Step Back in Time to Colonial Days at Historic Bridgetown
The historic district of Bridgetown, the capital and most populous city of Barbados, was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2012 on the strength of its British colonial architecture and its rich British, African, Carib and Amerindian Heritage. The colony of Barbados was crucial to the development of Great Britain’s New World colonies. A visit to Bridgetown today offers a glimpse of what life was like in Britain’s Atlantic empire during the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries.
When you travel to Barbados, don’t forget to spend some time exploring historic Bridgetown’s winding, narrow streets, reminiscent of a medieval English village. Some of the city’s most important cultural sites include the old port, or Careenage, St. Ann’s Garrison, the Barbados Museum, St. Mary’s Anglican Church and the Parliament Buildings.
No visit to Bridgetown would be complete without a tour of the historic town. The historic settlement’s slow and irregular pattern of organic development perfectly incubated Creole culture and unique forms of architecture like the Creole-inspired Caribbean Georgian style, of which many of the most well-preserved examples are found in Bridgetown.
St. Ann’s Garrison, known by the locals simply as the Garrison, is the crowning jewel of the old town. The Garrison housed members of the British West Indies Regiment throughout the 18th and 19th centuries. George Washington, leader of the American Revolution and first President of the United States, passed six weeks nearby with his ill brother in 1751. The house where they stayed, Bush Hill House, is today operated as the George Washington House museum.
Since the 18th century, regular horse races have been held at the Garrison’s racetrack. On 30 November 1966, the ceremonial lowering of the Union Jack and raising of the Barbadian flag were held at the Garrison, marking the nation’s independence from Great Britain. The old port, or Careenage, was once a bustling hub of commerce and trade for the city, but now it’s a hub of a different sort — the home of many of Bridgetown’s cafes, restaurants, boutiques and pubs.
Nowhere is Barbados’s importance to British military history more evident than in the Garrison’s collection of rare 17th century English cannons. Recent attempts to catalogue the island’s ordinance have turned up more than 400 old cannons and guns on the island — Barbados is literally awash in colonial artillery. More than half of the cannons in the Garrison date back to the 17th century; the oldest was cast in 1620 and the newest, the Victoria Gun, is also one of the rarest — though it dates only to 1870, it’s the first English-made rifled muzzle loader cannon. Barbados is also home to a Commonwealth Cannon, which bears Oliver Cromwell’s coat of arms — the only other gun like it is housed in the Tower of London.
The St. Mary’s Church that stands in Barbados today was built in 1825 and consecrated in 1827, but a church has stood on this site since 1641, when the colony was ruled by King Charles I. That original wooden church was known as the Church of St. Michael’s.
St. Mary’s Church boasts handsome Georgian architecture and a barrel-vaulted ceiling. Some of the structure’s memorial tablets date back to the Regency period of the early 1800s. It’s one of the only churches to withstand the hurricane of 1831, which laid waste to the island.
Built in the early 1870s, the Parliament Buildings were formerly the seat of Barbados’ colonial government, and are now the seat of its national government. Their neo-Gothic architecture harkens back to the Victorian era in which they were built.
Some of the Parliament Buildings’ noteworthy features include the House of Assembly’s stained glass windows, which display the English monarchs from James I to Queen Victoria. In the Senate, stained glass windows display the coats of arms of former Presidents of the Council and Speakers of the House of Assembly. The Barbadian flag flies from the Parliament Buildings’ prominent clock tower.
The Barbados Museum & Historical Society was established by an Act of Parliament in 1933. The building in which it’s housed was once the military prison associated with St. Ann’s Garrison. The collections explore the history of the island going back to its geological formation. Here you can learn about the pre-colonial Amerindian Culture, the history of Barbados as a colony and nation, and the history and culture of the African and European peoples who colonized Barbados. In addition to artefacts, antique maps and ancient works of art, the Barbados Museum also showcases modern art exhibits and other temporary exhibits.
Visitors to Barbados will find this Caribbean island nation steeped in history and heritage. Take some time away from the beach to explore historic Bridgetown. You’ll be rewarded with an enlightening glimpse into the colonial days of yore.