Drawing stones: Workmen’s Account Books of Powerscourt

One of the most important treasures, and my personal favourite of the village’s archives, is the set of Workmen’s Account Books for Powerscourt that are held in the National Library of Ireland*. These beautiful ledgers show in pedantic detail the daily lives of workers at Powerscourt and are available for several years in the 1840s, 1850s, 1870s as well as earlier years (1753, receipts for labour) and later years (1916, 1940s). These account books list out the names of the men working on the estate and what their chore was each day, every day of the year. As such they provide an incredible insight into the daily lives of estate workers on the estate. It’s a special treat for me that the account books of the 1850s and 1870s contain the name of my great-great grandfather Patrick Seery, and his elder brother Dan. Parish records of the time show that Pat was married to Mary Cassidy. The names of those working on the estate for a particular week in 1855 are listed below, along with their weekly pay. All barring one, Betsy Cavanagh, are men. Of course the staff working in the house would have had a larger number of women – see for example the 1901 Census returns for Powerscourt House.

Beside each name, the duties carried out each day were written, although there is much less detail in the 1870 books. These duties included “drawing manure”, “build[ing] hay rick”, working on “Tinnehinch Road” and the curious “Drawing Stones”. Some men, usually those at the top of the list (it appears to run on seniority), would be responsible for bringing lambs to Dublin or taking luggage to Dun Laoghaire. It is possible to follow through an entire yearly cycle in the account books and see how the estate life followed the farming year. The men worked everyday except Christmas Day. The number of workers peaked in the 1850s. In the books of the 1870s, the worker numbers was seasonal – a core staff at quieter times of the year with more being brought in during the harvest season.

Workmen’s Account Book for July 24 – 28, 1855, showing weekly pay and a sample daily activity

Jas McCue 8s Thistles & hay

Dan Seery 8s Gravel to park

Patt Seery 7s Mow church garden

William Coogan 7s Draw grass

John Townsell 7s Sewer fowl yd

Joe McCue 7s Draw grass & hay

Jas Clarke 7s Trim hedge

Patt Clarke 7s Paint gates

Henry Townsell 7s Clean ditch

Thos Burn 7s Clean church yd

William Harrison 5s 10d (did not work Saturday) Rake weeds

Jas Maddock 7s Mow grass and hay

Jacob Cullen 6s Roads

Thos Clarke 7s Make hay

John Boddy 5s 6d Cattle

Dan Townsell 7s River road

Matt Reilly 7s Mason (this might mean he was assigned to work with the mason, below)

Boys and Girls £2 3s 7d – Binding and at hay this week

Garden Acct this week £3 3s

Forresters Acct this week £5 16s

For sawing & marking 10 dozen gates @ 5/8 per dozen £2 16s 8d

For felling & carrying out 2 doz scaffolding poles at 1/ per dozen 2s

Jas Sutton (Mason) £1 Wall back road

Jerry Sutton (Carpenter) £1 Wicket gate

Richard Buckley 18s Repair Carts

Jas Neils girl (?) 2s Mind Tinnehinch gate

John Byrn 7s Mind Black Gate

Edward Toole 7s with Gamekeeper Deerpark

John Manley5s with Gamekeeper Powerscourt

George Coogan 4s with Gamekeeper Powerscourt

Betsy Cavanagh 7s mind fowl Powerscourt

Others listed in margin

Patt Costello (Pension) 6s

Peter McCue p.Boy 6s

Saul Messit S. Car 5s (Saul Messit drove the school car)

P Reilly Roads 7s

W Carney Roads 7s

Joe Barton (Burton?) Cattle 8s

Jas Drake Yard 8s

Recapitulation of acct for week ended July 28th 1855

Labour Stewards Dept £10 7s 11d

Labour Garden Dept £3 3s

Labour Tradesmen £2 18s

Labour Forresters $8 14s 8d

Labour Keepers £1 12s

*These account books are available to view in the Manuscripts Reading Room, National Library of Ireland, 2 – 3 Kildare St.