HEATHER-LYNN’S HABITAT: Fort-ified
ITS LOCATION made it virtually unassailable.
But the British colonial powers were taking no chances.
With the French and Dutch eyeing what was becoming the richest colony in the West Indies, the British ringed the south, west and parts of the north coasts of Barbados with forts. And then in the terraces above those, they built more forts. Just in case.
By 1780, there were 40 forts protecting the island – the smallest had two cannons while the largest battery, Charles Fort, boasted 42.
Today, those guns are still found around the island – some in embrasures where their original forts once stood, as “cornerstones” of houses or looking silently out in sea. Many have been lovingly collected by now deceased Major Michael Hartland and constitute the most complete collection of cannons in the Caribbean. Some even lie forgotten in the island’s waters, encrusted with barnacles.
Today, Heather-Lynn’s Habitat looks at what was the most impregnable island in the region.
BARBADOS was the impregnable island.
And today, the number of cannons littering the island, its waters or standing as cornerstones, not to mention lovingly collected by now deceased Major Michael Hartland and on display in the National Armoury, bear testimony to the guns which once protected the island.
“The French never came too far south, partly because of the distance and partly because of the actual fortifications of Barbados,” historian and author Morris Greenidge explained.
“They could not attack from the East, the Shark’s teeth, the shoals. By the time Carlisle came in 1628, he got beaten up in Holetown,” he said, adding there was evidence however that there was a fort at the Crane, St Philip, which was once an early town.
“In 1651, when Lord Willoughby realised the Cromwellians had taken over [in England], they started preparing and making sure they had huge fortifications, so Barbados became an impregnable island.”
Greenidge gave an example of some of the fortifications that protected the island.
“Barbados or Batt’s Battery (where Batt’s Rock is now) was part of a line of batteries to protect Charles Fort (where the Hilton Hotel is currently located).
“There were two on Bay Street – Ormond and Challenger. From 1651, there was Willoughby’s, Ricketts – the earliest battery where Fisheries is now; then James Fort and around the corner, because there was no (Deep Water) Harbour, there was the Fontabelle battery which was where the DaCosta tyre place is now,” he said.
He continued: “There was the Valiant Royalist in the region of south of Paradise/Brighton; then Barbados Battery. Then you had the St James batteries – Church Point with 11 guns; on the hill at Mount Standfast Queen’s Fort; on the ground at George Fort and then Fort Monmouth.”
It was same story further along the coast where the British used the terraced landscape to the greatest advantage.
At Colleton in St Peter, the fort there had two guns while at Harrisons, St Lucy, there were six.
On the hills below were batteries, including Coconut Hall Battery, on what is now known as Chapel Street.
The bigger forts were Orange Fort (which had 25 guns at its peak), Fort Denmark (with a cannon sitting on swivel platform), Fort Rupert and Dover Fort (now the Coleridge and Parry School).
By 1780, there were a total of 40 forts and about 364 cannons waiting to blow an unwelcome ship out of the water.
Over the years, forts were built, decommissioned and then others were built.