Greenwood Great House
After a restful night at Half Moon Resort, Bonita and I made the short drive to Greenwood, drove up hill and into the parking lot at the rear of Greenwood Great House. Patricia, our guide for the tour, met us at the gate. The house has been continuously lived in by the owners since it was built and they have kept it in immaculate condition down through the years. The present owners, Bob and Ann Betton, every morning since they bought the house, get up, make the beds in Richard Barrett’s bedroom and open the house for tours. Richard Barrett, the builder of the house, would feel very comfortable there today because the house, unlike other great houses in Jamaica still has the original furnishings down to the Barrett’s library.
The first Barrett in Jamaica was Hercie who came with his wife and son from Barbados in the England invasion of 1655, landing with Cromwell’s army. The Barretts prospered in politics, plantations and the development of Jamaica. They were members of the House of Assembly, made Justices of the Peace and Custos’ (Supervisors) of Parishes. They owned 84,000 acres of land and thousands of slaves. The town of Falmouth was built on Edward Barrett’s land. It was a vast clan. As poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning (of “How do I love thee, let me count the ways” fame) wrote, “We, you know, number our cousins after the tribes of Israel.” That could be said of her Jamaican relatives alone: four of her brothers worked in Jamaica and it was her cousin Richard Barrett who built Greenwood Great House. When Edward Barrett, Elizabeth’s father, moved to Wimpole Street London, he had an annual income exceeding 60,000 pounds per year, a kingly income. The saying in London of a person of extreme wealth was, “Wealthier than a West Indies planter.”
Richard’s father-in-law, Phillip Anglin Morris, designed Greenwood mainly as a show piece in which to entertain when Richard was made Speaker of the Assembly. The family main house was nearby Cinnamon Hill, once owned by American entertainer Johnny Cash. Greenwood was built of square-cut stone with a seventy-one foot verandah, which, along with the numerous jalousies and the constant breezes from the Caribbean, make it a wonderfully cool building. The view is glorious from high on the hill; you can see the country below and the Caribbean Sea beyond.
Attached to the end of the building is a later addition, one of the first indoor bathrooms built in Jamaica. To the rear of the house is the separate kitchen (built as an out-building due to the fear of fire and to reduce the heat in the house). Between the kitchen building and main house is the covered Whistler’s Walk, so named because the slaves were required to whistle when they carried the food to the main house to assure the owner’s they weren’t sampling their burden.
Richard Barrett built a ballroom, which is now the dining room, for his life of splendor. As Judge of the Supreme Court of Jamaica, three times Speaker of the House of Assembly and Editor of the Jamaica Journal, he was expected to entertain lavishly. The dining room is resplendent with items from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries from the Spanish chandeliers to the Wedgewood china, from the Ming porcelain to the three hundred volume Barrett library. The library has books such as a Barrett’s Eton diary of 1832, a signed first edition of Dickens’ “Domby and Son”, William Cobbett’s “Rural Rides”, Thomas Carlisle’s “French Revolution” and the oldest book in the library is a 1671 edition of “Julius Caesar”. Also included is the 1870 edition of Jamaica Pocket Book, which has an advertisement for the Brox Outfitting Establishment, selling ladies riding habits for the Caribbean in either tweed or flannel (think of the heat ladies). There are also eightieth and nineteenth century maps of Jamaica, busts of Gladstone, Edward Barrett, Prince Albert and Queen Victoria. There is an elaborate inlaid Broadwood piano (the piano maker for Beethoven) that belonged to Queen Alexandra, wife of Edward VII of Denmark and a harp made in London by Sebastian Erard in 1862.
Art work adorns the walls. There are several portraits of Elizabeth Barrett Browning. There is a print of Thomas Lawrence’s Pinky, who was Sarah Goodin Moulton; Elizabeth Browning’s aunt who died shortly after the painting was completed at the age of twelve years old. There are also many other Barretts staring down from the walls. There are pictures of bare knuckle boxers Tom Sawyer and Ben Caunt for whom Big Ben is named.
The planters lived extravagantly as if they were in London. There was a dearth of musicians in Jamaica in the 1700’s so the Barretts imported the largest collection of polyphone music boxes in the West Indies. These music boxes still pump out waltzes when the handles are cranked.
Most of the house is made of stone with the woodwork painted white. The hip roof is covered with cedar shingles. As with many great houses in Jamaica, there are:
- An elaborate outer stairway to the second floor living quarters.
- A large living (or ballroom) and dining room.
- Mahogany doors.
- A detached kitchen connected to the main building by a whistling walk.
- Outside toilets until this house installed one of the first indoor bathrooms in Jamaica.
- Gun ports and an area for refuge in case of attack.
There was a thirty-seven year feud between Richard and Edward (Elizabeth’s father) over their grandfather’s legacy. Edward was finally forced to sell Elizabeth’s beloved childhood home in Herefordshire England. She wrote concerning Richard of Greenwood, “He was a man of talent and violence and some malice who did what he could at one time to trample poor Papa down.”
If you plan to tour any ONE Jamaican great house, insist on the Greenwood Great House. This is the most authentic of the lot and I have toured a lot of them. The contact information is: Telephone 876-953-1077; Email firstname.lastname@example.org; Website greenwoodgreathouse.com.
If you are an independent traveler, go to the town of Greenwood on the north coast, east Montego Bay on the north road A-1, turn at the traffic light and head uphill following the signs to Greenwood Great House. You’ll be able to see it from the highway, high on the hill.
How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of being and ideal grace.
I love thee to the level of every day’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for right.
I love thee purely, as they turn from praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use.
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith
I love thee with a love I seem to lose
With my lost saints. I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if God choose
I shall but love thee better after death.
Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861)