The Late Great Bridgetown
Written on 19th April, 1989
by my father, Andrew Desmond Sheppard
(transcribed from personal family memorabilia)
Oh! Bustling, busy, affluent, happy city of Bridgetown - where are you now? We yearn for your natural, native charm. This has all but disappeared. Why? and where have all the things that made this old city gone?
In a word, Barbadians have become an automotive society - one car per person - almost. See them driving down Bay Street, Belmont Road and Spring Garden all headed for Bridgetown and in most cars, only the driver may be found. Parking has become a serious problem. You may call it pride of ownership, privacy or whatever - but the fact is that we have become a selfish society. Car pools do not exist. See them pouring out of Regency Park, Sheraton Park, Navy Gardens, Rockley, St. James, every morning all heading and hoping for a space of 16' x 6' to park and spend the day, basking in the tropical sun. The occupants of these thousands of cars simply melt into the offices and banks which proliferate - there to get cool in air-conditioned comfort and stare at their computers and count their intransit cash. A far cry from those "bad" old days of bicycles, open windows and paper weights. No more time for idle talk and pleasant conversation. In spite of all the modern facilities and equipment and, we hope, improved efficiency of the population, we as a community are in danger of losing our fine sense of human compassion and our identities. Materialism and selfish greed are now imbued in most of our citizens, who are the young and growing. Pleasure and noisy music have replaced peace and serenity. Friendship is measured by your ability to spend good, hard-earned money on entertainment. Smiling has become a false effort. You have to be seriously taught to smile.
Whither Bridgetown? Let us stroll down Bay Street towards Bridgetown, starting at the gap leading to the Hilton and Grand Barbados. We pass a small mall and a soft drinks factory, an old decadent club, tyre-repair shop and gas station. Janitorial service, exclusive boutique, restored old house where Captain Thorne ran his private school, other small businesses, a night snack bar - the defunct "Boys Club" and now Government Offices. Information, Prime Minister, Cabinet Office, Government Printery, and opposite, the beautiful Esplanade with its pretty band stand. Then a run of restored buildings, a large vacant spot where there existed an ice factory, now piled with building rubble - ugly. A semi-private club, gas-station, nursing home, doctors' office, tourist facility, old house, more Government offices, Child Care opposite to Family Planning and preceded by National Assistance and opposite to these, the Jemmots Lane Health and Education complex and, in the centre - St. Patrick's Catholic Cathedral. And now the Red Light District on both sides, interrupted by some offices, another gas station, another office building, an abandoned, derelict old home (the Innisses lived here), more old buildings, the Boat Yard, automobile dealer, vacant sugar warehouse, another automobile dealer, and importer-distributor of food and alcoholic products, a vacant burnt out lot opposite to old church, renovated building (now stores and offices and a club), customs broker, fast food, hardware, shipping office, record shop. Opposite to all of this and facing Independence car park is Manning's large building. The arch and bridge is faced by restaurants, boutiques, travel agents. The road leading to the left takes you to the Coast Guard Headquarters. No longer does the Swing Bridge swing. It is as stiff as an old lady. The schooners, small inter-island vessels, fishing boats have been replaced by tourist-employed marine equipment, i.e. fishing and cruising vessels, all stocked with cool and hot drinks, snacks and temporary cordiality. A great job has been done to cleaning of the Public Buildings and restoration of the Clock - thanks to Her Majesty's visit. Lord Nelson needs a good cleaning. He is turning green with envy of our clean Public Buildings and nearby fountain.
The ever present taxis who remind one of the war-time cliché - "They also serve who sit and wait" - wheels were meant for moving! How truly wonderful it would be if these gracious gentlemen could think of taking people to and from work just like those enterprising mini-bus drivers. There must be over 200 taxis. If each one would convey groups of 5 passengers to and from Bridgetown every morning and evening, they would be relieving about 500 drivers of the frustrating experience of fighting traffic to get to and from work. For this convenience, the grateful passengers could pay up to $5.00 each for such a service. What they would have to pay for a car park or car-wash per day. And think of the saving on gasoline and wear and tear on engines and tyres, not to mention the damage done to the paint-work of the cars. They would remain in the cool comfort of their domestic car-port awaiting the return of their relaxed owners. This concept would provide sorely needed income for the patient taxi drivers, the cost of their getting to and from Bridgetown would not change - the rest is solid profit. This would also engender friendships and the participants would feel the happiness of sharing. Most importantly, the awful traffic situation would be eased in a dramatic way. Let us think about it and try it. The taxis could still "sit and wait" or drive our welcome visitors around.
But what is most perplexing is the almost complete change which has taken place in Bridgetown. Walk with me up High Street, past Royal Bank, when we meet James Street corner with Roebuck Street. Empty buildings. Closed doors everywhere. Thomas Herbert Hardware is no more. Carter's Wildey now handles their business and Carters might close and consolidate at Wildey's. Big, imposing Barclays Bank building, almost empty, adjoined by at least three previously active businesses - all closed. Kay's House opposite and the rest of the Complex including Bajan Mall. On the ground floor, fewer than ten retail outlets have moved or closed down. Keep moving and you will see building after building closed and with more to come. Looking down on all of this is our large white building, the Central Bank, most of whose office space is vacant. Where are the drivers of all of these cars parked along the road and in any available car park? You might find most of them in insurance offices or more likely, in legal offices - one car, one person. Roebuck street is longing for those hustling bustling days of lorries and jitneys filled with sacks of flour, onions, potatoes, saltfish, liquor. Only one left and barely busy. S.E. Cole, R.L. Seale, Perkins, M.E. Bourne, Alleyne Arthur, etc. etc. all gone, all gone elsewhere, amalgamated or shut down. That street had atmosphere - and smells, but now, like the swing-bridge, it does not swing any more.
Our problem is that we have more educated people than we know what to do with. More lawyers than the law should allow. More computer operators than we have computers. More boutiques and beauty shops than we can afford. Electronic gadgets and video shops abound. Idleness and "pleasure" encouraged at every turn. Let us have a long look at our system of education . . .