Preserving our built heritage


By Regina Selman Moore
Of late, I was in talks with a senior person who had paid a visit to England recently and that individual posed a question to me. That individual queried, why is it that in that country, you can visit a number of heritage sites, inclusive of English castles, some as old as 900 years old and one can still be awe-struck by how well-kept they are for visitors desirous of enjoying a historic experience, whilst in Barbados, we allow our historic buildings to crumble? Well, I tried to explain that perhaps those responsible for built heritage in England are perhaps way better off financially than we are here in Barbados and perhaps that is why they are able to preserve their built heritage so well.
Truth be told, we really can do better when it comes to preserving Barbados’ built heritage. The Barbados National Trust, the body incorporated by an Act of Parliament to be involved in the preservation of places of historic, architectural and archaeological interest and of ecological importance or natural beauty, has been doing its best to stay true to its mission. Of late, the Preservation (Barbados) Foundation Trust, has been doing its part to raise funds for the preservation of the built heritage of Barbados. On its website, it lists a number of projects it has its eyes set on, “from a simple row of ancient chattel houses in Bay Street, representative of our most significant cultural icon, to Culloden Farm, the official residence of National Hero the Right Excellent Errol Barrow; from the Marshall Hall to the Carnegie Library and the extraordinary 300-year-old Supreme Court of 1733, next door; from the Old Eye Hospital of 1805 to the magnificent Glendairy Prison”. Indeed, the work the Trust has been doing of late to restore the age old, but precious Carnegie Library, is to be commended.
On Government’s part, we have heard of efforts to be made to restore the historic Empire Theatre building, in historic Bridgetown, our capital, that is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and I am sure many in the older generation are anticipating this, as the Empire Theatre was a hot spot back in the day. Indeed, once restored, it could be used by those in our cultural industries and for the arts and entertainment.
We also have a number of chattel houses across the island that can be restored, as well as a number of old buildings in The City, which are in need of maintenance. The idea is not just to rebuild or restore these key pieces of architecture, but to find ways in which they can be put to good use in the tourism sector, or as stated earlier, in the cultural industries sector or even the educational arena.
A good example of how our built heritage can serve to benefit us, is the case of George Washington House. At 19 years of age, George Washington, who would later go on to become the first President of the United States of America, visited Barbados in 1751 and spent about two months. Barbados was the only country he ever visited outside America. This fact alone now makes a tour of George Washington House, a must-do activity for visitors from the USA. The House is now under the control of the Barbados National Trust.
Of late, we are hearing that an effort will be made to restore the childhood home of the Father of Independence, the late Right Excellent Errol Walton Barrow, a National Hero of Barbados. This has been a long-awaited project and we hope that it fully comes to fruition, in this our 50th year as an Independent nation.
I now leave you with a quotation from An Taisce, The National Trust for Ireland. It goes like this, “Our built heritage is a treasure passed to us from previous generations. We are all trustees and guardians of this heritage.”
Indeed, something to think about…

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