In July 2011, historic Bridgetown and its Garrison were officially accorded the status of a World Heritage site by the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO). The recognition encourages reflection on the ethos which imbues these architecturally inspired and historic locations; and it also inspires an appreciation of the subtle and sometimes strident linkages of outward appearance and inner purpose. For at the core, the recent accolade is a silent message about gratifying aspects of the Barbadian way of life, and indeed its journey in business.
As early as the seventeenth century, archaeological evidence reveals a very thriving business culture with the presence of the well documented “Butcher’s Shambles” – a general market for hucksters and vendors which existed at Cheapside in Bridgetown and later moved southward to the Jubilee Gardens upon Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee of 1887. Complementing this vibrant market activity, archaeological evidence also reveals a very wealthy class of Bridgetown residents, such that a period gold pendant set of nine sapphire stones represented one of many recent interesting archaeological discoveries. These very rare sapphire stones to some degree characterise Bridgetown society in the seventeenth century. For there existed a hive of immense wealth interacting with huckstering, retailers and shoppers; and creating an interaction of such intensity that the House of Assembly on at least five occasions tried to curb its tempo. Legislative efforts were accordingly made to thwart the expansion of selling and negotiating from the city into residential areas. At this time, a growing Redware industry in Bridgetown thrived and gave support to the Barbados sugar industry which was using the ingenio design modelled on its Portuguese equivalent.
The presence in Barbados of the Sephardic Jews, who had fled the South American continent, was the cause and contributor of this sugar production. Bridgetown benefitted with the integration of the ingenio into sugar cane production when wood supplies were scarce and not readily available. Bridgetown also benefited from the establishment in 1654 of the first synagogue which was built in the western hemisphere. Destroyed by hurricanes, rebuilt and more recently restored, it is today a Bridgetown landmark both architecturally, culturally and historically; and it further serves to highlight the important Barbadian Jewish contribution to national development. The synagogue restoration has been an impetus to the incipient repair of the 1786 St. Michael’s Anglican Cathedral, as well as the ongoing restoration of the newly acquired Masonic Lodge Building by the Central Bank of Barbados. In a guided restoration which will inter alia feature a Numismatic Museum and gym, the Bank is adding to its role of lender of last resort the important responsibilities as guardian of its own health and educator on the national currency.
The interest shown today in repairing and restoring Bridgetown and Barbados as a whole is not dissimilar to the care and protection earlier afforded by its Garrison. The imposing statue of Nelson unveiled in March 1813 and supported by a public subscription of over 2500 pounds sterling within a few weeks was a direct response to presumed thoughts of a later French invasion. It further underscored the local awareness in the protection of Bridgetown and the country which it anchored; as well as the strong feelings of pride and patriotism of the population as a whole.
The historic Garrison itself is the symbol and the substance of that pride and protection. Home to the Barbados Militia of 1640, the oldest in the Commonwealth, it was also home to the first truly regional institution (the West India Regiment) and also the first non-white British regiment, giving 132 years of service in the West Indies and worldwide. Bounded by Charles Fort and St. Ann’s Fort and its vaulted underground magazines, it represented a bulwark of defence of substantial proportions. With a national cannon collection of over 400 pieces, it boasts the only surviving Elizabethan cannon and a rare 1652 period gun. Today it symbolically protects Bridgetown as well as its own environs which boast the 1933 Barbados Museum in its much earlier constructed Military Prison, as well as the recently restored 18th century George Washington House – a home which America’s first President visited with his ailing brother to experience comfort and recuperation in Barbados. For in Barbados, with its early commitment to health, patent medicines were then regularly on sale, and Bridgetown was aglow with its hucksters and market vendors!
A nation which passionately protects and preserves its heritage is one which will dutifully respect and revere the business and persons which come within its care and control. Bridgetown and its Historic Garrison seek to synthesize this symphony of thought and action within Business Barbados. Future international activities within Barbados should therefore continue to survive and thrive against the bedrock of guided protection and an ethos of robust commercialism.