The stately civic buildings of Georgetown
History This Week NO 50/2006
By Arlene Munro
December 14, 2006
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The city of Georgetown is the location of some of the stately colonial buildings in the Caribbean. Each building is historically significant and has special features which merit a second glance. Some of the buildings I will focus on are Dargan House, Red House, Austin House, the Walter Roth Museum of Anthropology, City Hall, Parliament Buildings, Stabroek Market, St. George's Cathedral, St. Andrew's Kirk, and the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.
The Parliament Building is perhaps the most important civic structure in the city of Georgetown. It was constructed between 1829 and 1834 and its architect was Joseph Hadfield. James Rodway described the reaction of the public to the building after it was completed. He stated: "Everyone who spoke of the building praised it and there is no doubt that, after many years, it is still far beyond everything in the architectural way ever accomplished in the colony." Even today the appearance of the Parliament Buildings evokes this kind of response. Ignatius Scoles described it as being strictly classic.
Built of "bricks well stuccoed over" this edifice is a model of nineteenth century Renaissance architecture. Caesar Castellani designed its coffered ceiling in the Parliament Chamber. It has a grand central staircase, several balconies and glass-paned timber casement windows.
The Red House is another building of historical significance. This three-storey building with its distinctive red colour is situated in High Street, Kingston. It was constructed of timber and is covered with red wallaba shingles. The building has Demerara shutters and skylight windows beneath the ceilings. It also has a tower at its western end.
The building stands on land including two adjacent lots. Edward Stephens and Manoel de Parva once owned Lot 65 in 1892. Sir Eustace Wolford, a former Speaker of the Legislature, was one of the early owners of the house. Then from 1925 to 1953, a succession of colonial Secretaries lived there. Dr. Cheddi Jagan lived there from 1961 to 1964 while he served as Premier of British Guiana. Subsequently, from 1965 to the early 1990s the Red House was used to house government office, for example, the Public Service Ministry. The house was left vacant until 1999 when the Cheddi Jagan Research Centre was established in the building. Stabroek Market
Austin House was named after one of its famous occupants, Bishop William Piercy Austin (1807-1892), and is situated at the corner of Barrack and High Streets, Kingston. It is the official residence of the Anglican Bishops of Guiana. It was built of timber in 1842. In the 1930s the ground floor was enclosed to provide space for offices. The house has steep roofs, Demerara windows, and six-paned windows in the Georgian style. The building has two stained glass windows on the first floor over the main entrance. One window portrays the arms of the dioceses of London and Canterbury. The other window portrays the arms of the dioceses of Barbados and Guiana. The windows were built in 1950 because at that time they formed part of the Bishops' Chapel.
The Walter Roth Museum of Anthropology is another building of significance. It is situated at 61 Main Street, Georgetown. It is the general consensus that John Bradshaw Sharples (1845-1913) may have been the architect of the building. It was bought in 1819 by Duncan McRae Hutson, a Guyanese barrister-at-law and legislator. On his wife's death the building was purchased by the government of British Guiana in 1942. For a period it housed the Teachers' Training College, then the Attorney-General's Chambers.
In 1979 the National Trust acquired the building and in 1980 it became the site of the Walter Roth Museum. The Museum is named after Walter Roth. He was a noted anthropologist and administrator who served as Stipendiary Magistrate and Deputy Protector of Indians in the Pomeroon from 1907. In 1920 he was appointed Com-missioner of the Rupununi. He was also the author of an Inquiry into the Animism and Folklore of the Guyana Indians (1915) and An Introductory Study of the Arts, Crafts and Customs of the Guiana Indians (1916). The building has two stories, a ground floor and a short tower. It has Demerara shutters and sash windows. Beneath these windows are turned timber balusters. The timber fretwork beneath the roof of the tower effectively enhances its appearance.
Dargan House is situated at the corner of Robb and Oronoque streets, Bourda. It houses the Guyana National Commission for UNESCO. The building was named after its first and most influential owner, Patrick Dargan (1850-1908). Dargan was a coloured lawyer and a politician who took an active interest in the welfare of the working people. He attended St. Andrew's School for a short period then began to work with the W.B. Jamieson firm and after three years was employed in the Office of the Attorney-General. This motivated him to become a lawyer. He served for fourteen years in the legislature. He was the editor of a newspaper called 'The Creole' in which he championed the cause of the working people. He played a significant role in the Reform Association in the 1890s.
Dargan House was perhaps built in 1880 and was owned by Patrick Dargan. The Government of Guyana bought the house in 1975 with the intention of establishing a Museum of Social History. However, this did not materialize. In January 1981 the Guyana National Commission for UNESCO occupied the first floor. The timber structure has Demerara shutters on the top floor and casement windows and louvred shutters on the lower floor. There is a covered porch on the eastern side with turned timber balusters.
The City Hall is another civic building of great significance. Governor Sir Henry Turner Irving laid the foundation store for this beautiful Gothic Town hall on 23rd December 1887. The architect of this building was Rev. Ignatius Scoles. G.A. Forshaw bought land on which once stood an old coffee logie then offered it to the Town Council in 1887. The Town Hall was built on this land and was officially opened on 1st July 1889. One regional publication describes it thus:
...this is one of the region's finest buildings - a near miracle of timber construction. Except for the slate roofs, cast-iron columns and decorative elements, the structure is entirely fabricated from local timber.
Another building of significance is the Stabroek Market in Water Street. Opened on the 1st November 1881, this iron market was constructed by Nathaniel McKay and cost $200,000. It is built of zinc and has a tower which rests on skeleton legs. On top of the tower is a cornice and this bears pieces of upright iron which are covered and protect a bell. Beneath the cornice of the tower is a large clock face. A few feet below the clock there is a row of gothic arches which extend across the tower. The building also has Tudor features. The Stabroek market clock is a four dial tower clock which was imported from E. Howard Company of Boston. Massachusetts on July 1, 1880. The clock has painted sheet-iron dials and is above the entrance to the market. The market also has a one-ton bell of cast steel.
The foundation stone of this building was laid on 17th July 1879 by Mrs. Kortright, wife of the Governor. It is built on the site of an old blockhouse of brandwagt that was used to alert persons of the arrival of ships. The Mayor and Councillors of the city of Georgetown manage the market.
St George's Cathedral holds the distinction of being the tallest timber church in the world. It stands 43.6 metres tall. The cathedral was built between 1877 and 1892. Its foundation stone was laid on November 21, 1889 and it was consecrated on the 50th anniversary of the Bishop on St. Bartholomew's Day, August 24, 1892. Its construction cost $160,000. Its architect was Arthur Blomfield of Montague Square, London. The church was opened on March 26, 1893.
The Cathedral is in the shape of a cruciform. It was constructed from greenheart and English oak. Its architectural features include pointed arches, flying buttresses, vaulted ceilings; traceries windows and clerestory. Iron columns in Gothic style sustain the nave roofs. This Cathedral is the fourth building constructed by the Anglican Diocese in Guyana.
It is believed that St. Andrew's Kirk is the oldest church in Georgetown. Joseph designed it. Originally, the edifice was begun by the Dutch Reformed Church which did not receive enough funds to complete the job. Although the foundation stone was laid on 12th August 1811, the Dutch Reformed Church sold the unfinished building in 1813.
A few members of the Dutch Vestry bought the building but did not continue to work on it. On September 9, 1815 an advertisement was placed in the Gazette stating that the Dutch Reformed Church had offered the Scottish members of the colony half their right and title on condition that both Scotch and Dutch colonists would finance the building of the church. At a meeting of Scotsmen held on September 23, 1815 it was agreed that a building should be constructed for the Presbyterian Church and the gathering subscribed 1,000 pounds. This later rose to 4,200 pounds. In February 1816 the Hon. F.P Van Berckel bought all but one of the shares in the buildings and invited the Scottish Presbyterian church to use it. The church was opened on September 27, 1818. St. Andrew's Kirk holds the distinction of being a church which baptized slaves and allowed them to worship with Europeans during that period.
Although the edifice has been renovated several times some original features remain, for example, the slate tiles on the roof of the church. However, the tower was redesigned in 1852 and two porches were built in 1893 on both sides of the tower. In 1945, Gothic style arch braces were placed around the original greenheart and buttresses were erected along southern side of the church. The church has casement windows alone its sides and a 14-pane sash window on its fašade.
These remarkable buildings have been selected to become World Heritage monuments. Their special features and unique styles have made the city of Georgetown one of the more beautiful wooden colonial cities in the Caribbean. The buildings were selected from an area of cultural and historic significance in Georgetown. Let us endeavour to maintain and preserve these buildings for posterity.