Barbados: British Empire in Miniature

Graham Norton introduces the complex colonial history of the Caribbean island.

Barbados is like no other West Indian island. Its coral origins give it golden beaches and rolling, easily cultivated landscape, where the sugar wealth of the past was created. It has no towering volcanic peaks, no mouldering ruins, no destruction by French invaders. Instead, continuity, conservation, care, an emphasis on order, education, respectability, of making the most of things. The line of historical development from the earliest settlement by the English in the seventeenth century is palpable: things really have ‘broadened down from precedent to precedent’. Their unique history is something Barbadians take pride in.

The old forts still exist. The National Cannon Collection contains a Commonwealth period gun, probably from 1652, when a Parliamentary fleet was sent to subdue the island after it declared Charles II king. Two mansions in Jacobean style also survive from that time, St Nicholas Abbey and Drax Hall. Most of the plantation houses scattered over the island reflect a Palladian-cum-Regency style, as do many of the suburban villas of the 19th and early 20th century, sometimes enlivened with tropical Gothick and fretwork ornamentation.

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