Professor Henry FraserArchitecural Historian / Heritage Consultant
Chairman, Sentinel Committee, Barbados National Trust
Writer, TV Presenter, National Orator & Motivational Speaker
Professor Emertius, Medicine and Clinical Pharmacology.
Immediate Past Dean, Faculty of Medical Sciences.
University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus, Barbados.


THINGS THAT MATTER:   A – Z of Barbados Heritage: Did you know?

Henry S. Fraser

This A to Z is therefore a kind of rescue operation as well as an act of preservation of the past from obscurity and a chart of the journey from the arrival of such phenomena as plants, and games, words and place names, which have survived both the sea change and the time warp.” (John Wickham, Foreword to the First Edition of the A – Z.)

The A – Z of Barbados Heritage is temporarily out of print. Discovering that only Days Books has copies in stock, I decided to source some from distributors in the USA, who, like Amazon, still have a few. So I duly arrived at Parcel Post, GPO, to collect my books, and opened them for the officer to inspect. Her fascination, on leafing through it, was matched by that of three other officers and a police inspector nearby. None of these five good people had ever seen or heard of the book, which has been on bookshelves and sold, I believe, some 8,000 copies in two editions over some 20 years. And my friendly officer behind the counter said “Why don’t you tell people about it?” Hence this column!

The quotation above, from the late, great Bajan writer John Wickham’s introduction to the first edition,  speaks volumes. Because not only are our oral traditions and oral histories dying in this corrupted global age that controls us like puppets, but efforts to preserve, share and inform fall on deaf or diverted ears, in unopened books and unwatched television, all cast off for the pervasive trivia of the current hand-held fad of twittering or whatever. But some of us persist, so here’s the story of the A – Z.

I met Pat Rousseau (former Jamaican Chairman of WICB) on a BeeWee flight 25 years ago, and he asked me if I’d like to put together an A – Z of Barbadian Heritage. He was then Chairman of Heineman Publishers (Caribbean), and was familiar with my Historic Houses of Barbados, first two editions, and Historic Churches of Barbados. A few days later I met Sean Carrington, who had recently joined UWI Cave Hill, and shared the idea with him, and we had our botanist on board! I was, at the time, on the board of the National Cultural Foundation, so our historian / biographer John Gilmore and folklorist Addy Forde, cultural officers at the NCF and both friends and colleagues, were automatic choices. Within weeks we had an agreement, and work started. It was a fabulous collaboration – we met every Tuesday night over pizza, beers and my wife Maureen’s coconut bread, around my dining table, to decide on content, authors, style, references, pictures old and new, word count, facts and anecdotes, and everything else relevant to the first Barbados encyclopaedia of 500 entries in 200 pages. And the following Tuesday we’d review and revise, sometimes with eloquent battles justifying one or other inclusion or omission! We quickly learnt the truth of the dictum about pleasing some all the time and all some of the time … But we had a tremendous time, and although the arguments might have woken the neighbours we never came to blows!

When Heinemann Caribbean closed, we turned to Macmillan Caribean for the new, 2003 edition. We were now in the digital age, which made life a lot easier, and we quickly expanded the entries, with IT whiz Sean taking over as senior author. We expanded on our ten national heroes, and a wide range of topics such as the Hilton demolition and Historic Businesses, Marl and Migrations. And Sean and John sourced amazing new photos.

The A – Z’s facts never fail to fascinate me whenever I pick it up, in spite of reading every word before it went to press. Did you know that King Ja Ja of Opobo, exiled from his Nigerian Kingdom, lived on Two Mile Hill, in the house now a home for the elderly? And that according to the folk-song: “King Ja Ja won’ leh Dovie ’lone …” ? Did you know the Island Inn used to be the old Rum Store for the Garrison, supplying the army and England’s warships, calling at the Naval Dockyard? Did you know that the famous film, Island in the Sun, starring Harry Belafonte, was filmed in 1956 at Farley Hill, Heron Bay and Foster Hall? Did you know that the whistling frog has no tadpole stage, like other frogs, but lays eggs in damp places and the mother stands guard over them for ten days until they hatch? Did you know that Codrington College was gutted by fire in 1926, but unlike the scandal of Sam Lord’s Castle, rebuilding began at once? And did you know that the greatest, biggest, most beautiful and most impressive book ever to come out of Barbados was published in 1750, at the height of the Age of Enlightenment and the importance of Barbados in the English diaspora? It was the Natural History of Barbados, by the Reverend Griffith Hughes, Rector of St. Lucy, who was made a Fellow of the Royal Society, but disappeared mysteriously from the island in 1758.

We’re hoping that a new reprint will soon be on all bookshelves, but meanwhile we understand that Days Books and still have copies.

Professor Fraser is Past President of the Barbados National Trust, and past Dean of Medical Sciences, UWI.

Henry Fraser Historic Houses Of Barbados Book CoverHistoric Houses of Barbados
Written by Henry Fraser & Ronnie Huges.
Available at all book leading book stores in Barbados.

Henry Fraser Treasures Of Barbados Book CoverTreasures of Barbados
Written by Sir George Alleyne and edited by Henry Fraser.
Available at the UWI Bookshop the publishers.

Henry Fraser Chattle House Book CoverBarbados Chattel Houses
Written by Henry Fraser and Bob Kiss.
Available at all leading book stores.

Henry Fraser A-Z Barbados Book CoverA-Z of Barbados Heritage
Written by Sean Carrington, Henry Fraser, John Gilmore and Addington Forde.
Available at Days Bookstore Barbados and

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