• Today
    November 16

  • 10:57 AM

A scenic City walk

Ricky Jordan,

Added 29 January 2012

clocktower0129

How timely it has been for me to have just finished reading Morris Greenidge’s Bridgetown Barbados – A Walking Tour! For it has coincided with the nonsense that recently occurred at the oldest building in our capital – the 1650s Nicholls Building – which has survived many a hurricane and fire only to be disfigured by a new owner’s attempt to repair its roof. The result? The disfigurement of its Dutch-inspired curvilinear gable into a triangle. Reading Greenidge’s work had so endeared Bridgetown to me – even more so than when I and fellow Combermerians “limed” between Fairchild Street and the Lower Green bus stands or when, as a trainee reporter, I covered the law courts daily on Coleridge Street – that I reacted with probably more indignation than usual after Dr Karl Watson posted his lament about the Nicholls Building on Facebook. Like Dr Watson, I was horrified at this basic lack of appreciation for beauty and art and by the sheer laziness that would have characterized this kind of Philistine attempt at “restoration” of a 360-year-old gable. And my outrage was fuelled by Greenidge’s 2007 book. Like the old buildings, a lot of the history books about our capital and the island itself are so unknown it is amazing. What, then, was I, along with succeeding generations, taught in school? The French Revolution and other highlights of European history? For instance, the cover of Greenidge’s book shows two photographs of the Parliament Buildings. “What’s wrong with the top photo?” I wondered, only to realize through further reading that the massive clock tower on the East Wing was demolished in 1884 because that area of the building was sinking into the watery soil. Hence the “new” clock tower on the West Wing! Many Barbadians did not, and do not, know this simple fact. Greenidge’s work, captured like a scenic walk through our unique capital, is far from the usual history book but is packed with information, photographs and documents that would provide an effective aid for any history student or researcher. And unlike the detached and scholarly compilation of data that characterizes history publications, this book reveals the human side of the author. Hear him on The Cage, the site of our Heroes Square overlooked by the controversial Nelson Statue: “This plaza [Parliament Square] has . . . become a dichotomy to an almost schizophrenic Barbados, which is now torn between its focal position of the 1874 opening of the Parliament Buildings, counterpoised against the 1657 cage, stocks, whipping post, execution block and slave market . . . . Barbados may never come to terms with these two versions of Parliament Square unless a Desmond Tutu or a Nelson Mandela merge and emerge to show a way forward”. While this may be seen as raw emotion, it is a glimpse into what informs the author’s walking tour of Bridgetown. This book is more than an almost rhythmic listing of streets named after royalty and governors. It’s more than the nostalgia of Old World bustling city life, quaint architecture and hanging balconies. It almost begins with the reminder that 15 million souls were forcibly brought here between 1560 and 1860 and that their blood, tears and sweat are also rooted in the foundations of this capital and its lovely façade. The way how this “Indian Bridge town” evolved under British settlement is a fascinating read, combined with the history of its planners, its entrepreneurs, families, military life and churches. The last is noteworthy since the early town was only 100 acres from church to church – east to west – from St Michael’s Church (Cathedral from 1842) to St Mary’s Church. While this part of Barbados became a town under British rule, any material written on it would not have been complete without referring to the trails left by Amerindian settlers centuries before in areas like Fontabelle and Holborn. In fact, those earlier settlers had built their bridge over the inlet which we know as the Constitution River. Greenidge, a retired broadcast journalist and tourism official who has produced written work on Holetown and St Mary’s Anglican Church, rightfully thanked the historians and commentators who had, before him, compiled substantial work that he was able to draw upon. Foremost among them, he said, was “the doyen of Bridgetown researchers” Warren Alleyne. But he also asked an almost painful question: “who is writing observations and commentaries on our current situations and events?” Isn’t this what our newspapers, photographers, columnists and Greenidge himself are doing now? The Bridgetown Walking Tour, however, takes in too much of the outlying suburbs. While areas like Belleville and the Garrison still bear obvious military, political and commercial ties to The City, the concept of “urban sprawl” in an island of only 166 square miles would be, to put it mildly, ridiculous.   

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