Monday, April 22, 2024

BLACK HISTORY MONTH: Looking at Bridgetown buildings


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MANY OF THE BUILDINGS that are currently in Bridgetown today didn’t exist in historic Bridgetown. Some were around but looked different, had a different name or were relocated.

Now Bridgetown has many architectural structures and a few of them will be discussed.

St Michael’s Cathedral

The St Michael’s Cathedral is of a Gothic design, and was constructed between the years 1661 to 1665, the year it was consecrated. It was rebuilt twice since.

Once in 1780 when it was destroyed by a hurricane, and again nine years later. A lottery was used to raise money for the rebuilding.

This was the first site of worship for slaves, and was originally made of wood, but was later replaced by stone. This decision turned out to be disastrous, because the church had a vault-barrel roof but didn’t have any central supports, thus pushing the walls outwards with time.

This disrupted its buttresses, an important part of the Gothic design. It was decided that the porch and the north wall should be destroyed and reconstructed.

The building has a squat, squared, castle-like tower and the eastern part of the building has a “roof which resembles the keel of an upturned ship”. It was believed that it had the widest, barrel-vaulted arch ceiling in the world during the 1790s.

The tower was created because the architects realised that they were less likely to be destroyed easily during bad weather. Although the church has a Gothic design, there is a Georgian element in it – its rebuilt porch.

It was the first Gothic revival in the British West Indies and in 50 years the neo-Gothic design became popular. it is one of the three churches in Barbados that weren’t destroyed in the 1831 Great Hurricane.

Nicholls Building

The Nicholls Building, on Lucas Street, near the Barbados Hardware, is believed to be the only surviving Dutch influenced architecture in the British Caribbean. It has very distinctive curvilinear gables, which were very common in this era.

It had stone quoined bricks, which were used in many buildings in Barbados. It has a storage door on its fourth level. This door was used to pull up items that were to be placed in storage. It used a counterweight system, or winch, indicating that it was once a mercantile property, which was common in the early development of the town.

The Parliament Buildings

Over the years, the Barbados Assembly met together in many different places, but in 1724 an Act was made in order to get a building for the council. In 1731-1732, it was finished but they still met at different locations like private homes and taverns.

The modern Parliament Buildings’ design was inspired by the neo-Gothic style and was built in the early 1870s. It was built in what was formerly known as the New Burnt District (an area that was burnt down by fire in 1860). The West Wing of the building was finished in 1872 while the East Wing was completed in 1873.

The London firm known as Messrs Clayton Bell designed the House of Assembly’s stained glass windows. These designs were created by locals, Mr Thomas Hawkesley, who formerly worked at the Bridgetown Waterworks Company, and his brother.

Messrs Clayton Bell were widely known for their “use of colour with a trend towards greater naturalism in the depiction of figures” (Taitt, 2000: 33). On the two stained windows by the West Wing is a biblical quote: “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.”

A tower with a clock and bells was added to the East Wing. These were made by the English firm B. R. and T. Moore.

The clock was removed in the year 1884 and later relocated to the West Wing, where it can still be found today.

The Town Hall

The old Town Hall is one of the last 18th century buildings that still exist in Bridgetown.

It survived many fires and two major hurricanes. It has a Georgian design. The Town Hall was last used by assembly on May 5, 1874. Its name was changed to “The Law Courts” but it is known today as the “Court House”.


Bridgetown had many warehouses. These buildings had very thick walls made out of coral stone and sometimes had buttresses which made them strong and able to withstand natural disasters.

On the inside they were big and had arched doors, round windows and parapets. Despite having all of this, their design was usually very simple.

Some of these buildings are currently being used as shops and restaurants. Some names of warehouses are Old Spirit Bond (used for storing rum in the 18th century), DaCosta Colonade Building (an enterprise that stored molasses and sugar used for distribution) and the previously mentioned Nicholls Building.

St Mary’s Church

St Mary’s Church was built in 1825 on top of the remains of the first St. Michael’s Church. Like St Michael’s Cathedral it also had a squat, gothic castle-like bell tower.

It has some elements of a Georgian-style building, like its quoined arches and windows, even though it was rebuilt several times. It is one of the few churches in Barbados that have kept to their original design.



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