HEATHER-LYNN’S HABITAT: Westbury Filled need
BEHIND BRIGHTLY-PAINTED yellow walls, which belie the sombreness of the contents behind them, Corinthian-like pillars and tapering marble obelisks dot the landscape.
Angels look down from their perches as massive stone crosses reach for the sky as if channeling the souls of the dearly departed Heaven-ward.
Looking out across the 35.6 acres of landscape that is Westbury Cemetery, it is obvious there was a time when station in life determined whether one qualified to be buried in its precincts. And for some, it was apparently the showier, the better.
“I got calls from people saying it [the cemetery] should be highlighted so, as Superintendent of Cemeteries, I feel it my civic duty to do it,” said Ricky Cummins, who took Heather-Lynn’s Habitat on a tour of the graveyard.
Westbury Cemetery, Cummins explained, came into being out of a donation of land from two plantations.
It’s neatly divided into different lots A to E. “They were burying people at St Leonard’s but due to the fact we had the cholera epidemic and they ran out of space, they came here about 1854,” he said.
Somewhere in its expanse are graves from that time, but the oldest grave on record dates back to 1876 – that of Cyril Archibald who died at 18 months in Guadeloupe. “And he is not a Barbadian.”
The crème of local businesses are buried here. Names like Chenery, Armstrong, Gale, Tudor, Zepherin, Manning and Cave dot the landscape.
Buried here, too, are the former surgeon-general of the old General Hospital; the island’s lone female governor general; its first black governor general; national heroes; icons of the labour movement, and the former principalof Modern High School.
“This was the most prominent cemetery there was unless you were a member of the militia corps,” Cummins said, as he pointed out graves which had an air of simplicity and military precision.
On the flipside, arch criminal Mark Young is also buried there, even though Cummins refused to point out the exact location.
Stopping by a grave, he said: “You would find a few of these here, buried north to south. All of our parents were brought here from Africa and our foreparents were Muslim and the Muslims were buried north to south. It’s just that we were converted to Christianity.”
But opulent funerary architecture aside, there is an air of neglect about the majority of graves. Bush has taken over some. Once gleaming white marble is now streaked with pollution and grime. Broken headstones lay where they had fallen decades ago. Some families, he noted, despite their means, have not maintained the graves of their loves ones.
“We are living in some different times,” Cummins mused as he surveyed what could be considered his domain.
“I don’t know if it is interest or what; I cannot say. Maybe you would have to find these people. I don’t know. Maybe after this is published . . . .”
For him, upkeep of the cemetery was a simple affair.
“What I had proposed is that we charge $5 per week. We would hold it for three years and we would accrue some funds and would employ three artisans, two stone masons and two painters to do all the repairs. But if, initially, you want to do your grave, you would pay what it cost then but that has fallen on deaf ears.”