. It was the family home of James Robinson and his descendants for many decades in the 19th century.
Thom’s Directory of 1862 has an unusual entry for James Robinson. He was described as Optician to the Viceroy, but also as a philosophical artist. He called his shop at No. 65 Grafton Street a Polytechnic Museum where he sold magic lanterns, scientific toys, telescopes, microscopes, model steam engines and the said Velocipede. (See photograph below. )This Aladdin's Cave of a shop on Grafton Street also catered to the new technology of photography and had a photographic studio from the early 1850s. By the 1860s the shop was retailing outdoor sports equipment especially for cricket. In 1869 soda machines were added to the stock.
James Robinson (1811-1877) was the son of a Liverpool furniture maker, Joseph Robinson, and Elizabeth Spufford. His parents were members of the Baptist congregation of Byron Street, Liverpool.
Herbert Hill was put up for sale in 1881 as part of the estate of James Robinson, along with the adjoining house, Rockville, which was also part of the estate. A good description of the house in its heyday was given in the prospectus. It stood on 3 acres, 2 roods and 39 perches. It had 8 bedrooms, a large dining room and several drawing rooms, two w.c.’s and an ample cellar. The ad was keen to stress that running water from the Vartry would soon be available to the new buyer.
In terms of the garden, Herbert Hill had three greenhouses, a vinery, a forcing house, cucumber and even melon plots. It had a coach house with stabling for three horses and an ample hay loft. Newspaper ads in the 1880s revealed that cockerels were raised and sold from the house too.
More on the Robinson family tree can be explored on the excellent website, YOUWHO? by June Bow & Karen Poff. Further details on the history of Herbert Hill is available on the same website. See also an article on the Kenny family of Herbert Hill Lodge.