Sunday, 22 February 2015

Arlington House Museum, Speightstown, Barbados, West Indies


A Speightstown  Sunday Morning
(c) MissB

One of the first settlements and port with direct connections with London and Bristol, hence often referred to as Little Bristol.  The English arrived on the island in 1625 and by 1927 Speightstown was established and trading. The name originates from William Speight who owned the land upon which the town was built.

The Bowen Map of 1747 indicates the rise in prosperity of the area over the first 100 years. The map shown here is difficult to view in detail but you cannot miss the number of sugar plantations that create a 'fringe' around the coastline. You may also discern the five major ports defending the town from sea attack - Orange Fort, Denmark Fort, Coconut Fort, Haywards and Dover Port. Also just to confuse you the island is drawn South to North so is 'upside down' compared with the modern map. Speightstown can be found in the parish of St Peter.

The forts held off the forces of Cromwell under Admiral Sir George Ayscue in 1649, as Barbados remained loyal to Charles I. The outcome of the hard won freedom was the Charter of Barbados in 1652, which gave the island unusual rights and privileges mainly to protect their trade and to control the taxes levied on them from England.

View from South to North
For hundreds of years this bay would have been full of ships and boats
Although Bridgetown succeeded the West coast towns in prominence by late C18th, Speightstown remained an important trading port, especially during the era of the schooner, which was used  to transport sugar, goods and people backwards and forwards to the capital. It should be noted that it was by far the quickest route to Bridgetown, it was a long hard haul by road.

Wheel bases once used to carry heavy goods inland to jetty

Also noted as a whaling port in the early C19th. Eventually the harbour and jetties were becoming difficult to access due to the natural changes in the shoreline making access difficult, lighters were adopted to get goods to the schooners and ships until early 1970s.

The last pier
(c) MissB

Arlington House Museum

The Skinner family occupied Arlington House for 200 years their fortune grew out of their business as chandlers, supplying the ships and then the schooners. The family operated its own jetty and was also known to be involved in the whaling industry. Whale bones were in great demand as used in corsets, fashionable at the time. The whales came to spawn at the Northern tip of the island, so sadly easy prey.

Entrance to Arlington House Museum
Coral stone posts with corton steel frames holding old negatives from days gone by.
The crackle  was accidental caused by the sun  to good effect

The house is owned by the National Trust Barbados and considerable expense has produced an exceptional refurbishment of this typical early C18th Speightstown merchant house. Described as a 'single' house, in local parlance possibly meaning stand alone, three stories with a steeply pitched gable roof and dormer windows, note the 'shingle' (A rectangular wooden tile used on walls or roofs).  The house is long and narrow with a single room width of 22 feet and points from East to west. The verandah, (northwesterly) a particular feature of this town, offering respite from the tropical heat. This architectural style is said to have been copied and closely resembles houses in Charleston, South Carolina, which is entirely possible due to the trade between the West Indies and the Americas. Those who had traded in tobacco, indigo and cotton were forced to leave Barbados as sugar cane cultivation became the prominent crop, many left to found Charleston.

The Verandah
(c) MissB

The ground floor uses audio, film and photographs as tools to introduce the visitor to the business people of today, this is beautifully woven together with pictures and stories of yesteryear. The town may have declined in importance but the every day business continues.

Negative of Windmill and Sugar Mill

Go up to the first floor where you find 'Speightstown Memories'. Poles of pivoting postcards with words and pictures introduce you to the local luminaries and characters of days gone by. The floor covering is the Bowen Map of 1747. You can clearly see the importance of the area during the mid C18th, Sonia my guide, proudly pointed to the plantation that gave her her name 'Boyce'. In general the Bajans are pragmatic about their heritage and take great pride in their island home which includes its extraordinary and often brutal history.  There is also an audio visual of a local man, who recalls the last days of the schooners.

Speighstown balconies

You then move into a room called 'Plantation Memories'. It is dark and cool but you are channelled into the room by tall structures in green which represent sugar cane. An audio visual experience is used to introduce you to the story of the colonisation, sugar and slavery of the island. This is supplemented by interactive screens and static displays.  Sympathetic in its approach and provides an interesting visual discussion on abolition and it's impact on both slave owner and slave.

Still standing after all these years will just about

The visitor will notice the exposed brickwork as they move up to the next floor, bricks were used as ballast in the ships coming to and fro. They were also used to build the sugar mills and are now often found beneath your feet as decorative pathways. See blog post Bricks of Barbados.

The top floor is a positive gem, especially for children. It is created as a 'jetty' with a virtual sea around it. There is a ship's wheel which allows you to sail around the island and be a pirate! For the grown ups among us there is an excellent talk by Dr Karl Watson (his family owned the Pharmacy in Speightstown for several generations) charting the later history of the town and it's decline. Sadly this building is up for Sale by the Barbados National Trust.

'The Pharmacy' - needs saving!
(c) MissB

Many people visit the island for sun, sea and sand, they also return again, again and again! Hence my own reason for getting off the beach and into the history of the island with its close links to England and beyond.

No comments:

Post a Comment