Dictionary of Irish Architects 1720 - 1940

Architect, of Dublin, active from 1721 or earlier until 1777 or later. Michael Wills, the only son of ISAAC WILLS ISAAC WILLS , was probably born in the 1690s. He became a draughtsman and personal assistant in the office of THOMAS BURGH THOMAS BURGH (1) and between 1719 and 1737 oversaw the building of Burgh's design for Steevens's Hospital, Dublin, though he was only officially appointed clerk of works in March 1731, after Burgh's death.(2) In 1745 he was one of six contestants for a Dublin Society architecture premium awarded for designs for small houses.(3.) Although initially chosen to design St Patrick's Hospital, Dublin, by the governors, his proposal was subsequently turned down in favour of one by GEORGE SEMPLE. GEORGE SEMPLE. (4) He is almost certainly the 'Mr Wills' who in the late 1740s designed a new Bishop's Palace at Elphin, Co. Roscommon, for the Bishop of Elphin, Dr Edward Synge, who refers to him in his letters to his daughter Alicia during this period.(5) Wills was also given charge of works at the Bishop's house in Kevin Street, Dublin, circa 1747. A memorandum by him dated 20 April 1745 which criticizes an estimate for wainscotting the new dining hall at Trinity College and contains a new calculation of the cost is in the college muniments.(6)

After the death of Isaac Wills in 1753 Michael Wills apparently continued in business under his father's name. His own name does not appear in Wilson's Dublin directories, but 'Isaac Wills' is listed from 1769 until 1783, at Clarendon Street until 1774 and at 14 Clarendon Street thereafter. The personal accounts which Michael Wills kept from 1753 to 1759 show him working at Shelton Abbey and Kilmacurragh (West Aston), Co. Wicklow, with other minor work, some perhaps surveying work.(7) The accounts also show that he owned a considerable amount of property in Dublin, from which he received substantial rents. Between 1763 and 1777 he was treasurer to the Friendly Brothers of St Patrick. The date of his death is not recorded. His accounts indicate that he lived with three sisters, Martha Bowman, who was presumably widowed, and Eleanor and Patience Wills. A fourth sister, Anne, married John Rowlett in 1734.(8)

Wills was a cultivated man. Towards the end of his life, he embarked on an annotated translation of Johann de Laet's 1649 version of Vitruvius's De architectura. He did not succeed in finishing the translation, only reaching the preface to Book Five.(9) On the evidence of his annotations and of his cash book, he had strong religious convictions, which were practically expressed in works of philanthropy. According to a note in his cashbook, he waived his annual salary of £30 as clerk of works of Steevens's Hospital in order to promote the work of the institution.(10)

The Irish Architectural Archive holds Will's cash book mentioned above (Acc. 81/88). The vellum-bound volume was used by him for three separate sets of accounts: those kept by him as clerk of works for the building of Steevens's Hospital from November 1731 until June 1737; personal accounts from the time of his father's death in June 1753 until December 1759 (these were continued in a later, missing volume); and those kept by him as Grand Treasurer of the Friendly Brothers of St Patrick, from August 1762 until February 1777. The Archive also holds a plan, section and elevation of the schoolmaster's house at the Erasmus Smith School in Drogheda, dated 1728 (Acc. 92/24) and has photographs of a collection of drawings which were in the collection of Sheelagh Davis-Goff, Lissan House, Co. Dublin, in 1982 which contains at least four survey drawings by Wills.(11)

See WORKS and BIBLIOGRAPHY. BIBLIOGRAPHY.



References

Wills's career is discussed by Christine Casey in 'Books and builders: a bibliographic approach to Irish eighteenth-century architecture', Trinity College, Dublin, Ph.D thesis, 1991 (not seen).

(1) Rolf Loeber,A Biographical Dictionary of Architects in Ireland 1600-1720 (1981), 32,33,37,38. Sheelagh Davis-Goff, Lissan House, Co. Dublin, has a signed drawing by Wills inscribed 'Plan for a Lock to be built on a Sandy foundation designed by Capt Tho: Burgh 1726'.
(2) Loeber, op.cit., 36, writes that Wills was clerk of works from 1731 to 1737 only, but Wills himself states that although he was appointed clerk of works on 18 March 1731, he 'overseed, conducted, and directed the building of the whole Hospital; not only during the time of his being Clerk, but from the foundation of the House, in the year 1719' (Cash Book of Michael Wills, Acc. 81/88, f.32).
(3) His entry, an album of 16 designs, is in the RIBA drawings collection, see Jill Lever, ed., Catalogue of the Drawings Collection of the Royal Institute of British Architects T-Z (1984), 247 (photographs in IAA, Personal Miscellanea files).
(4) E. McParland, Public Architecture in Ireland: 1680-1760 (2001), 81.
(5) See Marie-Louise Legg, ed., The Synge Letters (1996), 43-44 &c.; in some instances - as in the references to Mrs Wills - Legg may have confused 'Mr Wills' the architect with the 'Mr [Godfrey] Wills' who belonged to a Co. Roscommon landed family.
(6) MUN/P/2/89.
(7) In April 1757 he received £2.4s.6d. from Robert Skimin 'for the plan of his house at Nicholas Gate' (f.66); in November 1758 £1.2.9d from Henry O'Hara 'for the plan of his village near Ballymenagh' (f.76); in Apr 1759 £1.2s.9d from Robert Bolton 'for surveying houses at Swords' (f.78). Sarah Bendall, ed., Dictionary of Land Surveyors and Local Map-Makers of Great Britain and Ireland 1530-1850 (2nd edition, 1997), II, 559, lists a Michael Wills as having drawn an estate map in Co. Down, circa 1708.
(8) Cash Book of Michael Wills, Acc. 81/88, f.78; marriage data from http://www.dippam.ac.uk/eppi/documents/19745/page/538832, visited May 2019.
(9) See Christine Casey, '"De architectura": an Irish eighteenth-century gloss', Architectural History 37 (1994), 80ff.n
(10) Cash Book of Michael Wills, Acc. 81/88, f.32.
(11) The four drawings are 'Plan for a lock to be built on a sandy foundation by Captain Burgh 1726', 'A map of the ground belonging to the Parliament House in College Green, surveyed in the year 1727 by Mich. Wills 13 Jan 1727', 'Barrack for two troops of horse at Philipstown…Mich. Wills delint 10 July 1731', and plans for a barrack, signed 'Mich.Wills delint'. Three other unsigned drawings of similar subjects are on paper of the same watermark and size as that used by Wills.


17 work entries listed in chronological order for WILLS, MICHAEL


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Building: CO. DUBLIN, DUBLIN, STEEVENS'S LANE, STEEVENS'S HOSPITAL
Date: 1719-1733
Nature: MW clerk of works for building of same to designs by Thomas Burgh. Also accountant from 1730 to 1737.
Refs: IAA, MS. cash book of Michael Wills, Acc. 81/88, 5-32; Christine Casey, '"De architectura": an Irish eighteenth-century gloss', Architectural History 37 (1994), 87;  Christine Casey, The Buildings of Ireland: Dublin (2005), 682.


Building: CO. DUBLIN, DUBLIN, WERBURGH STREET, ST WERBURGH'S CHURCH (CI)
Date: 1719a;1731;1754
Nature: MW employed on building same under Thomas Burgh. Unexecuted proposal for upper part of tower, 1731. Invited to submit estimate for repair of same after fire, 1754.. One of advisors to committee for repairing church after fire, 1756.
Refs: Engraved design for same drawn by MW and inscr. 'Elevation of the West front…Designed by Thomas Burgh Esq to the balustrade above the clock Upper part designed by Michael Wills Anno 1731' in NLI; K. Severens, 'A new perspective on Georgian building practice; the rebuilding of St Werburgh's Church, Dublin (1754-59)' BIGS 35 (1992-93), 4,6-7

Building: CO. LOUTH, DROGHEDA, LAURENCE STREET, FREE SCHOOL
Date: 1728
Nature: Design for schoolmaster's house attr. to MW by McParland.
Refs: Unsigned and undated dated plan, elevation and section in IAA, Acc. 92/24 (plan & elevation repr. E. McParland, Public Architecture in Ireland: 1680-1760 (2001), 172, Pl. 206.

Building: CO. OFFALY, DAINGEAN, BARRACKS
Date: 1731
Nature: (Survey?) plan of a 'Barrack for the troops of horses at Philipstown, built by the Rign honble Richard Lord Viscount Molesworth'.
Refs: Plan, signed 'Mich. Wills delit. & [illeg.]' and dated 26 Jun 1731, in collection of Sheelagh Davis-Goff, Lissan House, Co. Dublin.

Building: CO. DUBLIN, DUBLIN, SMOCK ALLEY, THEATRE ROYAL
Date: 1735
Nature: New theatre begun May 1735. Opened Dec 1735. Replaced by church of SS Michael & John (RC), which incorporates part of fabric of theatre..
Refs: Christine Casey, '"De architectura": an Irish eighteenth-century gloss', Architectural History 37 (1994), 88;  Christine Casey, The Buildings of Ireland: Dublin (2005), 347.
 

Building: CO. ROSCOMMON, ELPHIN, BISHOP'S PALACE
Date: 1747-1749
Nature: New palace, for Dr Edward Synge, Bishop of Elphin, designed by 'Mr Wills', almost certainly MW..
Refs: Marie-Louise Legg, ed., The Synge Letters (1996), xvi

Building: CO. DUBLIN, DUBLIN, BOW LANE, ST PATRICK'S HOSPITAL
Date: 1748
Nature: Wills builds perimeter wall to enclose site and submits proposal for hospital, passed over in favour of design by George Semple.           
Refs: Christine Casey, The Buildings of Ireland: Dublin (2005),  684.


Building: CO. DUBLIN, DUBLIN, AUNGIER STREET, ST PETER'S CHURCH (CI)
Date: 1750-52
Nature: MW supervises rebuilding of same.
Refs: K. Severens, 'A new perspective on Georgian building practice; the rebuilding of St Werburgh's Church, Dublin (1754-59)' BIGS 35 (1992-93), 4, citing St Peter's Parish Vestry Book, 1737-1774, in RCB Library.

Building: CO. DUBLIN, DUBLIN, ESSEX BRIDGE
Date: 1752
Nature: Proposal for enlarging rather than rebuilding same and plan for a new bridge. (Neither proposal adopted)
Refs: A Scheme for enlarging Essex Bridge; whereby, not only three-fourths of the expence of a new bridge will be saved; but the Publick shall enjoy the benefit in six months. Together with a plan for a new bridge (Dublin, 1752); Christine Casey, '"De architectura": an Irish eighteenth-century gloss', Architectural History 37 (1994), 90

Building: CO. WICKLOW, SHELTON ABBEY
Date: 1753-54
Nature: Works for Ralph Howard at same.
Refs: IAA, MS. cash book of Michael Wills, Acc. 81/88, 34-37,39-43 Christine Casey, '"De architectura": an Irish eighteenth-century gloss', Architectural History 37 (1994), 90-91

Building: CO. WICKLOW, RATHNEW, BRIDGE
Date: 1754
Nature: New bridge.
Refs: IAA, MS. cash book of Michael Wills, Acc. 81/88, 43; Christine Casey, '"De architectura": an Irish eighteenth-century gloss', Architectural History 37 (1994), 91

Building: CO. WICKLOW, KILMACURRAGH
Date: 1754
Nature: MW paid £22.15s. by William Acton 'for attending his works at West Acton', 21 Dec 1754.
Refs: MS. cash book of Michael Wills, Acc. 81/88,.41,43-45.

Building: CO. DUBLIN, DUBLIN, CLARENDON STREET, CLARENDON HOUSE
Date: 1755
Nature: Works at same, for himself?
Refs: IAA, MS. cash book of Michael Wills, Acc. 81/88, 51

Building: CO. WICKLOW, CLONMANNON
Date: 1755?
Nature: 3-bay, 2-storey pedimented building which formed centrepiece of former Clonmannon House 'deserves consideration as a Wills design'. For MW's cousins the Truell family.
Refs: MS. cash book of Michael Wills, Acc. 81/88, 46,48 records payments to George Faulkner for 'advertising Clonmanen' (i.e. for tenders?); Christine Casey, '"De architectura": an Irish eighteenth-century gloss', Architectural History 37 (1994), 93(illus.)

Building: CO. DUBLIN?, NEWCASTLE, CHURCH (CI)
Date: 1756;1758
Nature: MW hangs bell, 1756; spends 8 days at Newcastle 'putting in the East window of the Church', 1758. (Lewis writes re church at Newcastle, Co. Dublin: 'The church was erected about the 15th century, and is chiefly remarkable for its fine eastern window, which was removed to it in 1724[sic], when the building underwent a thorough repair.').
Refs: IAA, MS. cash book of Michael Wills, Acc. 81/88, 53

Building: CO. WESTMEATH, DRUMCREE HOUSE
Date: ?
Nature: 'has been tentatively linked to Wills's album of house designs on the basis of its plan'
Refs: Christine Casey, '"De architectura": an Irish eighteenth-century gloss', Architectural History 37 (1994), 93

Building: CO. DUBLIN, DUBLIN, CROW STREET, MUSIC HALL
Date: ?
Nature: New music hall.
Refs: Christine Casey, '"De architectura": an Irish eighteenth-century gloss', Architectural History 37 (1994), 88

Author Title Date Details
Wills, Michael 'A Short treatise of the city water' &c. 1736 MS. essay, 1736, in Queen's University Library, Special Collections, Miscellaneous MSS.
Wills, Michael 'Designs for Private Buildings of Two, three, four, five, and six Rooms on a Floor And one of Eight rooms' 1745 MS album in RIBA drawings collection, see Jill Lever, ed., Catalogue of the Drawings Collection of the Royal Institute of British Architects T-Z (1984), 247.
Wills, Michael A Scheme for enlarging Essex Bridge; whereby, not only three-fourths of the expence of a new bridge will be saved; but the Publick shall enjoy the benefit in six months. Together with a plan for a new BridgeI 1752 Dublin, 1752.
Wills, Michael (trans. & Ed.) 'De Architectura' ? MS. annotated translation of first four books and introduction to fifth book of Vitruvius's De Architectura in Chester Beatty Library.