The sturdy walls of Her Majesty’s Prison (HMP) Glendairy have withstood earthquakes, hurricanes, and other events impacting the island, and even a fire in 2005 was not enough to destroy them.
And while delivering the feature address at the decommissioning ceremony and gala of the prison last Saturday, Minister of Home Affairs Adriel Brathwaite surmised that if its walls could talk, they would tell quite a story.
“These walls will also tell you about the hundreds and thousands of men that they saved, and they would also tell you about the thousands that they could not save . . . . They will tell you not only of their magnificence, not only the fact that they were commissioned in 1853, and it took two years to complete them; these walls will tell you that after [over] 150 years that they are still some of the most beautiful buildings in Barbados,” he said.
Brathwaite noted that whenever the story was written, it would be a story reflecting the island’s triumph and the spirit of Barbadians.
“There is a lot of history within these walls and it is my hope, my pledge, that once I can play a part, I will ensure that the history of this institution will be written, because of its importance to our landscape.”
Already, there are bids by the Barbados National Trust to tell the story of the prison which was originally built to house 72 prisoners, but later expanded to accommodate the increasing number of inmates.
In fact, Minister Brathwaite disclosed that Senator Professor Henry Fraser had written to the Government 18 months ago with a proposal to transform the institution into a prison museum.
The Attorney General said he had also received requests from interested parties to use the decommissioned prison as a venue for Crop Over events and to develop the film industry.
While no concrete decisions have been made as to the future use of Glendairy Prison, Brathwaite said he would do all in his power to ensure that it was put to the best possible use for the people of Barbados.
“Even at a time when we are decommissioning this prison, it is still recognized as being one of the better facilities. Even this old facility, even with its challenges, it was still seen as one of the better prison institutions across the region because, notwithstanding our physical challenges, we had some of the better, forward looking programmes across the region,” he pointed out.
Superintendent of Prisons Lieutenant Colonel John Nurse also noted that the Station Hill, St Michael facility contributed “in no small measure to the fabric of the Barbadian society, whether it was through the interaction of the prisoners or staff in the community, or through the creation of substance of folklore which many of us still today discuss or speak about”.
He added that the gala provided an opportunity for the prison service to close a chapter and share a little history of the institution, which sits on 14 acres of land.
Less than ten per cent of the building was damaged by fire in 2005 –– the male block, a section of the female prison, the kitchen, bakery and mess hall, and a small portion of staff quarters.
Nurse believes that while the exploits of Glendairy may pale in comparison to international prisons such as Alcatraz and Rikers in the United States, and the Tower of London, the stories emanating from its walls will remain discussion topics for generations to come.
Last Saturday’s evening of nostalgia brought the curtain down on an open day at the penal institution. Prison officers took thousands of visitors on guided tours of the mess hall, the famous prison baker shop, the tailor shop, and many of the cells, including maximum security.
Many marveled at the small size of the cells and the lack of light, while others observed the architectural structure of the building which has stood the test of time for the last 161 years.
No tour of HMP Glendairy would have been complete without visiting the day and night cells which Barbados’ most notorious criminal, Winston Hall, occupied before his second and final escape from prison on
Described by prison officers as a “fleet-footed man”, not even the most stringent of measures were able to confine the infamous criminal who remained on the run until he died by a policeman’s gun in 2004.
The gallows were also a must-see for the touring visitors, who listened intently as the tour guides recounted how prisoners were restrained before being hanged.