William Hurst Ashpitel (1776-1852)
Design for Ormond Bridge, Dublin 1805, watercolour on paper, approx. 107cms high x 38cms wide (42" x 15"), framed. (1)
* Over the centuries on the River Liffey, there have been several bridges built at Ormond Quay, at the point that links Winetavern Street to the South, with Chancery Place and the Four Courts to the North. In 1802, the humpback bridge designed by the Semple brothers in the mid-eighteenth century was swept away in a severe storm. A public competition was held to find an architect to design a replacement, and William Hurst Ashpitel of London was among those who entered the competition. His design won, as recorded in the inscription on this drawing: "Design for Ormond Bridge over the River Liffey, Dublin, submitted to the Corporation agreeably to public advertisement approv'd by them and honor'd with the premium of sixty guineas W. H. Ashpitel Architect 1805."
Ashpitel's drawing shows an elevation of the proposed bridge as seen from the east. Painted in sepia ink and Indian ink washes, it is a fine example of architectural rendering, and an important document in Irish architectural history, particularly as the architects of Ormond Bridge (now named O'Donovan Rossa Bridge) have heretofore been identified only as George Knowles and James Savage. The bridge, as built, is still there today and is essentially the same structure shown in Ashpitel's prize-winning drawing. Consisting of a wide and gently cambered roadway over three elliptical arches, it is Neo-Classical in design. In the drawing, a barge, sails aloft, navigates underneath the bridge, demonstrating the ample space provided by its graceful arches, while carriages, carts and pedestrians cross overhead. The balustrades are fitted with iron lanterns, and the arches embellished with Greek fret patterns. The entrance colonnade to the Four Courts can be seen on the right. In the background can be seen a temporary bridge, erected to take traffic while the new bridge was being built. Although Ashpitel's drawing is dated 1805, the new bridge took almost a decade to build, and Knowles and Savage were the architects employed to oversee the works. It is at a point on the river close to the original Viking settlement of Dublin, and many archaeological finds came to light during the years of construction. Completed in 1813 it was formally opened two years later and was initially named Richmond Bridge, after the Viceroy. Great pride was taken in the fact that the central arch had a longer span than any bridge in London. There were a few changes made to Ashpitel's design. The fret patterning was omitted, and keystones carved with Riverine heads were added, but otherwise the bridge today is identical to the one depicted in his drawing.
A pupil of Daniel Asher Alexander, William Hurst Ashpitel was an architect and surveyor who worked mainly in London. Having assisted Alexander in the design and building of the London docks, he was later a pupil of John Rennie the Elder, working on the Kennet and Avon canal, and also on the tunnel that ran underneath the city of Bath. After working in partnership with James Savage, Ashpitel, who was a member of the Surveyors' Club, set up his own practice in London. Working in both Classical and Gothic styles, he was involved in projects in Whitechapel and Hackney. Among the buildings he designed was a house for Sir Charles Talbot at Deepdene, in Surrey. Ashpitel's son Arthur was also an architect, and a noted writer on architecture.
Dr. Peter Murray, 2023