The old colonial houses of Georgetown
By Arlene Munroe

Stabroek News
August 30, 2001

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Georgetown is a city of beautiful houses built in the old colonial style. Architects such as Caesar Castellani, John Bradshaw Sharples and Joseph Hadfield designed some of these houses. Most of them were constructed in the nineteenth century.

Colgrain House is located in Camp Street, Georgetown. Its name is taken from the Scottish family estate of Mr Campbell, one of its former owners. It was built in the late 19th century and can be described as a great house. Mr Thomas Edwards Jones of Riverside Wharf Company was one of the owners of the building in the nineteenth century. In October 1909 he sold it to La Penitence Estates, of which Mr Campbell was the senior partner. The building was sold several times and was acquired by Bookers Holdings in 1951. It was called 'Booker House' during this period. Subsequently, it was sold to the Federal Republic of Germany. Then the government of Guyana purchased the building in 1975. The Caricom Secretariat is the present owner of the building which is now the official residence of the Secretary-General of Caricom.

Colgrain House

Another interesting house is the one at Camp and Church Streets. The building was designed by H.O. Durham circa 1924. It has a tower with a widow's walk. This was so named because in England it was used by wives of ships'captains who were looking for their husbands' return. The house has sash windows and decorative roundels below louvre windows on the second storey. The top floor has Demerara shutters.

The building was first purchased by ECV Kidman. Subsequently, it was bought by the popular cricketer, John A Browne, in 1937 and Frederick Kerry in 1945. In 1974, Neville King acquired it and sold it to the government of Guyana in 1979.

Curator's Lodge, Botonic Gardens

The building that houses the Ministry of Health once housed an orphanage, and at a later period, Queen's College. During the Easter vacation of 1918 furniture and books from the old Queen's College building were removed to Brickdam. At first, the fourth, fifth and sixth forms were housed in this building. In the surrounding buildings, the library. scouts' room, store room and the first, second and third forms were housed. The building was used until 1951, when the school moved to its present location.

Originally, this building stood on a block of land comprising lots 2-9, Brickdam, Stabroek and was owned by Edward Carberry in 1838. In 1852, the government of British Guiana acquired the land. Property registers state that Joseph Hadfield designed the old colonial buildings along that block.

Demico House is another building of significance. It is situated at the junction of Water Street and Brickdam. Originally, Messrs. Birch & Company and Charles J. Macquarrie owned it for more than 50 years. D'Aguiar Brothers purchased the building in 1896. It was sold for $50,000. During that period it was called the Demerara Ice House and housed a hotel, bar and soft drinks plant. The Company's practice of importing ice in schooners from Canada was the basis of the name Demerara Ice House. It is believed that Caesar Castellani was the architect of the main bar, built in 1896. One special feature of the building is the clerestory at the upper floor level.

Demico House

Another building of importance is the Guyana House in Carmichael Street. This house with its 100 windows was built during the 1820s on land belonging to William Piercy Austin, the first Anglican Bishop of British Guiana. Several governors, including Henry Light and Henry Barkly, resided there. They paid a rent of 240 pounds each month. Then ordinances were passed in 1852 and 1863 legislating the purchase of the building to establish a home for the British governors. The Austin Family received $30,000 for this land. The original building had two storeys and a double stairway and faced Carmichael Street. Over the years many changes were made to the building. Adjacent lots were purchased, e.g. lots 57 to 60 on Main Street and lots 93 to 95 on Carmichael Street. By 1894, the building's main entrance was in Main Street.

One source of information claims that Government House was built in 1854 but has had many new wings added to it since. Its main drawing room, reception room and State Dining room are remarkable.

The Prime Minister's residence

Another interesting house is the one that stands at the corner of Main & Lamaha Streets. It has a short tower with a spire. The house has three stories with casement windows, louvred windows, Demerara shutters and a skylight window. There are decorative roundels above the windows. The building was constructed around 1921, when it was purchased by Investment & Loan Company. In 1940 Amin Sankar purchased the building and Lyla Kissoon bought it in 1996.

The former British High Commissioner's Residence is another imposing house. This house is the official residence of the Prime Minister of Guyana. It is situated at 44 Main Street, Cummingsburg. The house was built for the use of Mr Sandbach in the nineteenth century. It was purchased by Booker Brothers Ltd. in 1911. Subsequently, in 1962, it was acquired by the British government and became the home of the British High Commissioner. Finally, in 1987 it was bought by the government of Guyana.

Ministry of Health, Brickdam

The special features of the three-storey house are its Demerara windows, the wide open porch on the ground floor and its tower. The building bears evidence of British and continental influences. In the nineteenth century a signal was sent from the tower to the harbour.

The Schuler & Gomes building is another one of significance. This two?storey building has casement windows, louvred windows and Demerara shutters on the top floor. It appears that the bottom of the building was enclosed at a later date and has modern features such as the glass doors on its eastern side. Some of its owners were Mary E. Nascimento, Rolf Pairadeau and Joaaquim A. Gomes. The ground floor of the building houses the Schuler Optical Service.

The Curator's Lodge in the Botanic Gardens is a very picturesque cottage. Mr Brummell, the Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Botanic Gardens, was the architect of this building which was erected in 1881. At first it served as a gatekeeper's lodge and had a board room for the meetings of the Directors. The curator's lodge has a black and gold clock on the outside of the building which was built as a memorial to George Samuel Jenman, Government Botanist and Superintendent of the gardens from 1879. The original building was the central portion of the building. At a later date a western wing was added to accommodate the gatekeeper. There is also a brass tablet on the building which was placed there in memorial to Sir John Henzon, Director of Science and Agriculture, 1905-1926.

There are plaques on the wall which were erected in honour of George Samuel Jenman and Professor Sir John Burchmore Harrison. One reads thus:

To the Memory of George Samuel Jenman, fellow of the Linnean Society, Government Botanist and Superintendent of these gardens from 1879 to 1902 to whose knowledge, skill and work the colony is indebted for the laying out of the gardens and the formation of the herbarium.

The second plaque states:

To the memory of Professor Sir John Burchmore Harrison, Director of Science and Agriculture, Government Analyst and Geologist who died on the 8th February 1926. This tablet is erected by the officers of the department of science and agriculture as a token of appreciation of his sterling ability and long and faithful service of 36 years to the colony of British Guiana.

This cottage is one of the more picturesque ones in the city of Georgetown.

The colonial buildings in Georgetown should be preserved for posterity. Unfortunately, many of them have been destroyed by fires. These tall, white houses have historical value and have enhanced the aesthetic appearance of the city of Georgetown. Greater efforts should be taken to protect them.