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Mount Plenty Great House

A couple of months back I visited the Bromley Pen and during our visit, Johnathan Edwards, the owner of Bromley mentioned that there were other two great houses in the area, Bellevue and Mount Plenty. Therefore, when I called, the owner didn’t seem surprised to hear from me. We were headed back to Kingston from the north coast the following day so I called and received a gracious invitation from the owners of Mount Plenty to come and visit.   We had sketchy directions to the farm. We started at Walkerswood and by phone the owner guided us through the twists and turns to their beautiful home. We passed through two stone columns marked Mount Plenty and up a gravel driveway. On either side was the well tended pasture populated by Jamaica Red Poll beef cattle.   The owners met us on their side porch and gave us a tour of their home. Bonita, my artist wife and Laura, who is also an artist, discussed each other’s art. I was particularly interested in the operation of the ranch. We also discussed how the owners are involved in raising funds for the Boy’s Town School in Trench Town as well as their involvement in the local schools.

Both Mount Plenty and Bellevue properties are adjacent and part of the same farm. They are perched near the top of the local mountains and the property plunges five hundred feet to the White River Gorge, which is the parish line between Saint Ann and Saint Mary Parishes. At a narrow part of the gorge, a slim arched bridge crosses the river. It is part of the original El Camino Real (The King’s Road) which stretched from Rio Nuevo to Spanish Town. The locals have always called the bridge, The Spanish Bridge.

Mount Plenty was long the home of John Hiatt, the Custos (Superintendent) of Saint Ann Parish who was born in 1722 and died in 1820 at the age of ninety-eight. John Hiatt’s 1820 probate inventory following his death is eighteen pages long with details of the slaves, livestock, produce (pimento, citrus and coffee, furniture, fixtures down to the last branding iron and mosquito net). Later, Mount Plenty was owned by Thomas Roxburgh, a reputed son of King Edward VII, his descendant Frank Roxburgh and Pat and Bernard Cooke. Mount Plenty is famous for the breeding of race houses. Mount Plenty boasts the original polo field in Jamaica where polo was played over one hundred years before it became popular in England.

Mount Plenty Great House is a three story building. The basement is constructed of square-cut stone, the walls of which act as the foundation for the wooden two stories above the basement. The second story is reached from the front by stone stairs and a wrought iron banister on either side. A pedimented portico projects from the hip roof to form the verandah for the main entrance. Like most vernacular buildings in Jamaica, the verandah wrapped around the building but it has been closed in by successive owners. The woodwork above the front door and front windows is magnificent. The lower half of the second floor is clad with wood shingles, painted green and the upper half consisting of louvers and sash windows is painted white. The third floor is the attic that has within it a sweeping cedar shingle hip roof with dormers that create additional habitable space. To the rear is a pimento barbeque that was used to solar dry Jamaica’s indigenous Pimenta dioica, the world renowned pimento or allspice. The second floor has been converted into an art gallery where the owner displays her works.

Mount Plenty Great House Photo Gallery

Mount Plenty Location Map

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Cranbrook Pen and Blenheim Estate

Cranbrook Pen is now the location of Cranbrook Flower Forest Nature Park. The Spanish began settling the area in 1494. The area of Cranbrook was extensively settled by the Spanish. They produced sugar there and raised cattle that provided a large amount of the cured beef, hides and tallow to provision the ships that carried the Conquistadors on their invasions of Central and South America. Cranbrook Pen was also near the site of a Spanish sugar mill prior to the invasion of the English. The English came in 1655 and moved onto the Spanish ranches in the area naming the cattle operation Cranbrook Pen and naming the sugar estate Blenheim Estate. The earliest reference to Cranbrook is found in the 1818 Jamaica Almanac. In the historical record, the property is attached to the Blenheim estate suggesting it was owned by the same persons throughout the nineteenth and into the twentieth century. In 1809 John Moffat owned both Cranbrook and Blenheim estates along with 338 slaves and 29 cattle. Between 1818 and 1938 there are four persons named as owners: John Moffat, Robert Robinson, D.L Townsend and C. Calder. In 1857 the size of Cranbrook and Blenheim was 980 acres and by 1938 it was reduced to 841 acres. Cranbrook was primarily a pen which raised cattle for the operation of the Blenheim sugar estate. It was also partially used at a pimento plantation and the supply of ground provisions.

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At the entrance to Cranbrook Flower Forest are the restored remains of an old sugar mill. The mill is believed to be around 200 years old and now houses a museum and a gift shop. We were able to walk through the beautiful gardens bordering Little River admiring the flowers and other foliage. Numerous peacocks on the property rewarded us with their magnificent array of tail feathers.

As we drove back toward the north road (A-1) I noticed a brick smoke stack due north of Cranbrook Pen. Knowing that Cranbrook Pen was attached to Blenheim Estate, I assume that the smoke stack belonged to the sugar mill on that estate. This parcel of land bordered the Caribbean Sea. Additionally, there were stone ruins behind the cattle pens that looked like it might have been a great house and the kitchen to the rear. This will probably require additional research to confirm this bit of information. In any event, I have included the photographs of the Blenheim (?) Estate buildings along with the Cranbrook pen photos. This Blenheim Estate should not be confused with the home town of Alexander Bustamante in Hanover Parish. Blenheim is named for Blenheim Palace in Woodstock, Oxfordshire England. It was given to John Churchill, the First Duke of Marlborough by a grateful nation for his victory at Blenheim over the French and Bavarians during the War of Spanish Succession that ended in 1704. It has been in the possession of the Spencer-Churchill family for over three hundred years. It was the birth place and ancestral home of Sir Winston Churchill. Judging by the photos below of the two buildings, the owner of the Jamaican Blenheim never achieved the illusions of grandeur he anticipated for his estate.

Cranbrook

Cranbrook Gardens is located five kilometers west of the town of Priory on the north road A-1. Turn toward the mountains (away from the sea) and travel a short distance on a poorly maintained road to the garden entrance.

Cranbrook Pen and Blenheim Estate Photo Gallery

Cranbrook Pen and Blenheim Estate Location Map

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Shaw Great House

Shaw Great House

It was going to be easy to visit the Shaw Great House. After all, according to the Lonely Planet Jamaica Guide, “Shaw Park Gardens is a tropical fantasia of ferns and bromeliads, palms and exotic shrubs, spread out over 11 hectares centered on an 18th century great house.” It was even located on a map. We followed the map and soon realized this was the wrong way. We asked the locals and they suggested we could either climb down the steep bank, wade across a river and hanging by vines, scale the vertical bank on the other side OR drive around to Milford Road and turn right at the high school. After several dead ends we made it up the hill to the Shaw Park Gardens. I got out of our vehicle and told the tour guide that I would like to visit the Great House. He looked at me with a puzzled look and told me, “There is no great house here.”

“But the guide book says there is a great house here,” I said.

“Nope, nothing but the gardens.”

“Right here in the Lonely Planet Guidebook, it says, ‘This is a tropical fantasia of ferns and bromeliads, palms and exotic shrubs, spread out over 11 hectares centered on an 18th century great house.’

“Sorry no great house.”

“And here on the Jamaica Travel and Culture website it says, ‘Shaw Park Gardens were originally part of the Shaw Park Estate, an opulent property named after its first owner, John Shaw. The estate came into prominence after it was sold to the Pringle family in the early 20th century. The Great House was converted into a hotel, the Shaw Park Hotel. Flora McKenzie Pringle Stewart lovingly cultivated the hotel’s garden. It is these gardens which are now Shaw Park Gardens.’”

“No great house.”

Presently the security guard walked up and heard the conversation and replied, “I remember, as a boy, the great house but it burned down in the 1950s.”

Ahh, so it goes, hunting for great houses in Jamaica. Sometimes I find them in pristine conditions and other times, just ruins barely visible in the undergrowth or in this case burned to the ground.

Shaw Great House Location Map

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Seville Great House

Seville Great House

My oldest son, Raul, and I visited the Seville Great House in 2013. The Government of Jamaica has recently renovated the 301 acre Maima Seville Great House Heritage Park and they have done a marvelous job on not only the house but also the surrounding out buildings.

Christopher Columbus discovered Jamaica on May 5, 1494, and landed near the present heritage park. Christopher Columbus was shipwrecked and stranded in the area between 1503 and 1504. In 1508, the Spanish government gave Jamaica to the Columbus family and they made Christopher’s son, Diego, Governor of the West Indies. One year later, Diego Columbus’ lieutenant arrived on the island and began the construction of Seville la Nueva (New Seville). Columbus planned a grand city. This was the first Spanish town on Jamaica and became the first capital. A fort, cathedral, a governor’s palace and a sugar works were built. Later they moved the town to higher ground away from the mosquito breeding mangrove swamps and sixteen years later, the capital was moved again to Saint Jago de la Vega (now called Spanish Town) on the south coast.

In 1655, the English beat the Spanish at the Battle of Rio Nuevo and the Spanish left the island for Cuba. As a reward for his role in defeating the Spanish, Captain Samuel Hemmings was granted 2,500 acres of land in 1670, which included Seville la Nueva. In 1745, Hemmings’ grandson built a great house on the site of the original house as well as a slave village and a successful sugar works.

Hemmings built the house with two stories, but a hurricane blew the top story off about 1898 and it was never replaced. The structure is of waddle and daub construction with wood floors and English tiles. The doors are constructed of raised panel mahogany. The slash windows were later modified to include jalousies. The interior of the house has mahogany arches that separate the living and dining rooms. A veranda was constructed across the entire length of the north and east sides of the house to allow adequate ventilation and sunlight. There is a projected entrance portico with stone steps. The roof had a covering of cedar shingles. Additionally, a typical slave hut has been constructed on the property. Inside, an excellent museum has been arranged showing the life and times of eighteenth century Jamaica plantation life. One can also view the ruins of the sugar works.

The Maima Seville Great House Heritage Park is located adjacent to the north road A-1, approximately 12 kilometers west of Ocho Rios and approximately 1 kilometer west of the town of Saint Ann’s Bay. It is well signed and well worth the trip if you are in the area. The guided tour costs US$15 for adult tourists and US$6 for a child. For locals the price is JA$800 for adults and JA$300 for a child.

Topographical View of the Great House, Sugar Works and Slave Village at Seville Estate, St. Ann, Jamaica. Detail from an extremely rare Late 17th Century or Early 18th Century Map of the Harbour of St. Ann’s Bay, St. Ann, Jamaica, dating between 1690 and 1722. Collection: The National Library, Kingston, Jamaica.

Seville Great House, St. Ann, Jamaica. Built in 1745 by Capt. Richard Hemming. From an Original Photograph, c. 1905. Collection: Brett Ashmeade-Hawkins

Seville Great House Photo Gallery

Seville Great House Location Map

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Bromley Pen

Our Visit to Bromley Pen

Bonita and I made our way from Kingston to Spanish Town and then to the T-3 toll road. The toll road was a pleasant surprise, a four lane, divided highway up over the worst of the mountains dividing north Jamaica from south Jamaica. The rest of toll road is being constructed and someday it will make an easy trip from Kingston to Ocho Rios. At the end of the toll road, we passed Moneague College and followed narrow winding roads to Bromley Pen near Walkers Wood, home of Walkers Wood Jerk Seasonings and condiments. We almost missed the turn, through two stone gate posts, but there was no mistaking the gorgeous house situated at the top of the hill. We parked our pickup truck, walked through the beautiful tropical gardens to the front door and there we met Johnathan Edwards at the top of the mountains that overlook the hamlet of Walkers Wood.

Bromley was established as a nine hundred acre pen in the 1700s to supply the local plantations with meat. It was one of many properties, which included sugar estates and pens owned by Sir John Pringle, a doctor and Johnathan’s great grandfather, who moved from Scotland in the 1850s. Over the following years, Sir John acquired over thirty properties and became the largest landowner in Jamaica. Bromley Pen is the last of those estates. Johnathan educated us on the finer points of the difference between a great house and pen. A great house was associated with sugar plantations, whereas a pen was the associated with the raising of livestock. The new owners built Bromley Pen on the foundations of a Spanish fort that had excellent views of the trail (now the road) that connected north and south Jamaica. Mr. Edwards showed us the loop holes (holes in the walls to aim a rifle at an enemy) in what is now the basement. Over the years, the past owners added the upper part of the house with its wooden structure with a wraparound verandah and many windows to allow the cool mountain breezes to pass through the building. At the front of the house is an elegant porte cochere (a covered entrance large enough for vehicles to pass through but now used a grand staircase) with square wooden columns. There is a large octagonal bay area fixed with louver windows and lattice work above the windows. The house is forest green and white. ‘The owners still use Bromley as their residence and have several retreats for the arts and yoga during the year from the US and Canada.  They can be contacted at their website at http://bromleyjamaica.com or Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/BromleyJamaica.

Mrs. James Rose (1748-1811), nee Elizabeth Bromley Rose, daughter of William Rose II of Rose Hall and Bromley Estates, St. Ann, Jamaica. She was a direct descendant of Lt-Col. Thomas Rose (1639-1679), the Founder of Rose Hall and Mickleton Estates in St. Thomas-in-the-Vale, who came to Jamaica with Admiral Penn and General Venables during the English Conquest of 1655. She was also a direct descendant of Sir Thomas Bromley (1530-1587), Lord Chancellor to Queen Elizabeth I of England. Her first cousin, also named Elizabeth Bromley Rose, married the 5th Earl of Harrington and became the Countess of Harrington. From a Portrait Miniature on Ivory attributed to Andrew Plimmer, c. 1780. Collection: Brett Ashmeade-Hawkins.

Photos of Bromley Pen

Location Map for Bromley Pen

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The Stennett Family

The Stennett family occupied the Liberty Hill plantation starting about 1830, three years before the emancipation of the slaves and lasted until well into the twentieth century. The parliament of the United Kingdom passed the Abolition of Slavery Act in 1833. It was very strict in its provisions:

  • On Aug. 1, 1834, all slaves 6 years old and younger were to be freed, as would be any new children born in British territories.
  • On Aug. 1, 1834, all older slaves would begin a period of apprenticeship that would last for four or six years.
  • Predials, (field-laborers), would remain apprenticed until Aug. 1, 1840.
  • Non-predials would remain apprenticed until Aug. 1, 1838.
  • After these dates, the slaves would be completely free.
  • During the period of apprenticeship, the slaves would work for their masters for three-fourths of each week, which amounted to 40.5 hours of work.
  • During the remaining 13.5 hours of the week, they were free to work for wages or work on the provision grounds.
  • With wages earned, a slave could buy his or her own freedom, with or without his master’s consent.
  • Special Magistrates, later called Stipendiary Magistrates, were appointed to oversee this apprenticeship process.
  • Parliament would divide out a sum of £20,000,000 among the slave owners as compensation for the loss of their property.

Thus, the Stennett family lived through one of the most turbulent times in Jamaica history as the country passed from the slavery and sugar economy. A combination of the loss of cheap labor and the collapse of the price of sugar resulted in the major changes to the welfare of the land rich, cash poor plantation owners. Many of the absentee landowners lost their plantations due to mismanagement, the need for cash to pay labor and the inability to make payments on their heavily mortgaged properties. The ones, who survived, like the Stennett family, were able to persist by selling some of their land and changing to different crops like bananas, pimentos and copra (coconuts).

The last of the Stennett family were the sisters, Miss Annie, Miss Winnie, Miss Dora and Miss Georgiana, daughters of Doctor Stennett. Doctor Stennett was a member of the Jamaican Assembly. It is said the Dr. Stennett almost fought a duel with Captain Barrett, also a member of the House and of the family that resided at the Greenwood Great House. The sisters took an active part in the village of Lime Hall with Miss Winnie being the organist at the small church. They would help those in need, bind the wounds of those needing those kinds of services and hired the local people for jobs around the property. The local people reciprocated by watching over the ladies as they became elderly and protecting them during times of turmoil. The sisters had a large library from which they liberally loaned reading material from their shelves. There they lived until their deaths and their graves are located on the property.

Drax Hall Great House

Our Visit to the Drax Hall Great House

Bonita and I were on the hunt for the Drax Hall Great House for two weekends. The owners of every store, apartment building and hotel in the neighborhood of the great house named their establishment Drax Hall…something. We found that villages and neighborhoods assume the name of the original estate or great house. There is a plethora of towns named after the great house or pen house such as Amity Hall, Brown’s Hall, Carron Hall, Dean Pen, Fellowship Hall, Giddy Hall, etc., whether or not the great house or pen still exists. The names give us a target area to look for great houses but on the other hand may send us on many a “wild goose chase.” Finally, we discovered that all that was left of the great Drax estate was the ruins of the water wheel for the sugar works.

In 1669, William Drax founded the Drax Hall Estate. Drax came to Jamaica from Barbados. Upon William Drax’s death in 1691, he passed the estate on to his son, Charles Drax who owned the estate until he died in 1721. William Beckford acquired Drax Hall Estate in 1722 from Samuel Reynolds, Charles Drax’s brother-in-law. William Beckford’s acquisition of the estate initiated a period of nearly 60 years of absentee ownership, first by Beckford, until his death in 1770, and then by his son William Beckford, owner from 1771 to 1821. The senior Beckford was said to be the richest planter in Jamaica. At his death, he owned nine sugar plantations and was part owner of seven more as well as nine cattle pens and a house in Spanish Town. (In a latter blog, I plan to report on the system of absentee landowners and their representatives left in charge of the estate known as their attorneys. Many times the owner’s foreman lived in the great house and never the owner.) In 1821, Drax Hall passed from the Beckford family to John H. Pink, who died in 1841. The Sewell family later purchased Drax Hall Estate.

Because Drax Hall was founded as a sugar estate, it’s not surprising to see that the property also features an impressive and well-preserved water wheel that drove two stone rollers. These rollers crushed the sugar cane and out flowed sugar juice. Heating this juice produced sugar, which remained after the liquid evaporated. The water for the wheel flowed from a dam on the Saint Ann Great River, which marked the western edge of the estate. The water wheel greatly boosted the productivity of the estate. Although Drax founded Drax Hall as a sugar plantation, subsequent owners switched to bananas and cattle in the 1880s and coconuts in 1905.

An 18th Century View of Drax Hall Estate. St. Ann, Jamaica in 1765. It shows the original 18th Century Great House on the hill overlooking the Sugar Works. From a Manuscript Plan of Drax Hall Estate surveyed by George Wilson in 1758, which includes a later pictorial cartouche dated 1765. Collection: The National Library of Jamaica, Kingston, Jamaica.

Drax Hall Great House Photo Gallery

Drax Hall Great House Location Map

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