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.
Photos of Bromley Pen
Location Map for Bromley Pen
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
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
If you are not used to nightfall in the tropics, darkness can catch you by surprise. Unlike the northern climes where twilight can drag on for hours, Jamaican sunsets “get there fast and then take it slow.” Night comes in less than 30 minutes, and hikers who forget the tropical dash-to-dusk can find themselves awash in pressing darkness.
I’m sitting on the verandah of a mountain-side Liberty Hill Great House at sunset, looking north to where sky meets sea. Both disappear. Quickly. Resorts surrounding Saint Ann parish narrow to pinpoints of distant light. The glow from the 15-story Norwegian Dawn cruise ship melts into darkness as its twin Azipod propulsion units push the 958-foot floating palace from Ocho Rios to the Port of Miami. A cool breeze flowing from land to sea wafts across my skin, a delightful respite from the sweltering heat of the coast. I hear the rustle of royal palm leaves. Around the verandah lights, delegates from the 22 species of Jamaican lizards have emerged to feast on insects, other lizards, and quick step robber frogs. The love songs of tree frogs fills the night on all sides. Further in the distance, the far distance, so as not to keep me awake, I hear the offbeat rhythms of reggae, the night-pulse of Jamaica that will beat into the early morning.
Wap. Wap. Wap. I awaken to the ceiling fan turning overhead. A rooster’s crow carries through the cool morning air, accompanied by dogs barking impatiently in the distance. A braying donkey demands, “Let me out for breakfast!” The mourning of doves and the chorus of cicadas have replaced the nighttime croaking of the tree frogs. Another day in the Jamaican mountains has dawned.
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: