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Offline Socapro

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The fire last time... The history of the Red House!
« on: March 23, 2015, 02:29:14 PM »
The fire last time
What really happened to the Red House

Published: Monday, March 23, 2015 (T&T Guardian)

The Red House after the fire in 1903. PHOTO COURTESY PARIA PUBLISHING


Today marks the anniversary of the Water Riots of 1903, when the Red House was famously set on fire. What led to the riots? And what really happened to the Red House that day?

One hundred and two years ago today, the Red House went up in flames, in one of the series of dramatic events that have punctuated its long history.

Like the coup attempt of 1990, the Water Riots of 1903 ended with numerous deaths and injuries, but in this case they were inflicted by the colonial authorities, not the insurgents. The rioting began not as an attempt to overthrow the government, but as a protest over a not unreasonable plan to charge people who lived in the city for the water that they used in vast quantities.

In March 1903, irate residents of Port-of-Spain gathered outside the Red House as a Water Ordinance was debated inside the council chamber.

The Ratepayers’ Association had been agitating since the previous year against the plan to introduce water meters.

The new ordinance had been read on March 5, and debate was scheduled for March 16, but was postponed until March 23 because visitors in the public gallery had disrupted the proceedings.

The Governor, Alfred Moloney, seeking to avoid further disturbances, achieved exactly the opposite by ruling that on that occasion spectators must obtain tickets for access to the public gallery.

The rest of the disgruntled crowd demonstrated outside, in Brunswick Square—and then things got out of hand.

Not the first riots

These were not the first riots outside the seat of government. Half a century earlier, in October 1849, there had been protests outside the building over a government decision to change the way debtors were treated: at that period they could be jailed, but until then were not treated like common criminals. Now, however, it was ruled that they must have their heads shaved and wear prison uniform.

Those riots were coolly handled by the Governor, the intrepid Lord Harris, who spent a night under siege in the building, which was guarded by troops. Apart from some broken windows, the building was undamaged. A number of rioters were arrested; by one account, one person was shot dead, while another says three were wounded. Harris later pardoned those who had served part of their jail terms for rioting.

A chronicler of the time, the civil servant Daniel Hart, also noted: “After the affray Lord Harris had caused to be collected all the stones that had been thrown into his office which he placed in a tray with the following good-humoured inscription: 'A Memorial from the inhabitants.'”

Shaky start for the seat of gov't

The cornerstone of the building had been laid five years earlier, the previous, decrepit government building on the site having been torn down. But the new one barely got off the ground at all—or rather, nearly didn’t stay up once it had been started. 

The new government buildings were designed by the Superintendent of Public Works, Richard Bridgens, who, although he described himself as an architect, had never actually designed an entire building before.

In the first 20 years of his career, in England, Bridgens had specialised in furniture (and indeed became one of the most influential designers of the Victorian age); but since becoming Superintendent of Public Works in 1831 he had been confined to overseeing roadworks and repairing public buildings.

Bridgens seems to have tried to design a suitably dignified seat of government in an austere classical style; but thanks to his inexperience, incompetent or corrupt contractors, and lack of funds, his building was not finished for half a century, and until then didn’t turn out as he intended.

On November 21, 1846—in the week Bridgens died—the Trinidad Spectator noted in an editorial that little progress had been made for some time. This was because the main beams were not strong enough to support the roof, and work had come to a stop while a solution was sought to avoid its complete collapse.

In the next issue of the paper, a pseudonymous letter to the editor suggested there had been corruption in awarding the contract to a builder who was favoured by the Governor.

The insinuations in a follow-up editorial had a horribly modern ring: “Rumour whispers that there has been something singularly like jobbing or unworthy favouritism connected with these buildings; that the lowest tender was not accepted; and that there was a shuffling attempt at secrecy with regard to the accepted tender, unworthy of any public body.”

The letter-writer also complained that although the buildings were originally estimated to cost £16,000, in the event the walls alone had cost more than £8,000, the roof and upper floors had been contracted at $38,000, and the finishings would cost $36,000 more. 

But in 1848 Governor Lord Harris announced that the Treasury was virtually empty. The new government building was still unfinished, but Harris opened it anyway.

All the descriptions from that period agree it was not an impressive building. The Trinidad Spectator grumbled in 1846 that it looked like a prison or a factory. Another commentator compare it to the boiling house on a sugar estate.   

There are extant pictures of this first version of the Red House, including Michel Jean Cazabon’s on-the-spot sketch of the October 1849 riot—the equivalent of a newspaper photo today—drawn for the London Illustrated News. Crowds are flinging stones, while an impassive line of troops, armed with cannon, is drawn up around a small, plain building in two halves. It is far uglier in photos, which show two grim, squat buildings of unplastered brick, with Prince Street running between them.

Nevertheless, no further work was done on the building until the 1890s, when it was expanded and altered. It became known as the Red House in 1897, when it was painted an eccentric shade of rose madder to mark Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee.

The architect John Newel Lewis surmised that Daniel Hahn, the Chief Draughtsman of the Public Works, who restored the Red House on the same site after the fire, may already have added some details at this point.

“It appears,” he suggests in his book Ajoupa, “that Bridgens’ plans could have been used after all, or, more likely, Hahn had already added his front before the fire.” By this time the building had begun to look attractive.

Pressure builds up to Water Riots

Then came the Water Riots, the culmination of decades of disagreement. Since public standpipes in the city were replaced by pipe-borne water in the mid-19th century, people had felt entitled to use as much water as they wanted—and that was a lot. Dr Eric Williams noted in his 1962 History of the People of T&T, “A characteristic of Trinidad life, then as now, was an enormous waste of water, which seemed to be greater the more abundant the supply.”

In 1874, he recorded, with a population of 25,000, 1 3/4 million gallons had to be delivered daily in Port-of-Spain, more than twice the allowance per capita of London. So it was suggested that meters and other ways of preventing wastage should be introduced.

Instead, seven years later an investigation reported a daily supply of two million gallons was being provided for a population of 32,000. The committee said this was far more than was actually needed, and a third of it was wasted “either through carelessness or neglect.”

Narrower pipes were installed to reduce the flow of water, but that didn’t help because householders simply left their taps running constantly.

When debate began on the ordinance to introduce meters and charge people for the water they used, the crowd outside the Red House boiled over. Bottles and stones began to fly, windows were smashed and the legislators had to duck for cover. The authorities read the Riot Act and called in the troops, as well as the forces from two Royal Navy ships. Some of the rioters were killed and many injured—Williams cites the findings of a subsequent commission of enquiry that 16 people died and 43 others were treated at hospital.

Somewhere in the melee, rioters broke into the building and set fire to it. Williams says, as did later commentators such as Olga Mavrogordato and Newel Lewis: “The Red House was burnt to the ground.”

But it wasn’t. The fire passed into a popular saying—to “last longer than the Red House fire”—but as that saying suggests, it didn’t last long, no doubt thanks to the firemen stationed next door on Hart Street.

There are photos from 1903 that show the building wreathed in smoke, and then after the fire—still standing. The windows, the floors and the roof beams went up in flames, but the structure remained. The debris was removed and used as landfill in Lord Harris and Victoria Squares. Daniel Hahn was called in and oversaw the restoration of the building, adding embellishments that included the central rotunda joining the two halves of the building, and the elaborate and beautiful Italian stucco ceilings in the northern and southern chambers.

The building was reopened by Governor Sir Henry Jackson in 1907. But the Red House of today, languishing under its makeshift shed roof and behind its galvanised fence, is older than that: it’s essentially the building whose cornerstone was laid by Governor Sir Henry McLeod in February 1844. Fire, water, riots, revolt and neglect; the Red House has withstood them all, for more than a century and a half.
« Last Edit: March 23, 2015, 02:35:10 PM by Socapro »
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Offline Bourbon

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Re: The fire last time... The history of the Red House!
« Reply #1 on: March 23, 2015, 04:08:34 PM »
Amazing how few things have changed.
The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today are Christians who acknowledge Jesus ;with their lips and walk out the door and deny Him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.

Offline Sando prince

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Re: The fire last time... The history of the Red House!
« Reply #2 on: January 29, 2020, 06:09:10 AM »

allyuh should know by now the Red House was re-opened and this week Parliament started back in the Red House

But here is a good article on T&T Red Castle

https://socamusictv.blogspot.com/2020/01/a-symbolic-red-castle-in-caribbean-red.html