On its 55th anniversary of Independence, Barbados, once known as “Little England” and Bimshire, will transition from a constitutional monarchy to a parliamentary republic.
The legacy of colonialism is still evident in the royal-themed names on the island. Will it be necessary to change these names after or should these names remain as a symbol as to how far Barbadians have come?
In the 11 parishes, only five have royal place names, with St Michael possessing the majority. The island has one of the oldest parliaments in the region and it is fortunate to never experience political violence or unrest since gaining its independence.
Barbados became a British colony in 1627 and was a major sugar-producing asset during the robust slave trade. There were signs of change during the 1937 riots which led to the emergence of two key political parties, The Barbados Labour Party (1938) and the Democratic Labour Party (1955) and their respective political visionaries, Grantley Adams and Errol Walton Barrow. The country attained internal autonomy in 1961 and independence in 1966.
Throughout the centuries, members of the royal family visited the island and to commemorate their visit, official public buildings, public spaces and community streets were named in their honour.
Bridgetown and St Michael
Historian G. Addinton Forde in the book, Place Names of Barbados outlined the signs of monarchy in Barbados by reviewing the history of the military and the rule of the colony. From St Michael to St Philip, the British monarchy is seen in Barbadian villages, recreational areas and educational institutions.
Bridgetown has several streets and two public spaces with royal names. As head of the royal family, The Queen of England and her title are seen in several areas throughout the Capital. The most popular being Queen’s Park located on the outskirts of the Central Bank of Barbados and Church Village Green. From 1901 to 1905, military troops were stationed in the area known as Queen’s Park.
During the 19th Century, the land also was home to King’s House which was named after King William IV, but this changed in 1837 after his death. It was renamed Queen’s house after Queen Victoria who ascended the throne. The Barbados legislature bought the house and 14 acres of surrounding land.
Forde explained that the St Michael Vestry rented 12 acres in 1909. Lady Gilbert Carter, wife of Sir George Gilbert Carter, Governor of Barbados (1904-1911) conceptualised it into a public park.
According to the Barbados Government Information Service (BGIS), the Vestry was abolished in 1959 and the park was transferred to the Bridgetown Council and then Parks and Beaches Commission (today known as National Conservation Commission or NCC) in 1970.
Since 1984, the National Cultural Foundation (NCF) has responsibility for Queen’s Park House, the Stables and the Steel Shed.
Queen’s Park was also near one of the oldest schools, Queen’s College. The educational institution which was established in 1883 was originally Queen’s House Signal Station. The school was moved to Husbands, St James in 1990 and its first home is now the Ministry of Education, Technological and Vocational Training.
The public spot known as Jubilee Gardens was created in 1888 to commemorate the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria.
The small but intimate area has become a marketplace for fruit and vegetable vendors and social spaces for some of the City’s homeless. It is also used for community outreach events and concerts.
In the 20th Century, it was the Lower Green terminal for buses (1929). The area is a part of the Historic Bridgetown and Its Garrison as it has cobblestones dated from the 17th century and highlighted the island’s first paved streets.
Royal Streets and Highway of Bridgetown
Bridgetown was the hub of commercial activity over the centuries and the main port for the island. The area was also the base for military troops and political, religious and educational figures.
The names of these streets are an indicator of this reality but it also
honours the royal members who visited the island in the past. Prince William Henry Street – named after Prince William Henry, Duke of Clarence, later King William – is an example. In 1786, while in Barbados Prince William stayed at Rachel Pringle’s hotel, but his disorderly behaviour resulted in £700 in damages which he paid.
Prince Alfred Street is named after the son of Queen Victoria, Prince Alfred; James Street named after King James; St George Street named after Prince Edward’s ship; Cowell Street named after Major Cowell, the Prince’s governor; Cumberland Street named after Henry Frederick, Duke of Cumberland; and Princess Alice Highway to honour Princess Alice who visited Barbados in 1934.
Royal Avenues of Bank Hall, Pinelands
In recent times, Bank Hall is remembered as the former street stage or catwalk for Kadooment Day. But for many who live in the area, it is a reminder of Barbadian progress.
During the early 20th Century, Barbadians left the island to work on the Panama Canal and when they returned, they used their money to build homes and communities. Bank Hall was a part of the Bank Hall Plantation. As the members of the British royal family visited the island, some avenues were given their names.
In 1920, Prince Edward visited Barbados and to commemorate this moment, the following roads were given royal names – Prince of Wales Road, Queen Mary Road, King George Road, Prince Edward Road, Queen Victoria Road and Buckingham Hill.
In another community, the Pinelands area, there are two royal names – Princess Royal Avenue and Princess Mary Lane. These areas were renamed when Princess Mary visited Barbados in 1953.
Queen Elizabeth Hospital
The Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH), the island’s main medical institution was opened on November 14, 1964. It was named after Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II. In the beginning, the hospital had 464 beds, which increased to over 500 into the 20th Century. As with many of the buildings honouring royalty in Barbados, the name is shared with other buildings overseas. There is a Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Edgbaston, England.
In 1815, the Royal Naval Hospital was opened in Hastings to service the military dockyard. It was a part of the compound that makes up the Garrison Savannah.
The Alexandra School, located in St Peter, was founded in 1894 by George May Dalzell Frederick, Archdeacon of Barbados and Rector of St Peter. The institution was named after Princess Alexandra – Princess of Wales, wife of Edward, Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII.
Royal place names were not only found on the western side of Barbados and along the coast. In St Philip, the Princess Margaret Secondary School was opened in 1955. According to the school’s website, “Her Royal Highness The Princess Margaret HRH Princess Margaret visited Barbados quite often and saw a need for a secondary school in the parish of St Philip”. There are also Princess Margaret Schools in Antigua, Canada and Spain.
King George V Memorial Park is another royal place name in St Philip. It was named after the reigning monarch at the time of the park in 1936. The land was a gift from Major Peebles who lived on Bailey’s Plantation. The property was also the place where national hero, Bussa, an enslaved person, led an uprising.
Queen’s College located in Husbands, St James, initially an all girls’ school, is one of the most prestigious and well-respected schools on the island. It was originally located in Bridgetown near Queen’s Park and became co-ed in 1980. It is known for its record of academic and athletic excellence and it is the alma mater of Her Excellency, Governor-General of Barbados, Dame Sandra Mason and Prime Minister of Barbados, Mia Amor Mottley.