Old Derelict House in St. Lucy, Barbados Pocket Guide

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Our Heritage - Lost and Found

Heritage: something inherited from the past; property inherited; valued objects and qualities such as historic buildings and cultural traditions passed down from previous generations.


Bajans have become much more sensitive to the value of our history, heroes, historic buildings and historic events in recent times. The definition of Heritage above, with my emphasis on the word value, expresses this sense of recognition of the value of heritage, because until recently much of our history was unknown, untold, unrecognised or unappreciated. Much of our new awareness is due to the teaching of West Indian and Barbadian history, much to the excellent efforts of CBC-TV, especially the splendid programmes presented by Sherwood McCaskie, and much to the recognition of our ten national heroes, from Bussa to Sir Garfield Sobers, and the events associated with them.  Recognition of our two greatest martyrs after Bussa – the newspaper editor and writer Clennell Wickham and the union leader “white rebel” T.T.Lewis  -  would bring into even sharper focus the history of pre-Independence and the fantastic strides we’ve made from a-shilling-a-day-wage before 1937 to the affluence of today.


On June 25th this year, the important role of Barbados in the history of the Caribbean and the Americas, British colonisation and the European theatre of war in the 18th and 19th centuries, and the sugar industry, was recognised by the inscription of Historic Bridgetown and its Garrison as a World Heritage site.  


The World Heritage Committee has inscribed Historic Bridgetown and its Garrison along with 25 other new sites on UNESCO’s World Heritage List. The sites vary widely - from the Ancient Beech Forests of Germany to the ancient Japanese town of Hiraizumi: the temples, gardens and archaeological sites of the Buddhist Pure Land; from Leon Cathedral in Nicaragua to the Coffee Cultural Landscape of Columbia. And the inscription summarises the importance of Historic Bridgetown and its Garrison:


“Historic Bridgetown and its Garrison is an outstanding example of British colonial architecture consisting of a well-preserved old town built in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, which testifies to the spread of Great Britain’s Atlantic colonial empire. The property also includes a nearby military garrison which consists of numerous historic buildings. With its serpentine urban lay-out the property testifies to a different approach to colonial town-planning compared to the Spanish and Dutch colonial cities of the region which were built along a grid plan.”


Minister of Tourism Richard Sealy has emphasised the key role heritage tourism can play for Barbados: As he has said: “The days of someone coming to Barbados and simply leaving with a tan earned from being on the sand and having had a dip in the sea to feel good – those days are over.”


The economic value of World Heritage sites is impressive, with many of the nearly 1,000 sites recording visitor increases of up to ten-fold. As Ralf Buckley, Director of the International Centre for Ecotourism Research at Griffith University in Australia writes:


“World Heritage and other international listing tell tourists that a site exists and is worth visiting. In the nature and cultural tourism market it is the top brand, a guarantee of superior quality... Tour companies and tourist accommodation with access to World Heritage areas commonly advertise that fact in their marketing material; and tourism developers and entrepreneurs preferentially pursue opportunities in and around World Heritage areas. World Heritage designation may therefore increase the number of tourists who know about a site, the number who want to visit it and the amount each will pay to do so.”


But even more important from our national perspective is our pride in “these fields and hills beyond recall” on behalf of the whole world. Barbados has also advanced the tentative nomination of our unique Scotland District and our Industrial Heritage (sugar industry) as World Heritage sites. The God-given beauty of the Scotland District and the historical legacy, work and skills of our ancestors - slaves, indentured and free - is important both to the world and to us. Hence my emphasis on the value - both emotional, for the blood, sweat and tears spent, and for the beautiful built relics of ages past. And many people are “waking up” to the new found value of our heritage!


We have a built legacy that is the admiration of both our Caribbean friends and our visitors from elsewhere. From the striking Gothic grandeur of our Parliament buildings by the bridge in Historic Bridgetown’s centre, to the extraordinary 350 year old St. Nicholas Abbey in the North, with its syrup factory and splendid new rum distillery, perhaps the best preserved, most beautiful, romantic and authentic historic site in the Eastern Caribbean, Barbados is punctuated with the ancient and beautiful relics of our ancestors.


The Garrison itself, on more than 140 acres, has some 80 buildings - most well preserved and in use, but some in need of urgent restoration. The satellite sites, The Pavilion and Pavilion Court, Gun Hill, Queen’s Park and other sites comprise another 20 buildings - in all a unique and splendid relic of global colonial battles for empire over 200 years. The Barbados Museum, the ancient military prison, is an architectural treasure housing thousands of other treasures, including the lifetime collection of my great uncle, the Reverend N.B.Watson, which started the Museum in 1933. The Main Guard, with its Sir Christopher Wren inspired Clock Tower and cannon collection, is an impressive icon. And the many splendid, arcaded barracks, gems of Georgian design, once housing 2,300 soldiers, have inspired local architects and builders for two centuries.


Across the country are some 50 plus Gothic revival churches, some 200 plantation great houses, hundreds of well preserved, classic “chattel houses”, unique suburban villas and splendid industrial buildings… sugar mills, warehouses et cetera. On the other side, however, is evidence of some lack of value or appreciation - the many buildings abandoned and derelict and in danger of being lost.


A treasure like Farley Hill, our grandest Caribbean Georgian mansion, of “Island in the Sun fame”, was victim of a fire more than 40 years ago, and is best preserved as a stabilized, romantic ruin in its “fairy tale” national park setting. But we’re in grave danger of losing great gems: Sam Lord’s Castle, the Old Eye Hospital, Culloden Farm, the Carnegie Library, Glendairy Prison, St. Mary’s Boys School and others.


Celebration of 45 years of Independence, following closely on the great prize of World Heritage inscription, is the perfect time for taking stock, and renewing our pride and industry, as “strict guardians of our heritage”.


Professor Fraser is Past President of the Barbados National Trust, and past Dean of Medical Sciences, UWI.


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