This is the core of old Bridgetown dating from the 1630’s and was originally the Shambles or marketplace of Bridgetown. In the second half of the eighteenth century, enslaved people, after years of risking punishment by illegally selling goods on the street, were permitted by law to sell produce derived from their small allotments of land. This was done in an area in the north eastern section designated the Negro Market. To avoid confusion, one should note that there was no designated slave auction site in Bridgetown where humans were bought and sold. This was done either on board slave vessels anchored in Carlisle Bay or in the yards of business places which engaged in the slave trade.
Archaeology carried out recovered thousands of artefacts and also revealed the early seventeenth century cobble stone road which is encased for public viewing. The two green cast iron pillars with the embossed VR (Victoria Regina) mark the establishment of the gardens in honour of Queen Victoria’s Jubilee in 1888. Exit and cross the road to:
St. Mary’s Church
The earliest Anglican church of Bridgetown, a wooden structure, was built here in 1630. With the growth of Bridgetown, this church was abandoned c. 1660 and a new one built at the present location of St. Michael’s Cathedral. The graveyard, however, continued to be used for burials of the enslaved and free coloured population. Many influential members of the free coloured community in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century are buried here, including Joseph Rachel, Amaryllis Collymore, Rachel Pringle Polgreen and National Hero, Samuel Jackman Prescod.
The abandoned churchyard also hosted eighteenth century political meetings. At one stage it was so overgrown that wild pigs took up residence and terrorized the townsfolk. Sharpshooters were hired to kill these wild boar.
Continueing out of the small eastern gate go down the first unpaved road to your left which will lead you to an eighteenth century slave hut. The only remaining slave hut in Bridgetown, it is of rubble stone construction and dates from the eighteenth century. The present galvanized roof is a latter addition. The original roof was almost certainly shingled. This would have provided accommodation for the enslaved family who toiled for the family of the now demolished house that fronted the street. The cottage is supposedly haunted. Continue walking in an easterly direction to Suttle Street.
This is one of the oldest streets of Bridgetown, originally called Back Church Street. Once occupied by the middle classes, the character of Suttle Street has changed from a residential street to a ‘rootsy” commercial one. Many of the structures date from the early eighteenth century as this part of town was never affected by fire. Make a point of stopping at Anacia’s shop half way up on the left hand side. She sells all sorts of interesting things brought in from other islands, but especially St. Lucia. Continue up to the top of the street, cross over and enter James Street.
Now a lively street with goods offered on the sidewalks, James Street was also at one time a residential street. The attractive neo-Gothic style building of coral stone blocks once housed the Wesley Hall Boys School. Opposite is the James Street Methodist Church built on lands donated by National Hero, Sarah Ann Gill, who at grave personal risk, undertook the task of bringing the gospel to the enslaved of Bridgetown.
At the top of James Street is a three story Dutch style brick building, the oldest in Bridgetown which dates from c.1650.
Turn left onto Lucas Street and continue in an easterly direction. On your left you will pass the Central Police Station, the headquarters of the Royal Barbados Police Force. On your right you will see the newly redeveloped block with the restored quarters of the first fire station of Bridgetown and the plaza with its gazebo. This marks the site of Codd’s House where in 1838 the act was proclaimed ending the Apprenticeship system that immediately followed the Emancipation Act which ended slavery in 1834. Enter the synagogue.
Nidhe Israel Synagogue
This synagogue was built c.1654 by Sephardic Jews who had relocated to Barbados after they were expelled from Brazil. Translated from Hebrew, Nidhe Israel means the ‘Scattered of Israel’. Sold in 1929 after the Sephardic community became extinct, it was saved by the present day Ashkenazi Jewish community and restored. There is an interpretive museum on site and the recently excavated mikvah is the oldest in the hemisphere. Walk around the graveyard. The oldest graves go back to 1658. After leaving the synagogue, turn right onto Magazine Lane and left at the junction with Roebuck Street. Walk along Roebuck Street and turn right into Spry Street.
As you enter Spry Street, you will see on your left a plaque commemorating the site of the first House of Assembly of the island which met in 1639. Immediately after on your left is the towering Central Bank of Barbados with its grounds which were landscaped by the noted Brazilian designer, Burle Marx.
The Exchange Museum
As you enter a small square, the brick structure immediately in front of you is an early eighteenth century building which once housed the prestigious Harrison College, a boy’s school founded in 1733. After the school moved to its present location on Crumpton Street, the building was the seat of the English and Scottish Free Masons. Recently it was sold to the Central Bank of Barbados which has restored it and created the Exchange Museum, Barbados’ newest and most impressive heritage hub. The multi-storey museum features state-of-the-art interactive displays chronicling the history of trade, commerce and banking in Bridgetown, as well as the history of Freemasonry and early education in Barbados. An exhibition gallery space on the ground floor provides an exciting new space for temporary displays. Scheduled Tours of the Exchange are at 10:30am, 12:30pm, 2:30pm and 4:30pm Tuesday to Sunday.
St. Michael’s and All Saints Cathedral
Right next door is the seat of the Anglican Church of Barbados. Built in 1664 but ruined by hurricanes, it has been rebuilt on more than one occasion, the last such occasion following the 1780 hurricane. It has a beautiful barrel vaulted roof, a recently restored chancel, a magnificent organ and numerous interesting funerary plaques dating from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, many of which were carved by pre-eminent British sculptors of the time.
Take some time to walk through the graveyard which is filled with the centuries-old graves of the social and mercantile elite of Barbados, politicians and visiting naval and military personnel of the then British Empire.
Exit the main gate of the church and continue to your right, through the small park directly in front of you, cross the road and head towards the Constitution River, past several stalls. Turn right and then turn right again when you reach the bridge, and cross over to Independence Square at the lights.
This was originally part of the Inner Basin of the Careenage, where inter-island schooners were careened to have their hulls scraped clear of barnacles and inspected for teredo worms which could seriously compromise the integrity of these wooden sailing vessels. A statue of the Rt. Hon. Errol Walton Barrow, the Father of Independence, dominates the park. Walk along the edge of the Inner Basin with its shady almond trees, cross the road by the Independence Arch and enter the Pierhead.
This was originally known as the Molehead. Much of it was created when the townsfolk in the eighteenth century were instructed to dump their garbage on what was then reefs and exposed rocks. This reclaimed land became a landing pier. In the nineteenth century, Bridgetown became a vibrant maritime hub for the southern Caribbean, with large steam ships off-loading in Carlisle Bay and West Indian sailing schooners bringing up produce from the windward islands and taking commodities back. The careenage remained a bustling centre of shipping until the second half of the twentieth century.
On 13th May, 1764, the Pierhead was the scene of great jubilation when John Harrison’s famous chronometer H4 was landed from HMS Tartar after a trans-Atlantic voyage undertaken to ascertain whether time could be accurately kept at sea. This was necessary to determine longitude. Calculations were checked and re-checked and it was demonstrated that the elusive goal of determining longitude at sea had been solved.
The last surviving Screw Dry Dock in the world, Blackwood’s Screw Dock, is also located on the Pierhead. Retrace your steps, exit the Pierhead and turn left and cross the Swing Bridge.
This bridge was built in 1865 to swing sideways to allow tall masted vessels to enter the Inner Basin. It was recently converted to a lifting bridge but retains the name the Swing Bridge. Older folk will remember it as the Chamberlain Bridge. As you cross the waters of the careenage, now filled with pleasure craft, look at one of the iconic landscapes of the Caribbean - the neo-Gothic buildings of the Parliament of Barbados. Directly in front of you is Heroes Square.
This was originally called Trafalgar Square. The land was acquired with funds raised from public donations after the famous but costly victory by Viscount Nelson over a combined French and Spanish fleet at Trafalgar in 1805. It contains the second oldest statue of the fallen admiral in the then British Empire, sculpted by Sir Richard Westmacott and erected in 1813. The two other monuments in Heroes Square are the shell fountain, which commemorates the bringing of potable piped water to Bridgetown in 1865, and the Cenotaph or War Memorial erected to commemorate those who served and lost their lives in world Wars I and II. Turn left onto Broad Street.
Museum of Parliament and National Heroes Gallery
This small state-of-the-art museum is located in the west wing of the stunning Parliament Buildings, which were built entirely of hand cut local coral limestone in the 1870’s. Guided tours of the hallowed chambers of the Senate and Parliament are included (once not in session).
The High Street of Bridgetown. Here you can shop duty free to your heart’s delight in the many high end jewellery stores, or the island’s 100 year old department store, Cave Shepherd, now known as Bridgetown Duty Free.The streetscape is an eclectic mix of buildings, so stroll and admire. Collins Drugstore occupies an early nineteenth century building which is a survivor of that period. At the end of Broad Street, crowned with two impressive silver domes, is one of the most handsome buildings of the city. Familiarly known as the Barbados Mutual Building, it was recently gifted to the University of the West Indies. Here you have come full circle back to Jubilee Gardens.