Forty years ago, on May 20, 1980, a fire at the Eventide Home in Kingston, Jamaica, resulted in the deaths of 167 women, aged 19 to 102. This week Wednesday, May 20, 2020, there will be an online event to learn and remember what happened forty years ago, and to remember the names of the women who lived at the Myers Ward.
Contributors at the event include:
One of the organizers of the event, Alexis Goffe, says that there will be time for public comments from anyone who wants to contribute. To receive the link to attend the virtual event, click here: tinyurl.com/Eventide40
Also there is a call for memories about the Eventide Fire. If you are interested in contributing stories and memories, please submit them here by June 30, 2020: bit.ly/3buURsl
If you have any questions about this call, you can send them to email@example.com
Listening to morning radio is a ritual for me and has been for decades. Last week I came across a tape I had made of a segment of the Breakfast Club broadcast on Thursday, February 28, 2002. I popped it into my cassette recorder (yes, I still have one!) to hear what I had recorded that day. It was a discussion about the West Kingston Commission of Enquiry of 2002, which had ended the day before.
The Breakfast Club, with hosts Tony Abrahams and Beverley Anderson-Manley (now Beverley Anderson-Duncan) was a very popular current affairs talk radio programme. I was sometimes an in-studio guest and the on-air discussions would sometimes continue off-air, which was really fascinating.
Listen to this short piece my son Alexis and I did based on this recording. I am trying out a new medium. Any feedback would be welcome! I am contemplating a podcast series based on the hundreds of tapes I have recorded over the years.
(I am trying to locate an electronic copy of the Commission of Enquiry’s report and will post it here once I find one.)
I know very little about the building across the road from the General Penitentiary (now called the Tower Street Adult Correctional Centre), but have wondered about its history. It is a striking building, even in its derelict state.
I noticed it some time ago on a visit to the prison, which is itself in need of much repair and is certainly not suited for housing the men it does. The overcrowded, inhumane conditions do not lend themselves to the rehabilitation of the inmates in the custody of the state. Perhaps the condition of the building across the road is a visible reminder of things that have fallen apart.
The Jamaica National Heritage Trust (JNHT) has concluded a Heritage Assessment on lands situated at the General Penitentiary Staff Club and Support Facilities compound along Tower Street, Kingston Jamaica. This Heritage Assessment was carried out in response to the National Housing Trust’s (NHT) proposed development of inner city housing solutions on these lands
A team from the JNHT carried out an archaeological appraisal (survey) and architectural assessment of the proposed development area. Our main objective was to identify cultural heritage resources, appraise their worth and their potential contribution to the advancement of the community’s sustainable development.
Kingston was officially founded in 1692 after the catastrophic earthquake that devastated Port Royal. The city expanded from a small seaport town to a spreading city due in large measure to the creation of a number of townships which helped to increase its size. In the early 19th century, the town expanded in both easterly and north-westerly directions. Rae Town was one of the earliest of these planned extensions.
Most of the buildings along Tower Street possess exquisite Jamaican Georgian architecture, and along with the General Penitentiary, are fundamental features of the Tower Street historical streetscape. They are of great architectural and historical significance. It is important that these buildings be preserved and integrated into the proposed development.
I was told that neither the buildings of the Staff Club compound nor the prison buildings are on the JNHT list of declared sites.
This is a closer look at the site on Google maps, on which I have scribbled a few labels. The main derelict building is circled, with the arrow pointing to the front entrance. 2 shows the parking lot and 1 indicates the front gate of the prison across the road. 3 shows another nearby derelict building, pictures of which I have also included in this post.
The main entrance to the building is open and is flanked by doorways labeled Lecture Rooms No.1 and No.2, harking back to a time when the building was used for training for correctional officers.
The door to Lecture Room No.1 still has a padlock on it, a rather ironic touch in the circumstances.
When you look through the front door, you can see the staircase and the doors to the two Lecture Rooms on either side.
Standing at the left end of the front porch…
…looking into Lecture Room No.2…
…with the list on the wall of 45 Qualities of a Good Prison Officer.
A walk down the porch along the left side of the building leads to the back of the structure, some of which seemed to be in slightly better condition.
Standing at the back, I could see through the hallway past the staircase, out through the front door, across the parking lot to the front of GP.
The porch along the right side of the building leads to a section that is made of brick on both storeys…
An open door off that porch revealed some signs of more recent habitation.
The short road running along the left side of the parking lot is labeled Tower Street on the Google map, but it isn’t THE Tower Street; it is a side road which has a dead end.
Looking the other way, down the road, you see a smaller building in disrepair and the front of GP.
This building is in two sections facing a small courtyard.
Both sections are in poor condition…
…but still show some of the distinctive features of the building.
I was very surprised to learn from some correctional officers who were in the parking lot that parts of the main building and the smaller building were used by some correctional officers for changing and even for staying overnight. Anyone having to use these buildings, particularly the upper storeys, is at real risk of injury and it raises an issue regarding provision of facilities for correctional officers who work at the correctional center.
So far I have found little information about these buildings and obviously there is much more to be found out regarding their history and any plans for what is to happen to them. This is the third post in my series on derelict buildings and I had far more information in the first two. I’d be interested in any information or leads anyone can provide. But today I felt like posting these photos, which I took a few months ago. So here they are!
“This week, show us the effect of time and the elements.”
On East Parade in downtown Kingston, inside St William Grant Park, there is a statue of Queen Victoria.
It’s been in the Park (which used to be called Victoria Park) for nearly 120 years and has weathered somewhat over that time.
It has even lost its left hand….
The statue was unveiled in 1897 as part of the Diamond Jubilee celebrations; it was a replica of a statue sculpted by Emanuel Edward Geflowski and still bears the inscription: “Queen of Great Britain and Ireland, Empress of India, and Supreme Lady of Jamaica.” The photo below shows the unveiling ceremony.
“This week, share a peek of something — a photo that reveals just enough of your subject to get us interested. A tantalizing detail. An unusual perspective.”
Was the small diamond-shaped window put there to allow him to see out?
It also allows us to see in…
…as he stands guard…
…at the Jamaica War Memorial in National Heroes’ Park in Kingston.
The Cenotaph is in memory of the thousands of Jamaicans who died in World Wars I and II. The Memorial was first erected on Church Street in 1922 to honour those who died in World War 1; in 1953 it was moved to its present location. Soldiers from the Jamaica Defence Force form a ceremonial guard at the Memorial. The epitaph on the monument reads: “In memory of the men who fell in the great war. Their name liveth for evermore.”
“What does pedestrian mean to you? Perhaps this is a great chance to go out and practice some street photography.”
Downtown Kingston. A man walks across the pedestrian crossing in South Parade. In the background is the landmark Kingston Parish Church, built in 1911 at the site of the original church, which was destroyed in the Great Earthquake of 1907. There is much pedestrian traffic in this part of Kingston, but the history of the area is anything but pedestrian.
Below is a postcard showing some of the damage to the original church after the earthquake. (“Parish Church, Kingston Jamaica after earthquake Jan 14, 1907,” National Library of Jamaica Digital Collection , accessed October 4,2017. http://nljdigital.nlj.gov.jm/items/show/254.)
“What kinds of images and emotions do corners evoke in you? In this week’s challenge, share a photo that plays on any of the word’s many meanings.”
Friday night. Matilda’s Corner in Liguanea, at the intersection of Hope Road and Old Hope Road. “Who was Matilda and why is this her corner?” you ask. I don’t think anyone really knows.Saturday morning. The corner of King Street and South Parade, just across from St William Grant Park in downtown Kingston. St William Grant, OD (1894 -1977), important labour leader and activist.
If you are walking or driving on Port Royal Street in downtown Kingston, you may notice this old, locked up building that sits between Church Street and Temple Lane.
It is the old J. Wray and Nephew building, at 24 Port Royal Street.
Here it is on Google Maps:
If you stand at the intersection of Port Royal Street and Church Street, looking down towards the harbour, you can see the overhead crosswalk from the Jamaica Conference Centre to the multistorey parking garage.And this is what the building looks like when you are standing across from it on Church Street.An address given in 1975 by then Managing Director of J. Wray and Nephew, Mr. B. E. Latibeaudiere, at the official opening of their new office complex on Spanish Town Road, gives some information about the building on Port Royal Street.
John Wray, a Scottish wheelwright from St Ann, opened a tavern in Kingston in 1825. It was a successful business and in 1862 he took his nephew Charles James Ward as a partner and the business became J. Wray and Nephew. (Ward later became a member of the legislative council and custos of Kingston; the Ward Theatre, which he built and donated to the city after the 1907 earthquake, is named for him.)
“[Wray] moved to larger premises on Port Royal Street, which were conveniently near the wharves – in those days rum was brought in barrels by sea from various distilleries in the country parts.
John Wray died in 1864 and Ward became the sole owner of J. Wray and Nephew. The business developed considerably.
The premises on Port Royal Street fortunately escaped the fire of 1882, which destroyed a large section of the city of Kingston. However, the fire which followed the 1907 earthquake completely razed Port Royal Street, causing the loss of all the old records and documents. Most of the company’s thirty-odd retail branches throughout the city were also destroyed.
Although approaching his 70th year, Ward immediately set about rebuilding Port Royal Street and the new building which went up after the earthquake covered the entire block from Church Street to Temple Lane and business was resumed from those premises in June 1909.”
The business remained at this location until 1970, when it moved to Spanish Town Road.
(Sunday Gleaner, October 5, 1975)
Photo showing damage to buildings on Port Royal Street after 1907 earthquake
Photo showing damage to a building on Port Royal Street after 1907 earthquake
The iron fretwork is one of the most striking features of the building……though now showing the effects of time….Trees and cut-stone paving would make for a really pleasant area… …between the building and the multistorey carpark, if the area was maintained.Vines on the closed shutters……and grass on the roof show nature taking its course….I checked at the National Land Agency to see who is listed as owning the property, but was told that there is no registered title. I wonder what plans there are for this building.
You walk past things without seeing them all the time. Vendors, shop windows, signs for business places. If you are busy and focussed on getting to an appointment, if you are on your phone, your field of vision shrinks to fit your field of attention. You can’t miss the imposing white and pink building at 79 – 83 Barry Street in downtown Kingston, right across the road from the multi-storey car park beside the Supreme Court. Yet I never really looked at it until last year, although I have walked or driven past the solid edifice repeatedly over many years. Perhaps because when I am downtown, in the vicinity of the Supreme Court, I am hurrying to find a courtroom before a case is called up, or I am hurrying to do business at the Accountant General’s office. I am not there for a leisurely stroll and sightseeing.
Perhaps, too, there are so many derelict or burnt out buildings in parts of downtown that they don’t individually stand out. Now that I have looked at it more carefully, however, it does seem strange how little I knew about this building before.
This is what it looks like on Google maps……and when you look up Barry Street……and when you are on Barry Street facing it. It’s clear that no-one has entered it in a long time, certainly not through what used to be its main entrance…
…nor by its side entrance on Church Street.Many of the windows are boarded up, or closed, with broken glass.
The ones on the upper floor are open to the elements. And there is no roof.
The Building’s History
In his book “Time Tells Our Story: The History of The Jamaica Mutual Life Assurance Society, 1844 – 1994”, Donald Lindo gives an account of the decision of the Society to construct a new building after its offices on Port Royal Street had been severely damaged in the 1907 earthquake.
“The office at No. 10 Port Royal Street, was a brick building, and although it had been repaired, the directors made an almost immediate decision to rebuild and at the same time expand the size of the office. A committee was set up and builders were consulted but the directors were undecided as to whether they would build on the same location or elsewhere and some eighteen months elapsed without a decision being made. Eventually, during 1909, they purchased 79, 81 and 83 Barry Street, with a frontage covering the entire block from Church Street to Temple Lane and facing the old cenotaph war memorial. Tenders were invited and Mr. S. S. Wortley was selected to build the new office, under the supervision of the new contractors Messrs. Mais and Sant. The building was completed in 1911 at a total cost of £7,776, including the land, and was constructed of reinforced concrete which was now being used by many builders instead of brick. Research into the Society’s records do not indicate the exact origin of the logo adopted in later years – a sturdy Viking warrior, battle-axe in his right hand, a stout key in his left, his shield fastened to his arm and guarding the heavy closed door to the new building and the inscription written around it is ‘SECURITY, SOLIDITY’. Beneath this model of the warrior was the date 1911.” (pp. 151-2)
The logo as seen on the cover of Donald Lindo’s book
The logo as currently seen on the Barry Street building. Notice that the battle-axe is missing.
“It was not until March of the following year that the Society moved to its new address and held its first half yearly general meeting there on 17 April 1912. The new building consisted of two floors, a ground and upper floor with a large double staircase on either side of a spacious hallway as one entered from Barry Street. With the exception of an archival vault and a parking area for cars. the Society occupied only the upper floor for its offices. Two sections of the lower floor opening on Barry Street were for many years rented to Mr. J. H. Gaskin Mapp (originally from Barbados) and the Bonitto Bros., both commission agents. The building was an architectural landmark of its day.” (p. 152)
This photo on page 154 of Donald Lindo’s book is captioned “Barry Street Head Office, completed in 1911”.
A photo from the 1950s, I think. I don’t know the source of this photo and would welcome any help in identifying it.
In the top right hand corner of this 1922 photo of the War Memorial, you can see the top of the Jamaica Mutual Life building, just below the electric wires. (National Archives UK)
“When the office at 79 – 83 Barry Street had been remodelled in 1965 the original intention was to construct a new one on the same site in about fifteen years. Nearly ten years had elapsed and although there had been a number of new developments in the Kingston waterfront area, the heart of Kingston was no longer as popular and the trend was for business places to move up-town to the New Kingston area.” (p. 208)
In 1973, the board of the Society made a decision to move uptown and purchased property to facilitate that move. They also decided:
“…that they should try to find a purchaser for the head office at Barry Street. To their surprise, there was an immediate buyer, the government, who wished to expand the courts offices then located in the government buildings just across the road from The Jamaica Mutual Life. The price was agreed but the government wanted almost immediate occupancy, so without knowing where the staff could be temporarily relocated the directors agreed to give occupancy in November 1973….The annual general meeting of 3 July 1973, was therefore a very historic one as it was the last to be held at 79 – 83 Barry Street after more than sixty years.” (pp. 208 – 211)
The Attorney General’s Chambers were located in the Barry Street building from 1976 – 2001, when they moved to the then Mutual Life Building on Oxford Road.I am not yet clear on what led to the building falling into its current derelict state and will try to find out. In her 2016 Sectoral Debate presentation, Attorney General Marlene Malahoo Forte told Parliament of plans to move the AG’s Chambers back to Barry Street eventually.
I made a trip to the National Land Agency to get a copy of the land title and noted a transfer registered on January 31, 2017 to the Commissioner of Lands, “Consideration money Seven Hundred and Fifty Thousand Dollars”.
I wonder what the years of exposure to the elements will have done to the soundness of the structure and how much will have to be spent to restore it to a useable condition. Many in the legal profession and in the business sector must have memories of this building in its better days. Hopefully, the future will see it being restored and functional again.
Postscript: I would like to thank historian Dr Joy Lumsden for her help in guiding me to historical information about the building. And since she is my mother, I would also like to wish her Happy Mother’s Day!