The Houses of Georgetown History This Week
By Winston McGowan
Stabroek News
November 9th 2006

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Georgetown is a city of beautiful houses built in the old colonial style. Some of these houses were designed by architects such as Caesar Castellani, John Bradshaw Sharples and Joseph Hadfield. Most of them were constructed in the nineteenth century.

Colgrain House is located in Camp Street, Georgetown. Its name is taken from the Scottish family estate of Mr Campbell, one of its former owners. It was built in the late nineteenth century and can be described as a great house. Mr Thomas Edward Jones of Riverside Wharf Company was one of the owners of the building in the nineteenth century. He sold it to La Penitence Estates in October 1909 of which Mr Campbell was the senior partner. The building was sold several times and was acquired by Bookers Holdings in 1951. It was called 'Booker House' during this period. Subsequently, it was sold to the Federal Republic of Germany. Then the Government of Guyana purchased the building in 1975. The building is now the official residence of the Secretary-General of Caricom.

Another interesting house is the one at Camp and Church streets. The building was designed by H.O. Durham circa 1924. It has a tower with a widow's walk. This was so named because in England it was used by wives of ship's captains who were looking for their husbands' return. The house has sash windows and decorative roundels below louvre windows on the second storey. The top floor has Demerara shutters.

This house was first purchased by E.C.V. Kidman. Subsequently it was bought by the popular cricketer John A. Browne, in 1937 and Frederick Kerry in 1945. In 1974 Neville King acquired it and sold it to the Government of Guyana in 1979. The building that houses the Ministry of Health was once an orphanage, and at a later period, the Queen's College. During the Easter vacation of 1918 furniture and books from the old Queen's College building were removed to Brickdam. At first, the fourth, fifth and sixth forms were placed in this building. In the surrounding buildings, the library, Scout's room, store room and first, second and third forms were housed. The students of Queen's College remained here until 1951 when the school moved to its present address in Camp Street.

Originally, the Ministry of Health stood on a block of land comprising lots 2-9, Brickdam, Stabroek and was owned by Edward Carberry in 1838. In 1852, the Government of British Guiana acquired the land. The date of construction of the Ministry of Health is unknown. However, property registers state that Joseph Hadfield designed the old colonial building along that block.

Demico House is another building of significance. It is situated at the junction of Water Street and Brickdam Road. Originally, it was owned by Messrs. Birch & Company and Charles J. Macquarrie for more than 50 years. D'Aguiar Brothers purchased the buildings in 1896. It was sold for $50,000. During that period it was called the Demerara Ice House and housed a hotel, bar and soft drinks plant. The Company's practice of importing ice in schooners from Canada is the basis of the name Demerara Ice House. It is believed that Caesar Castellani was the architect of the main bar built in 1896. One special feature of the building is the clerestory at the upper floor level.

Guyana House is another house of importance. This house with its 100 windows was built during the 1820's on land belonging to William Piercy Austin, first Bishop of British Guiana. Several governors including Governors Lyght and Barclay resided there. They paid a rent of 240.00 pounds each month. Then ordinances were passed in 1852 and 1863 legislating the purchase of the building to establish a home for the British governors. The Austin Family received $30,000 for this land. The original building had two storeys and a double stairway and faced Carmichael Street. Over the years many changes were made in the building. Adjacent lots were purchased e.g. lots 57 to 60 on Main Street and lots 93 to 95 on Carmichael Street. By 1894, the building's main entrance was in Main Street.

One source of information claims that Government House was built in 1854 but has had many new wings added to it since. Its main drawing room, reception room and State Dining room are remarkable.

The former British High Commissioner's Residence is another imposing house. This house is the official residence of the Prime Minister of Guyana. It is situated at 44 Main Street, Cummingsburg. The house was built for the use of Mr Sandbach in the nineteenth century. It was purchased by Booker Brothers Ltd. in 1911. Subsequently, in 1962 it was acquired by the British Government and became the home of the British High Commissioner. Finally, in 1987 it was bought by the government of Guyana.

The special features of the three-storey house are its Demerara windows, wide-open porch on the ground floor and its tower. The building bears evidence of British and continental influences. In the nineteenth century signals were sent from the tower to the harbour.

The Schuler and Gomes building at the corner of Middle and Carmichael streets is another one of significance. This two-storey building has casement windows, louvre windows and Demerara shutters on the top floor. It appears that the bottom of the building was enclosed at a later date and has modern features such as the glass doors on its eastern side. Some of its owners were Mary Nascimento, Rolf Pairadeau and Joaquim A. Gomes. The ground floor of the building houses the Schuler Optical Service.

The Curator's Lodge in the Botanic Gardens is another picturesque building in Georgetown. Mr. Brummell, Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Botanic Gardens, was the architect of this building which was erected in 1881. It served as a gatekeeper's lodge and had a Board room for the meetings of the Directors. The Board of Directors was formed in 1879. The Curator's Lodge has a black and gold clock on the outside of the building which was built as a memorial of George Samuel Jenman, Government Botanist and Superintendent of the garden from 1879. The original building was the central portion of the building. At a later date a western wing was added to accommodate the gatekeeper. There is also a brass tablet on the building which was placed there in memorial to Sir John Henzon, Director of science and Agriculture, 1905-1926.

There were plaques on the wall which were erected in honour of George Samuel Jenman and Professor Sir John Burchmore Harrison. One reads Thus:

To the memory of George Samuel Jenman, fellow of the Linnean Society, Government Botanist and Superintendent of these gardens from 1879 to 1902 to whose knowledge, skill and work the colony is indebted for the laying out of the gardens and the formation of the herbarium.

The second plaque states:

To the memory of Professor Sir John Burchmore Harrison, Director of Science and Agriculture, Government Analyst and Geologist who died on 8th February 1926. This tablet is erected by the officers of the Department of Science and Agriculture as a token of appreciation of his sterling ability and long and faithful service of 36 years to the colony of British Guiana.

The Curator's Lodge is one of the more picturesque in the city of Georgetown.

The colonial buildings in Georgetown should be preserved for posterity.

Unfortunately, many of them have been destroyed by fires. These tall, white colonial buildings have historical value and have enhanced the aesthetic appearance of the city of Georgetown. Special efforts should be made to preserve and protect them.