It is sugar cane harvesting time in Trelawny. I can smell and see the burning fields, just before they are harvested. The harvesting machines are cutting cane and I pass loaded trucks along the back roads between Falmouth and the Long Pond sugar mill outside of Clarks Town. Approximately, two kilometers from Clarks Town, I turn the corner and there before my eyes, in the middle of cane fields is a magnificent example of 18th Century Jamaica Georgian architecture. It looks so out of place in this day and age. I pulled my pickup truck under a large cotton wood tree next to a woman washing clothes in a plastic bucket. I got out of the truck and was approached by a man walking by with a machete in his hand who said, “Hey mon. I’m hungry. You got any food?”
I replied, “I don’t have any food, but if you give me a tour of the house, I’ll pay you for the tour.”
“Sure mon. Come wit me.”
“First I want to get photographs of the outside and then I want to see the inside.”
“No problem mon.”
I took numerous photos on the outside. The design of the Hyde Hall Great House is very different from the beam and column type of earlier great houses. The three large arches on the ground level, allowed carriages to pass under the house in inclement weather and the passengers could disembark and enter the house via a winding stairway to the second floor. The house is two stories and constructed of cut-square stone for both stories. There are three hip roofs in the typical “M” shaped found in many Jamaica great houses. At one time the roof was cedar shingles, but today is corrugated metal. The impressive cut stone grand stairway with wooden balustrades, at the front of the house that leads to the second story, is slowly collapsing under its own weight.
We passed under the north arch of the ground floor carriageway. The large paving stones were polished smooth from years of use. I noticed several huge sacks of charcoal stacked in the carriageway and judging by the smoke encrusted stones, it was obvious that this was the only means of cooking in the house. My guide pointed out a stone marked 1820, the date of the construction of the house. I peeked in several rooms on the ground floor and they were full of wooden bunk beds. I found out that during harvest time, the great house is used as a dormitory for the employees of Everglades Sugar Company. We passed on to the second story via a rickety wooden stairway and the great room on the second floor was filled with the same type of wooden bunk beds as I saw on the first floor…in fact every available space in the house was occupied by beds and people. As I walked around and through the house, it was not too hard to imagine what it must have been like in the 1800’s.
Hyde Hall Plantation had it’s origin in the history of two families, the Hydes and the Halls. William Hall arrived in Jamaica in 1687 as secretary of Christopher Monk, the Duke of Albemarle who was the new Governor of Jamaica. Before becoming secretary to Christopher Monk, William was the British Council in Balboa, Spain. William Hall had only one son James and when he died in 1699, his son married Elizabeth Crossley. Elizabeth’s sister was married to Edmund Hyde, the Chief Justice of Jamaica, hence the name Hyde Hall. The estate that Hyde Hall Great House presently occupies was first owned by James Hall. The family also owned Hall’s Delight in Saint Andrew which had the only silver mine in Jamaica.
At some point, the plantation was passed on to George Clarke (1676-1760) who was related to the Halls. He moved to New York for a short time and upon returning to England, moved up the social ladder by marrying Anne Hyde, heiress of Hyde Hall in Cheshire, England. She was related to the Earls of Clarendon and to Ann Hyde, wife of King James of England and mother of Queen Mary and Queen Anne. Not only did George marry well, but managed to get himself appointed Royal Lieutenant Governor of New York and got several hundred thousand acres of upstate New York thrown in for good measure. He named his estate in New York Hyde Hall after the English Estate of his wife and one of his Jamaica estates in the same manner. Lt. Governor Clarke’s elder son George Hyde Clarke eloped with a neighboring squire’s daughter, deserting his first wife and was disinherited. Lt. Governor Clarke’s younger son Edward died before his father so the inheritance went to Edward, his nephew and son of his brother also called Edward. So Edward the younger inherited Swanswick (see my previous post) from his father and Hyde Hall from his Great Uncle Lt. Governor Clarke in 1777. I think I have that whole sorted mess figured out but I could stand to be corrected. In any event, that is how Hyde Hall got its name.
In 1779, the estate passed back to the Halls by inheritance, in the person of William James Hall (1725-1779) and was inherited by his younger brother, Cossley Hall (1728-1790). By 1788, Cossley Hall was deeply in debt and sold the 2,000 acre estate to Henry Shirley, a fellow sugar planter, who owned Spring Garden Estate in Portland Parish. Hyde Hall was the principal residence of the Shirley family until 1914. It was during the ownership of the Shirley’s, the great house was construction in 1820. This was possibly one of the last great houses constructed in Jamaica.
In 1790, a sugar refiner by the name of Millet came to Jamaica from ST. Domingo (later called Haiti) and introduced the use of limes and lemons to produce white sugar. This white sugar was first produced at Hyde Hall.
Nearby, in front of the house, are remnants of the wind powered sugar works (the tower still stands) and a cattle mill (now a ruin). The stone windmill is almost entirely hidden by the trees and ferns growing out of its many cracks. My guide took me over to the tower and we checked out the interior. Then we struck off through the undergrowth and checked out the ruins of the rest of the sugar mill, with walls crumbling through the years.
As a bonus, the good folks of Hyde Hall pointed to a nearby hill and there was what I assume was the overseer’s house. The two story house was also constructed of square-cut stone, with three equal sized rooms on the first floor and an apartment on the second floor. The whole was topped off with a corrugated hip roof. I can imagine the overseer living upstairs and the bookkeepers living in the three rooms below (see my post on sugar estate management). As I walked up the hill to the house, I realized not much has changed for these cane workers since the nineteenth century. Yes, they do run mechanized equipment instead of hoes and machetes but they still get around by walking, they still wash their clothes in a bucket and they still cook over a charcoal fire.