Did you know that Barbados has been promoted as a health resort for nearly 300 years? The first telling evidence for that was the recommendation for the young George Washington, later the first president of the United States of America, to bring his older half-brother Lawrence to Barbados for a “health cure”. Lawrence had severe TB (tuberculosis) and his doctors recommended a milder climate. Happily, there were relatives in Barbados, and the Barbados – Virginia connection was strong, so the brothers took ship for “Paradise” in search of a cure for Lawrence.
They took up residence for six weeks and three days at Bush Hill House, which is now the famous George Washington House Museum, at the edge of the historic Garrison and overlooking Carlisle Bay. George came down with what I like to call the mild Barbadian version of small pox, and survived with merely some noticeable pock marks on his face. It was a God-send, because when his revolutionary army was devastated by small pox on the Delaware, he was unaffected – or the War of Independence might have ended differently! Lawrence, on the other hand, went on to Bermuda when George went home. He became worse there, returned to Virginia and soon died. Perhaps he should have stayed here!
Barbadians in later centuries would have advised the Washingtons to find lodgings on the east coast, to imbibe the famous Atlantic breezes – the Trade winds – reputedly filled with health giving ozone!
Barbadians, with their strong English connections, followed the example of the English, developing seaside villages, because of the perceived healthy environment by the sea. Hence Hastings, Worthing and Dover, after Britain’s seaside towns. And these were the locations of the early beach-side hotels when the first steam ships came, bringing long-stay visitors from Britain and North America, often specifically for their health. Hastings was the site of the late 19th century Family Hotel, later the Ocean View, right on the sea, and the large and elegant Marine Hotel. They were followed by a proliferation of hotels on the sea, along the coast through Worthing to St. Lawrence Gap and Dover.
But the dramatic Atlantic east coast – at the Crane, Bath and Bathsheba - had from the 19th century attracted Barbadians building seaside houses, and it was firmly believed that a week or two of vacation on the east coast restored poor health. When the railway opened in 1883 it made the east coast much more easily accessible, and seaside houses or “bay house” in local parlance appeared rapidly along the Bathsheba, Cattlewash and the St. Philip coast, from Foul Bay going north.
The economic opportunities were obvious. Three hotels opened at almost the same time – the Crane Hotel, the Atlantis in Tent Bay, Bathsheba, and the Beachmount Hotel on the bluff between Tent Bay and the next Bathsheba bay, where the Bathsheba railway station was located.
The Crane Hotel was originally a posh seaside villa called Marine House. Mr. D.M. Simpson, famous and successful engineer and grandfather of Sir Kyffin Simpson, bought Marine House in 1887 (hence the centre piece - the 1887 bar today) and created the famous Crane Hotel. He expanded the house for additional rooms, while a dance hall and restaurant were later added (known as the Casino) overlooking the cliff, and rivalling the Marine Hotel, as THE place to go.
The emphasis at the Crane was always on the beach, the sea bathing and the healthy environment. Its praises were sung eloquently by one guest, Raymond Savage, who wrote a book simply called Barbados. He said, after a few days at the Crane: “A week or two of this programme (sea bathing, sun bathing, walking, relaxing, indulging in iced egg nog and rum sours, and eating healthy food (especially the /crane chubb) will restore the most jaded to a measure of health and strength which is quite remarkable.“
Other hotels were opened in Bathsheba (the Powell Spring and the Edgewater. The Edgewater was allegedly started by a lady to compete with her former husband running the Powell Spring, but after its heyday in the 1960s it is sadly now derelict. Any buyers?
The Kingsley Club in Cattlewash, a family hotel, was a great favourite, always full and much sought after by recuperating invalids and parents whose children had asthma. It too is no more. Similarly, the bay houses along the Cattlewash coast are in demand as permanent homes for retirees with health problems, for their alleged ozone laden breezes and health benefits.
The hotels in the early twentieth century boasted about their healthy environment and facilities – the breezes, the sea (“a perfect temperature, even for the invalid”) and the wonderful tap water all featured in their advertisements. With modern mass tourism, beginning in the 50s and 60s, huge airliners and package tourists, the sun, sand and sea theme – beaches and bikinis – took over. The touting of the healthy environment disappeared from the ads – it was all about the three Ss.
Is it time to reassert the health benefits of our “Paradise with everything”? Not just the sun, sand and sea, but the wonderful cooling Atlantic breezes, the perfect temperatures, the safety, the wonderful drinks and healthy local foods? Our tourism slogan or tagline could well be: “Barbados – the healthy Paradise”.
Another major aspect of health, of course, is health care, and considering that millions of patients travel from the west to India, Singapore and other eastern countries for health care, Barbados would attract many, many patients from North America if we had a truly state-of-the-art modern hospital – a Mayo Clinic of the Caribbean – with so many comfortable hotels to recuperate in!
For a more detailed account of early tourism in Barbados when health was the by word, see the splendid book Island in the Sun - the Story of Tourism in Barbados, by Henry Fraser and Kerry Hall, published by Miller Publishing, available at the Barbados Museum shop and other booksellers.