THINGS THAT MATTER - Culloden Farm, The Garden, and other national tragedies
When I read the letter in Friday’s Advocate by Rod Prowse, a regular visitor to Barbados for the past 30 years, headed “Criticism of BWA a reasonable reaction” – in relation to the sadly mismanaged South Coast sewage system – it struck me that as a country we seem to have thrown up our hands, thrown in the towel, and given up in the management and maintenance of our own affairs. Every week it’s our visitors – our repeat, long-stay, come-back visitors – who seem to love Barbados more than we and our “managers” do – who are calling us out in the press, pointing out the problems and sometimes the solutions. We’ve had visitors addressing the sewage problem, the potholes, the littering, the bush, the dilapidated and abandoned buildings, the service, you name it.
And as we approach yet another celebration and party – following the many celebrations of Independence, Crop Over, CARIFESTA, Independence, Rihanna Drive, Christmas, Old Year’s Night – we come now to Errol Barrow Day, celebrating the birthday of our National Hero the Right Excellent Errol Walton Barrow, and we’re not even embarrassed that the two historic sites associated with him – his birthplace, The Garden in St. Lucy, and Culloden Farm, the official residence of the Prime Minister during his tenure, are in ruin.
The great irony is that Mr. Barrow founded the Democratic Labour Party. He didn’t choose his birthplace – the home of his maternal grandparents, the O’Neals, the residence of a small 14-acre sugar property in St. Lucy – but he often spoke of it. And he chose Culloden Farm himself – it was a classic house in the Barbadian vernacular, more than 200 years old and then in pristine condition, with acres of beautiful gardens – as the official PM’s residence. He occupied it for most of his tenure, from the early sixties until 1976. There he enjoyed his passion for cooking, and there I even enjoyed one of his rum punches, in the company of the Barrows and my French teacher and schoolboy hero, the Honourable Val McComie, as a young hospital intern back in 1969.
And yet government has been happy (or unconcerned) to see the tragic decay and dereliction of both of these properties that would so beautifully celebrate Mr. Barrow, his birth, his family and his achievements. After the 1976 election Culloden Farm served as offices, and a proposal from the National Trust to develop it along the lines of Devon House in Jamaica as a house museum was rejected. Just before 2008 the last government had proposed restoring it as a protocol house, a popular arrangement with many administrations, universities and major corporations, and the Barbados National Trust commissioned a study by a famous British architectural historian of the house and its provenance (reported in the Journal of the Barbados Museum and Historical Society). But the government soon changed and nothing happened.
But this inaction, associated with lack of maintenance, is neither new nor unusual. While the abandonment and lack of maintenance of Culloden Farm is particularly sad, dramatic and truly tragic, it repeats a pattern all over Bridgetown – from the Old Eye Hospital (restored 30 years ago with Canadian funds), the Empire Theatre, the Old Supreme Court, the Carnegie Public Library, the St. Mary’s Boys’ School, the Marshall Hall, Dalmeny in Pine Hill and the old Chief Justice’s House on Philip Drive, Pine Plantation House, Erdiston House and the old Tercentenary Ward – what I call the Derelict Dirty Dozen of Historic Bridgetown. And, of course, Glendairy Prison. The Old Eye Hospital is particularly distressing
to older Bajans, who visited their parents there before the Queen Elizabeth Hospital opened in 1964.
The same problem of lack of maintenance obviously applies to the LOST treasures, such as the once pristine buildings like the Marine Hotel, purchased by government for offices and, a decade later, needlessly demolished; and, of course, historic buildings privately owned, but never listed, and with no tax incentives for restoration. I was told by the most eminent, long retired civil servant that it was during the first oil crisis in 1973 that Government dealt with its financial challenges by simply deleting all line items for maintenance. Since then they’ve never been restored, so decay of government buildings is inevitable, and Ministers find justification for hugely more expensive new buildings, putting their names on plaques.
And then we come to the historic Garrison, part of our UNESCO World Heritage site, where many buildings are abandoned and going to ruin. The latest casualty is Block A – long promised by the last three administrations for the National Art Gallery as soon as CXC moved out. This is now almost two years of broken promises, in spite of regular ministerial announcements that it will happen! The only action at the site is the rapid growth of ferns, weeds and bushes on and around the building, when a relatively modest sum could transform it into the National Gallery we’ve all been seeking – for how long? As Kenneth Williams of the BBC comedy show used to say “Thiiiiirty fiiiiive years!” (And more …)
The same applies to road maintenance, sewage system maintenance, agriculture and so on. On behalf of the Barbados National Trust I’ve used many fora to show the cost-effectiveness of restoring even badly derelict buildings. Verona, on Bank Hall, is an excellent example, where restoration of a derelict building with trees growing out the roofless portion, came in at a cost of approximately $200 a square foot, two thirds the cost of the most basic modern structure… and carried out by government’s Ministry of Transport and Works. But government continues to build unnecessarily, instead of repairing at lower cost. Where is Granny, with her magnificent maxim “An ounce of prevention saves a pound of cure?” The failure to preserve our UNESCO World Heritage site makes loss of our inscription almost inevitable. Why is there so little regard for the cultural and economic value of our patrimony?
It is our heritage and our real estate which is being badly managed, and our taxes wasted on unnecessary, extravagant new buildings, some costing as much as the budget of a single ministry, such as the underfunded Ministry of Agriculture. And what is worse, with many government departments and statutory bodies not being audited for up to a decade or more, nobody knows where our money is going. When will the auditor general’s reports be anything more than “blowing in the wind”? The answer is: only when we all wake up and demand accountability.
Bouquet: To our new Governor General, Dame Sandra Mason of the Republic of St. Philip, whose inaugural speech was superb – on a par with the classic eloquence and inspirational quality of Sir Hugh Springer’s inaugural address in 1984 – and absolutely relevant to the challenges facing us today. One of the concerns she expressed so well on Monday is worth quoting in full:
“I am troubled that what appears to be creeping into the Barbadian culture are attitudes of selfishness and a general lack of sympathy and concern towards our neighbours. It seems that as long as a matter is not directly impacting on us, there is an indifference to the predicament which is being suffered. We bear witness to this also in the nonchalance displayed with regard to caring for our surroundings. These attitudes must be rooted out without hesitation. It is important, nay mandatory, to understand that each of us has a responsibility to ensure that our every action contributes to the betterment of our society. Wishing for a thing however, does not make it so. The time has come for us to re-double our efforts to create that truly sustainable future; one that can only be achieved when we balance our economic development with environmental responsibility, our care for each other and determined cultivation of the great potential that resides in all of us. This is non-negotiable if we are to safeguard the future of our island and the well-being of our citizens.”
Truly well said - Congratulations, Dame Sandra.
Condolences: To the family of eminent businessman and Rotarian, Randall Goddard – and especially to Anne, his wife, and Linda his daughter, whose reading of the poignant and powerful passage of 1 Corinthians Chapter 13 celebrated so perfectly Randall’s life of faith, love and service.
Professor Fraser is Past Dean of Medical Sciences, UWI and Professor Emeritus of Medicine and Clinical Pharmacology. Website: profhenryfraser.com