Brickdam – The Oldest Street in Georgetown Guyana – By Godfrey Chin

Nostalgia 566 – Saga and Romance of BRICKDAM

Godfrey Chin Website Link

Godfrey Chin – “Nostalgias”

–  By: Godfrey Chin (1937-2012) ..  Written in 2011.

Brickdam – the oldest street in the Capital City of Georgetown was formerly a muddy quagmire, difficult to traverse by horse and carriage even though it was built up with debris and cinders, from the too frequent fires of the nineteenth century. It was later covered with ‘bricks’ to make it serviceable during the rainy season – hence its name.

In 1920, it was macadamised for the Royal visit of Edward, Prince of Wales, who attended the Horse Race  Meeting, at Durban Park, and planted a ‘sapodilla tree’ in the Taitt’s Yard  (Murray St) – now Cara Lodge, Quamina.           

Edward did not ascend to the throne but abdicated following his marriage to Mrs Simpson, a Commoner leaving his younger Brother George VI to rule through WWII. Refer 2010 ACADEMY AWARD BEST PICTURE ‘KING’S SPEECH. In British Guiana 1937 that 6 sided three copper three pence was issued but  hurriedly withdrawn from circulation. I still have that coin which was my ‘mother’s gift to me at ‘birth.’ that year. 

Brickdam,  the one and a quarter mile  strip, with Stabroek Market to the west, and the Cuffy Monument to the east,  – plus the Independence Arch, is the ‘CAPITAL’ Street of Georgetown – and must be the most ‘historically’  fulfilled piece of real estate in the Guyana. It boasts in addition, our Legislature – the Seat of our Government since 1834 – three major denominational churches, – St Andrew’s Kirk  – Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception … and Smith Church Congregational.

Add the Brickdam Police Station – two Colleges for Boys – QC and St Stanislaus –  youth activities at the Girl Guides Association  and YWCA, plus the provision for the welfare of our senior and retiring citizens  at the Palms  and  National Service Insurance. The house lots, originally assigned were quarter acres, where dedicated public spirited citizens built their residences with towers and Demerara ‘jalousies’.  These also housed, over the years, the Government Ministries of Home Affairs – Health –  Education – plus the Licence Revenue Office.

Must mention one of our first Cinemas, Gaiety was destroyed by fire, 1926. The site still vacant, east of the Brickdam Presbytery, is where I watched an eleven old George De Peana win the mile – 25 laps – at the ‘pee-wee’ Brickdam school playground. BG Telecommunications expanded by 1957, when they moved from the McInroy Building, Lombard and Hadfield Sts – and this became the GT&T Headquarters, from 1992, to continuously expand our Communications networks, locally and internationally.

Thank heavens the cross streets of Brickdam are memorial tributes to those dedicated outstanding citizens yesteryear, who gave yeoman service to the nation such as Chalmers, (Crown Surveyor ) – Pollard (Auditor General ) – Austin (Receiver General ) – Brummell (Sheriff & Police Magistrate ) – Winter (Merchant & Founder of Hand –in –Hand ) – and  Manget (DMS and Surgeon General )

This Nostalgia buff only mentions the foregoing to recommend that one week in our Brickdam Week’ – where every Citizen could be ‘sensitized’ to our nation’s history, culture and social heritage. In November, on Armistice Day the annual laying of the wreaths since 1923, at the War Memorial, Main St, is a ‘tribute to the fallen dead of WW I and II. We need to cherish and preserve our heritage, in continuous tangible forms so we can proudly move forward with national pride and respect for our Garden City and ‘our’ Guyana El Dorado. We must somehow, avoid another ‘St Barnabas debacle’.

Could you believe that one of our foremost National Cultural Icons Wordsworth MacAndrew, died April, 2011, and no significant recognition has been mentioned in the local media up to the time of this writing. ‘Money and Funds are always a huge constraint for developing countries, where expenditure to buy a ‘tractor’ is more important than preserving our ‘National Culture’..but then you ‘figure?.

The Saga of Brickdam would fill a book, but these few nuggets should whet the appetite of our citizens as to our history – and be a ‘catalyst’ for dedicated preservation. As Oprah comments ‘We wont know where we going – until we know where we have been.

Let’s start with the oldest church in the City – St. Andrew’s Kirk presumably built at the site of the ‘Dutch Brandwagt 1748 – which was a ‘watch station’ when  Borsellen Island, 20 miles up the Demerara River was our capital, during Lawrence Storm Van Gravesande’s administration. Originally chosen 1810 as the site of a Dutch Reform Church, the foundation was laid 1811, and public Worship commenced 1813. The Scots Presbyterian Church Committee took over the church when they were faced with financial difficulties – and on Sunday Sept 27th 1818, St Andrews Scots Church was opened to ‘filled capacity’.

The Cathedral of Immaculate Conception, originally built of wood was destroyed by fire Friday March 7th 1913 around midday, and the St Stanislaus’ Scouts troop and the visiting MCC cricket team rushed to fight the fire, which started due to some negligence by a worker in the steeple, during lunch time. The Scouts were commended nationally for their outstanding service that day – fetching four loads of coals for the fire engines and rolling up the hoses after the fire was quenched. At the temporary Sunday Mass three days later – funds for erection was already being solicited by the Mayor, Senior Catholic Francis Dias, and the cornerstone was laid August 15th 1914. The spanking new concrete edifice designed by Leonard Stokes, RIBA opened 1931 as enough granite, stone and sand had to brought from the Essequibo River.  The marble altar was a gift from Pope Pius XI to Bishop Galton, 1930.

Smith’s  Church Congregational started  1843,  and is a ‘tribute to Rev John Smith, the Demerara Martyr, who gave his life in service to the Slaves before  abolition Aug 1 1934. Rev. Hawley Bryant, who wrote the Song of Guyana’s Children, was Pastor there in the forties. Attending Smith Church 1942 to July 1948 my pre-teen delight was playing with the two Bryant Boys in the church orchard and frequent timely visits for cheese and jam sandwiches. Ya think it easy!

Our Parlaiment Building – formerly the Public Buildings destroyed by fire 1828 – was designed by Joseph Hadfield and re-opened April 1834.  The saga  of this building reflects our history from the ‘full’ abolition of slavery Aug 1 1838 when the freed slaves congregated in celebration and thanksgiving, on the ‘unfenced lawns’.  Our pre-Independence struggles of the early Sixties continued in the environs of this sanctity, when ‘we shall not be moved’ sit downs,  agitated for our political enfranchisement.

Damon, famous slave hero, was hung on a scaffold in front of the Public Building, which thankfully was erected on a greenheart raft foundation, and today stands ‘strong’ as ever.

I worked at the Chief Secretary’s Office July, 15th 1955 to Feb 1960 before proceeding on 6 months paid vacation leave to the Caribbean, (with passage paid ) and my daily delight was spending my lunch hours, ‘plus too frequent absences’ from my desk duties’ – browsing the nation’s archival documents in bound ‘volumes, profuse with former Governors’ decision in red ink, stored in the musty dome The cannons at the entrance are relics from the Crimean War, while the Statue of Hubert Nathaniel Chritchlow – father of the local Trade Union Movement, was unveiled Dec 2nd, 1964, by the then Premier, Dr Cheddi Jagan.

Stabroek Market was designed by Nathaniel McKay and opened Nov 1, 1881.  In the days of ‘dray cart’ transportation – Donkey City obliquely opposite  was a popular site, which is today the West Bank and Coast Car Park. The Russell Memorial installed at the Market Square was later removed to the Town Hall Annexe, which in the decade of 1890 was our main Fire Station – with stables for horses and quarters for the Sergeant-Major in charge.  The Demerara River Ferry south of Stabroek Market housed the Queriman and Makouria before river taxis from Vreed-en-Hoop.

The 1763 Monument Cuffy,  sculpted by Philip Moore at the east end of Brickdam was unveiled May 23, 1976 to celebrate the slave uprising in Berbice February 27th 1763. The Independence Arch quarter mile to the west, was a gift presented by Chairman, J. G. Campbell on behalf of the Demerara Bauxite Company -Demba, to the nation, on the achievement of Independence May 1966.

Government Institutions on Brickdam, included the Ministry of Local Government, which administered governance outside the City thru District Commissioners including Sholto Douglas – Lawrence Thompson – Pat Theirens –  Ivan Forbes – and Walter Cameron etc. I worked there in the early sixties, and was a junior Clerk in the National Self Help program under W. A. Angoy, and Marlene Crawford, nee Kwok.  Rural Communities then, initiated their own community projects,  supplied the labour for their community development,  while Government supplied matching expense funds. Today we have Regional Development, and I often wonder if Community Self Help should not be re-introduced.

The Ministry of Education moved from High St,  Kingston, to Brickdam, and later the Housing Ministry relocated from the Demerara Turf Club on account of fire,  to become Ministry of Health was again  destroyed July 17, 2009 in an early morning conflagration. The Licence Revenue Officer was also located on Brickdam, and today the National Insurance Scheme administers the nation’s Pension Scheme. This Cook-shop-fly produced the costumed Band of the Year – One for All – All for One’ 1971 for NIS, under Lloyd Joseph’s administration, and to today, it is the only Government Institution ever to win this title.

QC started  1844, as a Grammar School with 15 boys by Piercy Austin, and moved from their Carmichael St site ( now Bishop’s High School ) 1918, to the then Orphan’s Asylum on Brickdam, and remained there until 1951, when they moved to the current Thomas Lands site. The school’s nylon include  a teacher  being pushed thru an open window,  and classroom bedlam, whenever they were horse racing at Durban Park during school sessions. St Stanislaus started as a Grammar school May 1st, 1866,  in the Camp St Presbytery compound – became St. Stanislaus 1907 and moved to their current site that year.  On July 14. 1979, their beloved Father Darke, was assassinated in front the school, in a case of unfortunate ‘mistaken identity.

Opposite the Chinese Association founded 1920, built their members’ pavilion but this was destroyed by fire July 25th, 1982, and replaced today with a two story edifice.

The Alms House, constructed between 1874 and 1878, was designed by Caesar Castellani, and received its name 1948, from the luxurious Palm trees at the eastern end of Brickdam. Opposite the YWCA replaced in 1951 the barracks of the former US Seabees building Atkinson Field during WWII. I learnt ballroom and country dancing there from Mrs Kranenburg and even danced on stage with Beryl Perreira’s Caribbean Pepperpot Show in the late fifties. The Girl Guides Association which was founded in BG, 1922  has their Headquarters at the Vlissengen end.

The present  Demico House was purchased 1893 by Messrs D’Aguiar  Bros. who opened the Demerara Ice House, renowned then and up to today, for  the widest range of wholesale and retail wines and spirits – the latest ovalex billiard tables –and comfortable guest accommodation.  Yours truly was their free lance decorator/designer in the Sixties and Seventies for floats, costume bands and queen pageants, and  my ‘House of Tudor’ montage on their Brickdam façade,  earned a whimsical blush from Queen Elizabeth from the Legislative Balcony, February 1966, and is one of the best decorated building ever in Guyana.

Demico House introduced the first major restaurants on Brickdam in the mid seventies when Ken DeAbreu, General Manager  was the first to introduce Pizza locally at their take- out bottom floor and  opened the Arawak Steak House, upstairs. New Thriving Restaurant opened at Camp St around 2004. There was the ‘Black Cat Laundry east of Brickdam school in the Forties – but generally very few ‘business places’

The first Governor’s home was ‘the King’s House on lot 5 Brickdam, Stabroek, but this was not very suitable for our Chief Administrator and for a while alternative accommodation was provided at Camp House, and also a portion of the Public Buildings. June 7th 1852 funds were provided to build exclusive quarters – and the Carmichael St residence designed by Castellani was available soon after. Other prominent residents of ‘King’s House included R.G. Woolford – J. M. Low-A-Chee – J. P. Santos and Justice L. Wills. King’s House is today the Ministry of Home Affairs.

The sedate residential Brickdam was the home ( and in many cases the practices ) of our top former Professionals including Makepeace Richmond, Jerry Man-son-Hing, Doctors Wharton, Whitney, Ramdeholl, Ho and J Gomes, Optician. Prominent citizens who lived on Brickdam during yesteryear  include  The Vieria’s of Houston Estates, the Willems of Kaow Island – Clement ‘Skip’ Gomes, renowned scoutmaster – Edward and Herman DeFreitas – Kon Sues, Burrowes of DemToco,  Robert Adams, ( movie star ), Ivor Mendonca Wicketkeeper  and Maurice Fernandes – first Guyanese to Captain the West Indies 1930 and win a cricket Test vs England at Bourda. Bunty Phillips, past president of the St Stanislaus Assoc, Toronto lived on Brickdam also.

Brickdam has truly fulfilled my presumption that it is the Capital Street of Georgetown. Indeed long before Georgetown became a City 1844 – the French in collaboration with the Dutch 1782, forced the British to capitulate the area off the Dutch Bandwagt where  a Governor’s residence had been built 1770. The French Commander Comte de Kersaint immediately set forth by proclamation to make the Colony worthy of the French nation, with a Capital “where Religion will have a Temple, Justice a Palace, War its arsenal, Commerce its Counting Houses, Industry its Factories and where the inhabitants may enjoy the advantages of Social Intercourse. De Kersaint then ordered slave labour to dig two canals – known as Croal and Hadfield later – for the emerging town Longchamp. The dam running the full length of later Stabroek – our first Ward ..is today “BRICKDAM’.

BRICKDAM has truly reflected ‘our turbulent past with our exciting future’ Ya think it easy.

 ..  For more Nostalgias refer to Godfrey’s Nostalgias – Golden Memories of Guyana.
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Comments

  • Elsa  On 03/12/2018 at 1:21 am

    A very refreshing read that brings back old memories, of the way it used to be!

  • Clyde Duncan  On 03/12/2018 at 3:04 pm

    If anyone knows how to obtain a copy of the book – Please POST

    • Bruan  On 03/13/2018 at 3:25 pm

      I am trying to figure out who worked with him to publish the book.
      Brian Chin (son)

  • needybad4u  On 03/12/2018 at 11:45 pm

    Nostalgic and Refreshing! Once upon a Time….Never be the same again.
    ~Leonard Dabydeen

  • Ron Saywack  On 03/13/2018 at 2:33 pm

    It is both intriguing and informative to peruse Mr. Chin’s curious recollection of his childhood and adult memories of historic Brickdam and the Garden City.

    After reading his retrospection, the following caught my attention:

    “… when Borsellen Island, 20 miles up the Demerara River was our capital (in the 1700s) …”

    It is worth noting that: the early years of the colony of Guyana, after Columbus had sailed to these parts, saw the Dutch, French, and British exchange ownership, bases and names several times.

    The French named Guyana’s Capital City “Longchamp ” in 1782. In 1784, it was renamed Stabroek by the Dutch and finally, on 29 April 1812, it was renamed Georgetown in honour of King George III.

    Originally, Guyana was comprised of the two western colonies when Borsellen Island was the capital – Demerara and Essequibo. In 1831, Berbice – a Dutch colony from 1627 to 1815 – joined to constitute the current geographical landmass.

    Many thanks to the late (and interesting) Guyanese for sharing his story.

    Here is Mr. Chin in conversation with Derrice Deane:

  • Gary Prentice  On 03/13/2018 at 4:37 pm

    Very intetesting,educational and informative history of Brickdam.

  • Judith  On 03/10/2019 at 9:16 pm

    As one who knew Guyana briefly between the late 1960s to mid-1970s, I too admire his dedication to remembering,memorializing and reminding Guyanese of Georgeown’s past glories. One correction, however – Wordsworth McAndrew died in April 2008, not 2011.

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