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HEATHER-LYNN’S HABITAT: Destroying history

Heather-Lynn Evanson

HEATHER-LYNN’S HABITAT: Destroying history

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It’s a chapel that many may have passed and dismissed after noting its simple coral stone constructed beauty and its existence seemingly in the middle of nowhere.

But today, a figurative wrecking ball haunts that chapel at the Lazaretto, St Michael.

Built around 1866, it was associated with the Leper Asylum which once housed those afflicted with the highly disfiguring disease of Hansen’s disease (leprosy).

It has been no secret that it was slated for destruction to make way for a University of the West Indies’ Centre For African And Brazilian Studies. And, despite the best efforts of the Barbados National Trust, it seems that day has arrived.

Today, Heather-Lynn’s Habitat takes a look at the developing storm surrounding the apparent imminent destruction of this more than 100-year-old building.

The destruction of another piece of history appears to have begun.

And representatives of the body charged with the preservation of Barbados’ built and natural heritage are incensed after suggestions and recommendation they submitted appeared to have been ignored.

The chapel on the grounds of the Lazeretto in Black Rock, St Michael, is the latest structure which seems slated for destruction.

A neighbouring building has already been taken down, and the windows and doors of the chapel, which dates back to 1866, have been removed. Hoarding has also been placed around the Animal Control Centre in preparation for the construction of what is said to be a three-storey building.

When contacted UWI Cave Hill principal Sir Hilary Beckles, who was in Miami, referred the DAILY NATION to Owen Ellis in the office of planning and special projects at UWI.

However, efforts to reach Ellis via telephone proved unsuccessful as we were told he was in meetings or not in the office.

But Professor Emeritus, Senator Henry Fraser, who is chairman of the Barbados National Trust’s sentinel committee, said he was “appalled” on hearing about the latest development.

He said he saw the proposal to demolish the late 19th century Victorian era building and he immediately wrote to the university suggesting an alternative.

“I had asked that it not be demolished but incorporated into the new development as was the old residence of the medical director which was incorporated into the post-graduate building,” he noted.

“And the Lazaretto chapel could have been incorporated into a new development.”

To date, said Fraser, he has had no reply from those at UWI who are responsible for the development of the area.

“I am really disappointed because the university is in a position to take exemplary action on the cultural heritage of Barbados. The incorporation of the ancient medical officer’s residence into the postgraduate building was a brilliant piece of work and I am disappointed that it has not been followed in this instance.”

He, however, said he had no idea what fate would befall the cells which once housed the lunatic leper patients.

“None of these things have been referred to the National Trust which, unfortunately, only gets certain things referred to it,” Fraser lamented.

National Trust president Dr Karl Watson also condemned the move, reiterating the organisation had suggested that, instead of demolition, the chapel could be included in the design of the new building.

“But that recommendation has not been accepted and our understanding, subject to confirmation, is that it will be demolished and we understand aspects of the chapel will be used in the new building,” he said.

Condemnation of the move by followers of the National Trust’s Facebook page has been swift.

“The sad thing about most of these old building[s] that get demolished, is they have withstood the hurricanes that have destroyed buildings of lesser architectural and structural sturdiness,” one writer said.

Another wrote: “I have admired this building for so, so many years. It was a beautiful little hidden architectural treasure trove that I passed on my daily walk. Nothing is sacred. A national treasure is lost. It was in perfect condition.”

“So why hasn’t anyone started a petition or organised a group protest? Are plans set in stone? Can’t they be adjusted?” a contributor asked.

However, not all were supportive of saving the structure.

“Help me to understand why this building needs to be saved, please. I am a guy that loves historical buildings and the stories that surround them. But this time I don’t see anything but an old building on the site of what used to be an asylum,” yet another writer submitted.

“Has it played an integral role in some tumultuous time? Has anything significant happened at this chapel? Significant person done something iconic? I’ve passed this building so many times in my lifetime and its always just been there. Now it’s going down and there’s outcry and I’m certain some of it is bandwagoning. So please help me understand what is important about this building. I would hate to think we’re making a fuss about this building simply because it’s old.”