On my Saturday hike, I decided to explore a different part of Kingston. In the past, I headed straight up into the mountains directly behind my house, but today I wandered up into the mountains farther to the west into the Norbrook area. As I hiked up Russell Heights, on into the Cherry Garden residential area, I noticed a house that had the look of a great house. I took several photographs in order to compare them with what I found online. Sure enough, I discovered when I returned that it was indeed Cherry Garden Great House.
Colonel Ezekiel Gomersall originally established the Cherry Garden sugar estate. His place of burial is the Kingston Parish Church with the following inscription on his tomb:
HERE LYETH INTERR’D THE BODY OF THE HONOURABLE EZEKIEL GOMESSAL ESQR ONE OF HIS MAJESTIES COUNCEL AND COLONEL OF THE REGIMENT OF HORSE WHO DEPARTED THIS LIFE THE 12 DAY OF APRIL ANNO 1734 AGED 70 YEARS.
In addition, on his wife’s tomb:
HERE LYETH THE BODY OF THE VIRTUOUS MRS MARY GOMERSALL, WIFE OF COLO. EZEKIEL GOMERSALL, AND DAUGHTER OF FRANCIS AND MARGARET DICKENSON. SHE DEPARTED THIS LIFE, THE 1st OF DECEMBER 1723, IN THE 56th YEAR OF HER AGE, AND IN THE 36th YEAR OF HER MARRIAGE.
Following Colonel Gomersall’s death, the property passed onto his nephew, Ezekiel Dickenson and the property remained in the hands of the Dickenson family and was administered by Attorney Joseph Gordon of Scotland. Prior to emancipation, Joseph Gordon (1790-1867) managed over thirty plantations with over eight thousand slaves. He eventually purchased the estate from the Dickensons and added additional adjacent lands. Joseph Gordon eventually became Custos and Member of the House of Assembly for St. Andrew Parish.
One of his sons, George William Gordon (1820-1865) was born the illegitimate son of Anna Rattrey (1792-1863), a slave on the Cherry Garden Estate. George was privately educated and then sent to Black River to be educated in business under his Godfather James Daly. He was a quick learner, which led to speculation in real estate, and he exported produce. He eventually purchased numerous coffee and sugar plantations and at the time of his death, he owned nineteen properties. He married Mary Jane Shannon, the white daughter of an Irish newspaper editor. In 1844, George entered politics and was elected a Member of the House of Assembly for St. Thomas-in-the-East. He was a member of the liberal Town Party, which was made up of colored and Jewish merchants, newspaper editors and lawyers. The Town Party was in direct opposition to the conservative Country Party made up of the white planters. The Country Party held the majority of seats in the Assembly.
When his father, Joseph Gordon went bankrupt in 1845, George was able to come to the rescue and saved Cherry Garden from foreclosure. George paid all the expenses for his father and stepmother to return to England and then George and Mary Jane took up residence at the Cherry Garden Great House. George Gordon became a champion of the impoverished ex-slaves, particularly in the Saint-Thomas-in-the-East Parish. He also left the Anglican Church and became a Baptist. In 1865, following the Morant Bay Rebellion, he was unjustly tried for treason and executed on 23 October 1865. His widow sold the property in the late 1860’s. Jamaica now considers George William Gordon one of their national heroes.
Oscar Marescaux, a powerful local banker, purchased the property in the late 1860’s. He extended and roofed the front and back patios and paneled the interior with mahogany. Mr. Marescaux was a very tall man, over six feet, long thin legs, hunched-up shoulders with a growth of beard after the style of a Frenchman. Many considered him irascible and arrogant. His views on natives of the country were narrow and prejudiced.
The great house is an impressive two-story structure. The main entrance has a double bifurcated stairs that ascend to the entrance portico. Four cast iron columns support the portico, which forms a second story observation deck surrounded by intricate railings and topped by a classic pediment. Marble covers the floor of the entrance porch. One impressive architectural feature is the use of Jalousie windows to allow excellent ventilation and illumination into the house.
If you want a view of the great house, head up hill from Barbican Road on Russell Heights and when the road makes a sharp left, the house will be straight ahead of you.
Cherry Garden Great House Photo Gallery
Cherry Garden Great House Location Map
The Challenge of Finding Gales Valley Great House
I had a bit of a struggle finding Gales Valley Great House. The trip to Hamden Great House was easy to find because a working sugar factory is there and they give tours (I will cover the Hamden Estate in a future post). The Hamden estate is adjacent to the Gales Valley Estate but at the time, I didn’t realize it. I headed west out of Wakefield, visited Hamden, backtracked into Wakefield, headed south and realized I must be past the estate according to the map. I then asked directions and a helpful man pointed back to the road to the Hamden sugar mill. I was told to follow the road that leads to the limestone quarry and sure enough, I found it near the top of a hill, surrounded by coconut trees, overlooking the large acreage of the previous estate. I found it abandoned. I was able to draw up a floor plan and it must have been a beautiful house at one time with a terrific view of the surrounding mountains and cane fields.
Description of the House
The split level wooden house is painted green and has a steep corrugated metal “M” type hip roof (two peaked roofs side by side). There is a large verandah facing north and the large slash and louvered windows allow the cool breezes to pass through the house. There are no ceilings, allowing the heat to rise and vents at the top of the interior walls allows great cross ventilation…a house built for the warm temperatures of Jamaica, rather than show. The floors are hardwood as well as the interior walls. As in most great houses of Jamaica, the living space is on the second floor. At some point, someone remodeled the house, adding an inside bathroom. A stairway in the living room leads to the ground floor. A separate kitchen out building is also built into the side of the hill.
William Gale originally owned Gales Valley Estate in Trelawny Parish and the York Estate in Saint James Parish both of which equaled 3,147 acres. He also owned Mount Hindmost Estate in Clarendon. The Gales also owned the pens and cattle ranches called St. Jago and Paisley. In 1820, there were 388 slaves at York, 262 at Gale’s Valley, 175 at Mount Hindmost and 40 at each of the two cattle pens. These numbers declined in later years. William was born on 7/15/1728 at Liguanea, St. Andrew’s Parish, to John Gale of Withywood and his wife Elizabeth Morant Gale. On 1/11/1753 at Vere, he married his first cousin, Elizabeth Morant. Elizabeth died on 6/14/1759 at age 31 and was buried at Vere Church. The couple had no children. William was a member of the Assembly for Hanover Parish in 1754-55 and for Saint John Parish in 1755-56.
The Gale and the Morant families came to Jamaica separately in the seventeenth century soon after the island was seized in 1655. Major John Gale (1637-1689) was buried there, as was John Morant who died in 1683. Various marriages linked their families, as they both acquired plantations, large estates, and great wealth. In 1754, John Morant owned 4,631 acres in Clarendon and 3,582 acres in Vere. Five members of the Gale family owned more than 6,000 acres of the island. In 1759, John Morant’s great-grandson Edward (d 1791) moved to England from Jamaica, where the family had built up extensive estates. He bought the Brockenhurst estate in Hampshire England in 1770, and his eldest son John Morant (d 1794) purchased the Manor of Ringwood from Henry 8th Lord Arundell in 1794. The Jamaican estates were handed down to subsequent generations of the family. Edward Gregory Morant (1772-1855) inherited his Uncle William Gale’s estates in Jamaica. Death duties on the death of a later Edward Morant in 1910 forced the family to sell the Ringwood properties in 1916. Many of the Brockenhurst estates were sold in 1951 and 1959.
The house is located west of Wakefield on the boundary of Trelawny and Saint James Parishes. Look for the quarry sign, turn left and it is on the top of the hill to the right of the road.
Gales Valley Great House Photo Gallery
Gales Valley Great House Location Map
In its “hey day”, the Green Park had to have been a magnificent structure. When Thomas Southworth moved to Green Park Estate, a two story Georgian great house existed made of square cut stone which was probably shipped to Jamaica from England as ship ballast. The house was approximately 40 feet by 60 feet. He built a second great house adjacent to the first of over 6,000 square feet. He constructed ground floor out of cut stone and the second story of wood. In the center of the second story was a large room 40 feet long by 18 feet wide, which was used as a dining room and ballroom. It had a high ceiling formed by the roof peak. The ballroom had large arches and French doors on the north side opening onto a wide verandah on all four sides of the house. The verandah was enclosed with alternating sash windows and louvers, which allowed cool breezes to flow through the house. This room was surrounded by bedrooms. The ground floor consisted of a large center room and a room on each corner. External doors on the east and south sides opened into foyers. The grand foyer was on the west side and was constructed entirely out of wood. There were numerous gun ports, required by law. A plantation was required to defend itself against a slave revolt; hence, most great houses had a ground floor made of stone. Additionally, it was required that there be no less than one white man to every one hundred slaves. On the south were two double doors six feet wide and fifteen feet high. There was one set of double doors at the west grand entrance. At the front of the building are two marble plaques on either side of the front door. The northern plaque says, “Green Park Plantation Manor” and the south says, “Built in 1764 by William Atherton.”
In addition to the two main structures, to the rear of the first great house there was a gabled kitchen with a huge oval window and a large brick fireplace able to roast a whole ox. Next to the kitchen were the stables, carriage house, and a round two story bathroom with three toilets on the first floor and a bath on the second floor. To the rear of the second great house was a large windmill tower.
I would have loved to see the great house in its prime. Unfortunately, the present owner is unsympathetically restoring the house and when finished it will not look like the original building.
Green Park Great House Layout
Green Park Great House, Trelawny, Jamaica. The Dining Room. From a Photograph taken in 1922. Collection: Brett Ashmeade-Hawkins.
Green Park Great House Photo Gallery
Green Park Location Map
While I was in the hunt for Swanswick Great house, I noticed a great house out in the middle of a cane field so I cruised down the next available clay road through the field and pulled up to the great house. An extended family of an employee of Everglades Sugar Company presently lives in the house. The family sat around a large cast iron pot in which the mother washed her small daughter. I tried to communicate with the family about my desire to take pictures of the great house but I was unsuccessful because of my limited knowledge of Jamaica patois. Soon a man who came out of the adjacent kitchen building saved me. He was fluent in the King’s English and I explained my desire to photograph the house. He said, “Go ahead,” and allowed me to go about my business, all the while following me around.
The exterior appeared to be in good shape. The ground floor was constructed of cut, squared stone and the top was probably a timber and rubble type of construction that was covered with stucco. The hip roof is presently corrugated galvanized metal but was probably originally cedar shingles since cedar is prevalent in the surrounding hills. Leading up to the second floor was a magnificent cut stone stairway built over a substantial arch. Three arched doors at the front of the building, on the ground floor, created a feel of opulence. There were many doors and no windows in the lower level, which probably were used for access to storage. By living on the second floor, the overseer could take advantage of any welcoming breezes.
Approximately one hundred feet from the house was the kitchen and storage building. It also was made of cut stone. As I walked up, a friendly goat and her kid ambled out of the kitchen to greet me. The family still uses the kitchen; in fact, dinner was cooking over a charcoal fire. I’m not sure if the family invites the goats for meals. In colonial times, the kitchen was always separate from the house because of the risk of fire and to keep the heat out of the house.
Richard Brissett who originally owned Hampshire Estate also owned the Berkshire Estate. These estates are adjacent and Hampshire is about halfway down the main road (still known as Hampshire Lane) from the Clarks Town to Jackson Town. In 1840, the Jamaica Almanac reported that it consisted of 1560 acres and belonged to the Sir Simon H. Clarke, who also owned Mahogany Hall Estate and Long Pond Estate. The adjacent Clark Town is named after him because he donated the land to ex-slaves following emancipation in 1832.
Hampshire Great House Photo Gallery
Hampshire Great House Location Map
Luke Stokes, the governor of Nevis, invaded the extreme southeast corner of Jamaica and drove out the Spanish in 1656. The Spanish called the area Hato de Morante (Ranch of Morant). Luke Stokes along with 1,600 other settlers were the first Englishmen to Jamaica. He later called the area Stokesfield. The area is part of the Plantain Garden River and Negro River delta and is the most fertile area in Jamaica, due to the periodic flooding by the river. The mountains to the north receive approximately 250 inches of rain a year and along with an occasional hurricane, cause a large bed load of soil to spread out over the delta. It was along this river, many prosperous sugar estates were established among which were Stokes Hall, Golden Grove, Duckenfield Hall, Holland, Amity Hall, Hordley, Hampton Court, Winchester and Wheelerfield. Much like the Nile River in Egypt, floods brought down new fertile soil for the crops. Unfortunately, the river delta was also a breeder of mosquitoes, which brought malaria and yellow fever. Luke Stokes, his wife, and two-thirds of the settlers died within a couple of years. The remaining settlers moved to higher ground, which they called Stokes Hall. Stokes Hall was adjacent to the road that passed from Kingston, through Port Morant and on to the estates at the mouth of the Plantain Garden River, Holland Bay. Up until the mid-1800s, Port Morant was one of the most important sugar shipping ports in Jamaica, but with the decline of king sugar due to the slave emancipation it became the small fishing village it is today. Stokes Hall Great House, in historical documents is referred to Stokes Hall Slave House because it was built by slaves brought from Nevis by Luke Stokes. It is one of the oldest English ruins on the island of Jamaica and built by Luke Stokes’ children. Like many early great houses in Jamaica, it was built more like a fortress than a house. Gun holes are still evident in the building walls. In 1840, the Stokes Hall and the adjacent Hampton Court sugar estates were owned by Alexander Donaldson and consisted of 1,443 acres. An earthquake destroyed the great house in 1907. The road up the hill was called Negro House road because it was lined with slave houses. Today, the view from Stokes Hall Great House is spectacular. Toward the east and south is the extensive river delta covered with sugar cane with the Duckenfield Hall sugar mill in the distance. It was sugar cane harvesting and the recently brown reaped fields were checker-boarded among the green cane fields. To the north, the Blue Mountains made up the skyline. The ruins of the great house consist of three remaining towers, the foundations of the kitchen outhouse and a water tank. The house is make of concreted rock rubble faced with dressed stone. Evidence of a stucco coating remains in some areas. Although there is some fancy arch work on the outside windows and doors, the lintels are really made of timber. There are a series of directional signs after one passes Morant Bay coming from Kingston. However, as most Jamaican sights, the signs are only good from one direction. In this case, it is well marked coming from the west but if you are coming from the east, you will never see the signs. The final sign is a bit confusing. Just before, you get to the village of Golden Grove, the final sign points toward a dirt road, but could be construed to be indicating to continue on the paved road. Where the paved road crosses Pleasant Hill across from the bus stop is the dirt road that continues up the hill to the great house.
Photo believed taken in the 1930’s
Stokes Hall Great House Photo Gallery
Stokes Hall Great House Location
Our Visit to the Craighton Estate Great House
The day started out as a day trip to Holywell Recreational Park high above Kingston, with lunch at the world famous Strawberry Hill boutique hotel. On the way up Highway B1, I saw sign for Craighton Blue Mountain Coffee Estate. I had previously read about the great house but there was no indication of its location except that it is in Saint Andrew Parish. At that point, the day’s itinerary was completely turned on its head as I turned the truck up the narrow one lane road to the great house. I drove onto a gravel parking lot (car park in Jamaican) in front of the wood pink with white trim Georgian great house. Bonita and I climbed the stairs to the large front porch. There we met Alton (Junior) Bedward our tour guide and Craighton coffee expert. The sun was shining brightly, but mists were rolling down from the mountains above. Junior explained that the mist, along with the volcanic soil, cool temperatures, high altitude and steep slopes combine to make a world renown coffee that is alkaline, full bodied, naturally sweet with no bitter after-taste. Only Arabica Typica coffee plants produce this type of coffee…a type for which Starbucks is famous.
Junior then took us on a short tour of the three hundred acre estate where 400,000 coffee plants are grown. He explained that the best coffee is produced by new growth, so every seven years the trees are cut down and allowed to sprout new growth. The tree is finally dug up and a new seedling is planted every thirty-five years. The plants are fertilized with either chicken manure or leaves from the Gongo trees planted among the coffee trees. The Gongo tree is a legume and the falling leaves fertilize the plants with nitrogen. The coffee is harvested by hand between September and January every year by two hundred harvesters who scramble up and down the steep hills. The permanent labor force runs between thirty and fifty. Following the harvesting, the cherries are placed in water and the “floaters” are skimmed off and discarded. Junior then went into detail about the processing of the beans through roasting and bagging for export to Japan. For those mortals who would like to purchase the coffee in their local supermarket, are sure to be disappointed unless they live in Japan. The entire crop is shipped off to Japan to be sold for ten times the price that could be gotten at a supermarket in the United States. The Jamaica Blue Mountain Number One coffee is sold in Japan for US$1,500 for a five-pound bag.
History of Coffee
Junior then gave us a history of coffee:
- Kaffe is indigenous to the highlands of Ethiopia.
- The Ottoman Empire monopolized the coffee trade in the 1500’s.
- It was against Roman Catholic doctrine to drink coffee because it was under the control of Muslims. In 1615, the Pope blessed and baptized some coffee, making it legal to purchase and drink.
- Coffee is only produced between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn.
- Seven plants were loaded on a ship and brought to the Caribbean. Only one plant survived the trip to Martinique but from there the coffee spread to the other French countries and eventually found its way to Jamaica from Haiti.
- The growers first exported coffee from Jamaica in 1737. Over 85% of coffee grown in Jamaica is exported.
After the informative climb to the nearest mountain top we walked back down and roamed through the beautiful, well cared for house. We first entered into the living room. To the right is the dining room with a large chandelier over the dining room table. To the left are the bed rooms. The kitchen is in the back of the house. A spectacular stairway leads to the first floor. The Craighton Estate was established in 1765 by a Scottish-Italian emigrant. George Craighton built the great house in 1805 at 2,600 feet elevation. The house has been privately owned since its construction and today, Tatsushi Ueshima, the largest coffee importer in Japan, owns the building and estate. Several Jamaican governors have used the house as a retreat from the summer Kingston heat. The house is used for the tours and offices.
Following the tour, Junior treated us a sample of the Craighton Blue Mountain coffee and we were able to purchase bags of the products. We sampled the famous beverage, which was brought out in white cups and saucers. True to Junior’s description, according to Bonita, it had a smooth, rich taste with a distinct aroma. There is a mild bitterness (“it is never sour,” Junior says) a bit like chocolate and it is naturally sweet with no lingering aftertaste. One cup of Blue Mountain coffee contains less than 25 mg of caffeine, far less than the 150-175 mg in the average cup of Robusta, grown in lower elevations. You can contact the Jamaica UCC Blue Mountain Coffee Company by phone: (876) 944-8033. You can contact Junior Bedward by cell phone: (876) 292-3774 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
To get to Craighton Estate, take Highway B1 from Old Hope Road, past Redlight, Irish Town and Strawberry Hill. The entrance will be well marked, on the right, if you are coming from the south. If coming from the north, it is below the New Castle Army Post. The road is narrow and winding so be prepared for anything coming at you from the opposite direction.
Following the tour, you can enjoy lunch at the incomparable Strawberry Hill Hotel restaurant or better yet stay in one of their magnificent cottages.
“Mountaineering in Jamaica”. From an Engraving by S. T. Dadd after Sketches by B. S. Tucker, published in The Illustrated and Sporting News, February 23rd, 1888. Collection: Brett Ashmeade-Hawkins.
A Party of Gentlemen are shown mustering at Craigton Great House, which is described as “the Governor’s cottage”, then start off on the road past St. Mark’s Anglican Church near Irish Town, skirt some dangerous precipices, and then arrive at their final destination which I assume must be Blue Mountain Peak.
Craighton Great House, near Irish Town in St. Andrew, was originally known as Creighton Hall and was built between 1790 and 1805 by George Creighton, Esq., a Scottish Coffee Planter, on his 400 acre Coffee Plantation. Perched over 2,700 feet …up in the cool, misty Blue Mountains of Jamaica, it has one of the most panoramic views in the Island. In 1810 George Creighton was listed as owning 39 Slaves at Creighton Hall, but he died later that same year and by 1811 the plantation had been purchased by Sir Edward Hyde East, who also owned the vast adjoining Maryland Coffee Plantation with over 2,700 acres and more than 260 slaves. Creighton Hall, later renamed Craigton, remained in the possession of the East family until 1842 when the Hon. Hinton East, Custos of St. Andrew, finally sold the plantation to the newly arrived British Governor, the 8th Earl of Elgin. Anxious to escape the heat and humidity of Spanish Town, the official Capital of Jamaica located on the St. Catherine plains far below, Lord Elgin purchased Craigton Great House as a Summer Residence and it later became a favourite Summer Residence of the British Governors of Jamaica. Tragically Lord Elgin’s beautiful new young wife, Elizabeth, Countess of Elgin, died while at Craigton on the 7th of June, 1843, aged only 22. Her Duppy (Ghost) is said to still haunt the house and she has sometimes been seen descending the grand mahogany staircase. When Lord Elgin left Jamaica in 1846 he sold Craigton to a Mr. Edwards, a British Coffee Planter, who was probably a relation of Sir Bryan Edwards, Chief Justice of Jamaica from 1855 to 1869. His widow, Mrs. May Edwards, was the owner of Craigton Great House, (which she renamed The Medici), when this Watercolour was painted in 1862. She died in 1866 and left Craigton to her daughter, Marjorie Grant Edwards, who through her Trustee, John James Henry Edwards, sold it in 1867 to another newly arrived British Governor, Sir John Peter Grant. Sir John loved Craigton and he spent a great deal of money enlarging the Great House and also improving the Garden, filling it with rare Trees, Plants and Flowers imported from all over the world. Sir John also purchased two pet Sheep to keep the grass short on the Front Lawn. The famous English Victorian Painter, Marianne North, who was a guest at Craigton in 1871, wrote that Sir John had actually trained these two Sheep to come up to the verandah of the Great House and stand on their hind legs to beg for carrots, a trick which amused him to no end. Subsequent British Governors of Jamaica, Sir Henry Norman from 1883 to 1889 and Sir Henry Arthur Blake from 1889 to 1898, also made Craigton their Summer Residence and many elegant Dinner Parties and Garden Parties were held there during those times. The next occupant of Craigton Great House was a Judge Curran who lived there from 1891 to 1901 and he was followed by Sir Charles Lumb, Senior Puisne Judge of the Supreme Court of Jamaica, who lived there from 1901 to 1905. On the 29th of September, 1905, Craigton Great House, with its 29 acres and all is furniture and glassware, was transferred to the Hon. Archibald Edmund Henderson Haggart, Custos of Kingston, of Ruthven Lodge, St. Andrew, for the sum of 420 pounds sterling. Haggart used Craigton as his Summer Cottage. When the firm of Haggart and Company went bankrupt in 1917, Craigton was then sold to Franz X. Knecht, the Managing Director of the West Indies Chemical Works Ltd. near Spanish Town. In the early 1930s Craigton was resold to Judge Seaton, who in 1938 leased it for 5 years (at 100 pounds sterling a year) to Sir Robert Kirkwood, the nephew of Lord Lyle of Tate and Lyle Ltd., the British company which owned vast Sugar Plantations in Jamaica.(Their Partners, the Tate family of Tate & Lyle, were the Founders of the famous Tate Gallery and Museum in London). Sir Robert was the Managing Director of the West Indies Sugar Company (WISCO) and also the Chairman of the Jamaica Sugar Manufacturers Ltd. When the lease on Craigton ended after the 5 years, he bought the property from Judge Seaton for 5,000 pounds sterling. Sir Robert and Lady Kirkwood entertained many famous guests at Craigton during the 1940s and 1950s, including members of the British Royal family, before finally selling the Great House in 1956 for 25,000 pounds sterling, making a hefty 20,000 pounds profit in the bargain. Later occupants of Craigton Great House have included Lord Hailes, British Governor-General of the short-lived West Indies Federation, who made it his official residence in Jamaica in 1958. In 1981 Craigton was sold to the Ueshima Coffee Company of Japan who still own the plantation. They grow Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee, the finest and most expensive Coffee in the world, for export to Japan. They have restored the 18th Century Craigton Great House and furnished it with a fine collection of 18th and Early 19th Century Jamaican Colonial Prints and Antique Mahogany Furniture.
Craighton House Photo Gallery
Location Map | Craighton Estate Great House
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.
Cardiff Hall Great House Photo Gallery
Cardiff Hall Great House Location Map
Our Visit to the Liberty Hill Great House
Bonita and I turned from the north road (A-1) onto Main Avenue of Saint Ann’s Bay (2009 population: 13,671) and then up Gulley Road. We meandered through the pedestrian crowd going to and from the Saturday market while noting buildings from the colonial era (1655 – 1962). After winding our way up the green mountainside for about five kilometers, we arrived at twin cut-stone posts marking the entrance to the Liberty Hill Great House property.
Our lovely host and owner, Jennifer Kerr, met us at the door and showed us to our room. She offered us cool washcloths, scented with rose water, to remove the grime of the road trip. Jennifer, a registered nurse who owns a health care company in the United States, found Liberty Hill 8 years ago after it had stood empty for 13. It serves as both her home and the health and wellness center she runs. She shared,
“I bought the house sight unseen. I saw the flowers, the tall palm trees, the coconut trees, the ferns and the bougainvillea lining the driveway. Then I got to the top of the hill and I thought it was perfect for what I had in mind. When I first walked into the house, I cried due to its bad shape. I looked outside and saw the ocean, and when I got to the verandah, it was ‘Wow!’ Everything just came to me, the view, the ocean, the mountain and the luscious vegetation. I thought it was the perfect place to make my dream come alive. I thought this is the perfect location to relax, refresh and rejuvenate.”
When Jennifer bought this mountainside estate 2.5 miles north of Saint Ann’s Bay, she became the 8th owner of the property with a long history. Archeological digs showed that the Western Taíno people lived on the site from 600 – 650 AD. The Taíno were an Arawak people indigenous to the Caribbean. They likely lived on the property until 1519 when Spanish-borne smallpox led to their extinction as a culture.
Over 200 years passed before the Tracey family built a great house in 1740 to oversee their pimento plantation and escape the coastal heat. The kind of pimento grown in Jamaica, also known as allspice, is indigenous to the Caribbean and is an essential ingredient in Jamaica’s jerk seasoning. The Liberty Hill Great House is built on a Taíno midden, a refuse heap for domestic waste including food scraps, animal remains, and broken pottery.
The original owners situated the house at 1,200 feet above sea level. 18th Century visitors entered the front of the one-story, wood-shingled house where 35 stairs climb to an expansive verandah that faces the ocean. Today, visitors park in the rear and climb only 3 steps. Once inside, a sitting room was to the left (now the dining room), and the living room with a brick fireplace was to the right. To the right of the living room are two bedrooms. Behind the sitting room is a large dining room (now the living room) with a sealed door that at one time lead to the separate kitchen (In colonial times, the kitchen was a separate outhouse due to fire danger and to prevent the cooking heat from coming into the house…a certain advantage in a hot climate like Jamaica).
To the left of the dining room is a hallway, now the entry lobby of the house. It leads to a stairway ascending to the attic. An old chandelier hangs from the hallway ceiling. To the left is the master bedroom boasting glorious views of Saint Ann’s Bay. The stairway led to what is now a bedroom. It used to be a place for the house master to entertain guests in illegal activities such as gambling and drinking bootleg alcohol. One of the servants was stationed on the landing to act as a seamstress and a lookout for the law. In the event of a police raid, occupants could escape from two trapdoors leading to the roof.
Outside we toured the gardens where Jennifer pointed out the many fruits, vegetables, and herbs grown on the house’s 25 acres. She showed us the ruins of the old kitchen. The kitchen had a basement where the slaves were locked up each night. The quarters for the house servants are still in use, and there is a barbecue behind the house. A Jamaican barbecue is a large flat area in which pimentos or coffee beans are sun dried.
Meals at the Liberty Hill Great House
We enjoyed two Jamaican meals. The first was dinner, served as the sun sank behind the west mountains. Our first course was a cabbage & carrot slaw and pumpkin soup. If you have never tasted Jamaican pumpkin soup, then your life has been empty up to this time. Next came the entree of a delicious chicken served in a delightful jerk sauce. The sides featured yams, bakesh and cassava. For desert, they served a cassava pudding. In the morning, the staff served papaya, watermelon, custard apples, rundown, dumplings, yams, boiled bananas, orange/papaya juice, coffee, and tea.
Liberty Hill Great House Contact Information
Jennifer would love to have you visit the Liberty Hill Great House. If you come in to Ocho Rios (known as Ochi to the locals) by cruise ship, she would be glad to pick you up at the dock, take you up to the great house, give you a historical tour of the house and gardens and serve you an authentic Jamaican lunch. Her contact information is:
Liberty Hill Great House Photo Gallery
Our Visit to the Eaton Park Great House
While the Fontabelle Great House sheltered a few of the world’s estimated 1 billion squatters, the Eaton Park Great House was yet another step removed from its glory days. The house is 5 kilometers south of the Oracabessa bus and taxi park on Jack’s River Road just before a bridge at the north edge of the hamlet of Eaton Park. Pass through the white painted concrete gate posts across the river, and the house is on the left.
The white Eaton Park Great House was probably the most “romantically decrepit” great house I had seen. Dry wood termites and wood rotting fungi have ravaged the structure over the years. Thick vines enveloped the barely-standing house as it continues to slip back into the earth from which it came. The roof, featuring a trio of gables in succession, give the house a unique architectural signature compared to other great houses. I could tell the existing house was not the original structure as it covered only part of the stone foundation. Further, large arches in the huge foundation suggested a much larger and heavier house once stood there.
I slipped into the house and took a few photos, being careful not to plunge through the rotten floor boards. Given the poor condition of the structure, the photos below could be among the last taken before the jungle reclaims the house for good.
From its perch atop a slight knoll, the remains of the house look down on a hardware store, which likely housed a collection of shops servicing the great house during colonial times. The shops, which once featured arched doorways, were constructed of stone and covered with old world ballast bricks. Someday, I hope to get more information on the Eaton Park Estate.
Eaton Park Group House Photo Gallery
Eaton Park Great House Location
Our Visit to the Harmony Hall Great House
Our trip to Harmony Hall Great House, one of Jamaica’s most beautiful buildings, was well worth it, if for no other reason than for a meal at the world famous Toscanini’s Restaurant, which is located on the first floor of the house. I had an excellent Rabbit Ragu with Pappardelle Pasta along with excellent pumpkin soup. My wife, Bonita, enjoyed Spaghetti with Shrimp Versailles as well as one of the best cups of coffee in her life.
The Harmony Hall Great House was built in the late 1850s on a plantation growing pimentos and limes. The plantation later shifted to bananas in 1910 and coconuts in 1938. Eventually, the house became the manse of a Methodist church and the home of Sir Hugh Sherlock when he served on the Methodist Ocho Rios circuit from 1937 – 1940. In 1962, Sherlock wrote the lyrics of the National Anthem: Jamaica, Land We Love (see lyrics below). The house then was sold to the Lobban family who lived there for nearly fifty years. It was sold in 1980 to Annabella Proudlock and became the Harmony Hall Art Gallery in 1981 with the excellent restaurant on the first floor.
The house was built in the Jamaican-Georgian style. The pastel pink walls and green roof is highlighted by an intricate white fretwork of gingerbread and a white balustrade along the upper balcony. The octagonal cupola on the northeast corner with lattice and fretwork completed the delightful, almost fairy tale appearance of the building. The interior is painted bright white and is light and airy, to show off a collection of local artists and craftsmen. The original detached kitchen is still visible but is no longer used as a kitchen.
Contact Information for the Harmony Hall Great House
It is located 6 kilometers east of Ocho Rios on A3. It is open from 10:00 AM – 5:30 PM Tuesday through Sunday.
Jamaica National Anthem | Lyrics by Sir Hugh Sherlock
Eternal Father bless our land,
Guard us with Thy Mighty Hand,
Keep us free from evil powers,
Be our light through countless hours.
To our Leaders, Great Defender,
Grant true wisdom from above.
Justice, Truth be ours forever,
Jamaica, Land we love.
Jamaica, Jamaica, Jamaica land we love.
Teach us true respect for all,
Stir response to duty’s call,
Strengthen us the weak to cherish,
Give us vision lest we perish.
Knowledge send us Heavenly Father,
Grant true wisdom from above.
Justice, Truth be ours forever,
Jamaica, Land we love.
Jamaica, Jamaica, Jamaica land we love.