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.


Article Index

COMMON SENSE AND EVIDENCE: Arlington House Museum, #249 for Sunday, March 2, 2008

“Cultural treasures are the raison d’etre of tourism, life blood of Barbados today and tomorrow.”  (The final sentence of Historic Houses of Barbados, by Fraser and Hughes, Pub. Barbados National Trust and Art Heritage Publications, 1986)

Heritage tourism has had another shot in the arm with the preservation of 17th century Arlington in Speightstown, and its opening as a splendid house museum on Monday evening.

It was a wonderful, inspiring event, with former Prime Minister Owen Arthur and new Minister of Tourism Richard Sealy sharing a platform (well, actually, a restored nineteenth century balcony) in singing the praises and sharing their vision for Speightstown and its further restoration and re-development.

The Importance of Arlington

I have been aware of Arlington and many of the houses in Speightstown since childhood, because my mother was a daughter of St. Peter (born at the Castle, schooled at the Alexandra School, now the popular Mango Restaurant, postmistress of St. Peter and living at Galena, the now abandoned Post Office building, and in desperate need of restoration).  When we were children, public holidays were an excuse to visit old friends in Speightstown, like the Roaches of Roach Pharmacy, the Jordans, and the Skinners of Arlington.

Arlington was brought to the attention of the National Trust by Jimmy Walker, then Vice President, in his efforts to preserve this splendid seventeenth century town.  It was clearly one of the very earliest of Speightstown’s houses, surviving in reasonable condition, in a part of the town with several “survivors”.  (I believe it is seventeenth century, and not eighteenth, as I wrote in Historic Houses of Barbados.)

Arlington is a three story building, with a tall gable roof and gable windows (hooded windows projecting through the roof) on the top floor.  It’s long and narrow, with an elegant entrance on the street front and ground level, and doors along the north side.  One of the interesting features is the fact that the front of the building, on the street, is four feet wider than the back of the building – it’s not a true rectangle!  Why would any sensible builder create such a building?  The most likely answer lies in the practice at the time of long narrow lots, to give everyone a frontage on the street, and in the early days they weren’t too fussy how the lots were drawn, resulting in boundary lines that weren’t parallel, and buildings shoulder to shoulder.

Most of Speightstown’s old houses are of three stories, while few three story buildings survive in Bridgetown.  Why is this?  Again, we have likely answers, as most of Bridgetown, except for the block which includes the old Nicholls building (now Harford Chambers) on the corner of Lucas and James Street, was destroyed by fire at some time.  But if we look at the beautiful Copen engraving of Bridgetown in the Barbados Museum (1695) we see  the typical medieval townscape of tall narrow gabled houses jeek by jowl, that has survived only in Speightstown.

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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