Finding the Cardiff Hall Great House was a lot like looking for a lost sock; it’s there, but finding it takes time and effort. Our guidebook showed it was near a hotel around Runaway Bay. We asked locals for directions and learned that a neighborhood now sits on the former estate. We continued our search, eventually finding the house when a man on bicycle pointed us in the right direction. As we drove through the gates flanked by white stone walls, we understood why the elegant home was heralded as one of the most desirable residences in Jamaica.
The Cardiff Hall Great House was owned by the Blagrove family from 1655, when the British claimed Jamaica from Spain, until 1950. It is named after Cardiff, the capital of Wales in the United Kingdom. The present great house was rebuilt in 1789 by John Forsythe, a Scottish architect. The original buildings still exist though some are in ruins. The great house and a smaller house are still occupied. An engraving was done by James Hakewill, who was commissioned by William Beckford, an owner of three plantations, to paint plantation houses and other landscapes of Jamaica. You can see how much things have changed by comparing my photos (see below) with the 1789 engraving linked above when the plantation had 227 slaves. In fact, the Blagrove family had 1,500 slaves in 1832 when also accounting for their other estates: Orange Valley, Unity Pen, and Bell Air.
The following is the description of the owner of the great house when the above engraving was published in 1832. Notice the references about slavery and the abolitionist movement that was embroiling England at the time:
Cardiff Hall, of which we give a view, is situated westward of St. Ann’s Bay, and was the usual residence, when in Jamaica, of John Blagrove, Esq., lately deceased.
This Estate, with others of equal and superior value and extent, was inherited by the late Mr. Blagrove from his Father, his ancestors having been settled in the Island from the time of its conquest by Cromwell. The late Mr. John Blagrove was born at Cardiff Hall, and sent at an early age to England. He received his education at Eton College; from thence he went to Oxford, and afterwards passed a considerable time in travelling on the Continent; from which course of education he possessed in a high degree the accomplishments of a scholar and a gentleman.
On his return to Jamaica, he occasionally took an active part in the discussions which occurred in the House of Assembly, to which he was returned a member for many years by his native parish. And during the Maroon war, Mr. Blagrove was most actively engaged, and shared in its privations and dangers.
Mr. Blagrove bestowed the greatest attention to the improvement of the breed of cattle on his several Penns: he imported into the Island some of the best bred horses England ever produced, and his liberality and public spirit were rewarded by the high prices which his stock, particularly his horses, always commanded. He was a successful competitor, on many occasions, for the cup given at the races held in the parish of St. Ann’s: in fact, his horses for the most part beat the whole field.
For many years previous to his decease, Mr. Blagrove was resident in England, and about twenty years since he purchased the Aukawyke mansion and estate, with the manor of Wyrardisbury, in Buckinghamshire: this he made his chief residence, and the property has benefited much by his care and improvements, he having always taken much delight in agricultural pursuits, which he understood well.
He was also, a few years since, the purchaser of another estate at Great Abshot, near Titchfield, in Hampshire, and he resided there at the time of his decease, which happened on the 9th April 1824, after only a few days’ illness.
He was buried at Titchfield, and in the church-yard of that parish a neat monument has been erected to his memory; he had attained his 70th year, and is sincerely lamented by his family and numerous friends.
At this period, when the whole system of colonial slavery is so grossly misrepresented, it will only be an act of justice to state, that Mr. Blagrove was always considered by his slaves as a most kind and humane master. They amounted in number to about 1,500, and are a fine people, and unquestionable specimens of the happiness and comfort to which a slave population may attain, however melancholy it may be to contemplate the risks to which the late discussions are daily exposing them. Mr. Blagrove has given a legacy by his will, which marks at once a feeling for his slaves, that few men would bestow on the free labourers of England. We give his bequest in his own words:
“And lastly, to my loving people, denominated and recognized by law as, and being in fact my slaves in Jamaica, but more estimated and considered by me and my family as tenants for life attached to the soil, I bequeath a dollar for every man, woman, and child, as a small token of my regard for their faithful and affectionate service and willing labours to myself and family, being reciprocally bound in one general tie of master and servant in the prosperity of the land, from which we draw our mutual comforts and subsistence in our several relations (a tie and interest not practised on by the hired labourer of the day in the United Kingdom), the contrary of which doctrine is held only by the visionists of the puritanical order against the common feeling of mankind.”
The annexed view is taken from the great interior road, and represents, seen through the Pimento Grove, the south or entrance front of the house. On the right is the barbecure, or plaister floor, on which the pimento is spread out to dry. The excellence of the house, the delightful variety of the grounds, and the contiguity to the sea, render Cardiff Hall one of the most desirable residences in the Island of Jamaica.