The destruction of Brickdam

Stabroek News
April 8, 2000

Brickdam is Georgetown's first street, and in a sense, therefore, the nucleus from which the capital eventually evolved. It got its name from the 'bricked dam' down its middle - a causeway of bricks laid edgewise - which had been placed there in the 1780's in order that Governor Lespinasse's wife would not have to get the hems of her long skirts soiled in the mud. In the days before steam and petrol, young bloods were not allowed to charge their horses down the bricked portion of the road; they had to dismount and lead them by the bridle. It was, in effect, Georgetown's earliest traffic regulation.

Brickdam was also a street which saw a lot of action in the early days. In 1795, the Dutch inhabitants of the colony of Demerara were split in their political views, some supporting a French-style republic in their homeland, and some lending their allegiance to the exiled former head of state, the Prince of Orange. To the amazement of the other ethnic groups in the city, a white mob of republican persuasion laid siege to the colony Secretary's office in Brickdam in May of that year, and then rushed up and down the street in unruly fashion. Among their number was a particularly uninhibited shoemaker named Henning, who ran around shouting, "Justice must be done! Some must be hanged!"

There were other dramas too, affording Brickdam some colourful local history all of its own. Needless to say, in the earliest days anyone of any importance lived there, and although the governors were soon to move out, and the leading merchants were to find places of abode more convenient to commerce, it retained through most of its more than two centuries of existence a certain grace of aspect with its spacious yards, borders of handsome trees and elegant wooden architecture.

Ideally, given its colourful past and its aesthetic appearance, it should have been decided a long time ago that its ambience should be preserved - not just for the benefit of the inhabitants of Georgetown, but also for tourism purposes. But wisdom in aesthetic, historical and tourism matters has not been given to our leaders, no matter whether these are from the PNC or the PPP. Today Georgetown's premier avenue is a shadow of what it once was. And the destruction of the little of historical, architectural and aesthetic interest that remains continues uninterrupted.

The Government did an absolutely wonderful job in the restoration of the Red House in High Street. But they stopped there, giving the impression, whether rightly or wrongly, that its salvation was more a consequence of its association with the late President Jagan, rather than the intrinsic qualities of the building itself. Where general preservation is concerned, for example, their record is very poor. How can one explain the current gutting of the Teaching Service Commission building in Brickdam, which is Government owned. While it was not in its full original state, it still retained significant nineteenth century features of beauty and interest. Among other things, it was one of the last buildings in Georgetown to boast Portuguese coloured glass around the porch area, a decoration which once adorned many homes at the end of the nineteenth century and beginning of the twentieth.

Of course, we will be told, no doubt, that the structure was in a state of disrepair, and the most cost effective way to proceed was to tear down the building entirely and start afresh. But if that was so, why on earth was it allowed to fall into disrepair in the first place? And if it wasn't suitable for its purpose, why wasn't a more appropriate building found, and some other use for that one decided on?

The most disturbing thing about this particular structure is that it was occupied by a Commission - albeit independent - which appoints teachers for the Ministry of Education, the same ministry which is responsible for sensitizing our children to their history, and opening their eyes to that which is of value in their environment. In addition, what is one to say about a Government which talks ad nauseam about promoting tourism here, but systematically destroys everything man-made which might tempt the tourist.