Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Greenwood Great House, Jamaica

Monday 16 February 2015. The second of the Great Plantation Houses we are visiting in Jamaica is Greenwood House. Again there is a guide from the house waiting to take over from our guide who has accompanied us on the bus.

The house was built in 1800 by Tochard Barrett, one of the famous Barretts of Wimpole Street, London. He was cousin to the father of Elizabeth Barrett - the poet who married Robert Browning and together billed and cooed in verse to horrify schoolboys for future generations. She never visited this house and we can thankfully put her back in the cupboard...

The estate held 84,000 acres and they had 2,000 slaves to work it. Today the house is one of the best museums of all Jamaica, with collections of furniture, furnishings and musical instruments. These are conserved, rather than attempting to maintain or restore any damage, yet some of the mechanical musical instruments - hopelessly out of tune - are played for visitors.

A service of crockery is displayed on this drop-leaf table. When was the last time you had a nice cup of tea in a bone china mug on a saucer?

A canteen of cutlery is displayed on a side table under the mirror. Crystal glassware in the cupboard and a working Polyphon stands against the wall to the right. It is one of two in the house and we saw a huge collection of discs in a box.

The bedrooms are as lavishly furnished for the time as are the downstairs rooms. A copper bed warming pan can be seen hanging on the wall at the right. Filled with hot coals or embers, it would be pushed under the bed covers on cold nights and checked regularly to ensure it wasn't setting fire to the sheets!

Another more modest dining table with coffee and tea set on the table and a tureen set displayed on the dresser.

The windows are three-pane sash windows with shutters. The view from the upper floor out over the Caribbean sea is stunning.

A veranda balcony runs the length of the house facing the sea, set with deckchair style loungers.

The view from the veranda down the slope to the sea.

In comparison to the heat of the veranda, this room looks cool and inviting with old bottles displayed and some larger flagons that could have held wine or oil.

A high dining table, designed for standing at whilst eating. The men of the household and slave overseers would wear long riding boots to the knee, perhaps over the knee and sitting would be impossible or at best very uncomfortable whilst wearing them.

Let's not forget that this plantation was worked by people, bought and sold as possessions with as much say in their own lives as your mobile phone has about what you do with it. Another of these old notices said:

RUN AWAY

From Orange River Plantation

In the parish of St. Mary, in July 1778
a Creole NEGRO WOMAN named

MARY GOLD

She was harboured some time past, at a Penn in Ligianea(?)
but was seen about two months ago at Port Henderson, big with
child. Whoever harbours her, will be prosecuted according to
law, but whoever apprehends her and will give information to
WALTER POLLOCK on said plantation, or to THOMAS BELL in this
town, shall be handsomely rewarded.

As at Rose Hall, our last activity was to enjoy the amenities of a bar. Various artefacts were on display and lots more posters and old newspaper pages and (perhaps a trifle bizarrely) railway gate crossing warning signs... There were several old and damaged saxophones, a row of beer pumps for a bar, and then whips, leg irons and a horribly vicious sprung man trap. These were laid around the place to dissuade slaves from trying to escape at night. Getting caught in one of these would not just hold you in place until you were caught. If it did not sever the leg itself, it would certainly break the bone and severely lacerate the leg which would probably require amputation. Then the slave would probably be killed as a warning to his or her fellow slaves.

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