The Barbados National Trust (BNT) is contending there is an “unholy rush” to tear down this country’s heritage sites, as the Environmental Protection Department (EPD) prepares to demolish the birth home of Roland Edwards, the musical composer of the Barbados National Anthem.
Speaking to Barbados TODAY Wednesday morning at Chapel Street, Speightstown, St Peter where the two-storey derelict structure stands, BNT President Peter Stevens appealed to the authorities to spare the building.
A near ten-year struggle by Edwards’ grandson Randolph Woodroffe to save the 19th century stone building was dealt a significant blow last month when Justice Pamela Beckles discharged an injunction which had prevented the Environmental Protection Division (EPD) and its contractors from demolishing the historical building.
Although Woodroffe has secured a seven-day stay of execution, with the way virtually clear for the demolition of the building, Stevens suggested the celebration of Barbados’ 50th Independence anniversary was nothing more than lip service, arguing that scant respect was being paid to those who had contributed to that milestone.
“This is the place where the man who wrote the music to the national anthem lived in Barbados. This is an important part of Barbados’ history. It will be 51 years in November that we will be celebrating independence. Exactly how are we celebrating that milestone by disrespecting the characters that lent to that independence? This is extremely important. I don’t know any Barbadian who doesn’t have a great pride about our independence. So I don’t understand why we would want to eradicate the historical building blocks that brought us to this point,” said Stevens, who warned that future generations would pay dearly for the country’s failure to preserve its heritage.
“If things like this are not so important to us today, it is going to be important when we get to our 100th year [of independence] and we would be thanked for preserving such places since people would not have met the people that played a role in our independence. They would have to make do with visiting places they lived and see the things that probably inspired them,” he added.
The building had been earmarked by the EPD for demolition since 2003 and was close to being torn down in May 2008 before it was saved by a last-minute court injunction.
The BNT president argued that an overwhelming majority of the northern community was in support of preserving the structure for posterity, contending that residents had joined forces with engineers from the trust to erect a security barrier and remove 40 per cent of the structure, which the EPD had deemed a risk to society.
“We agree that there are certain elements which have to be removed and rebuilt or restored but there is not a case here that we can see for the total demolition of this building. We have restored buildings which are much worse than this. So it is a little unfortunate that it has gotten to this stage. But it is what it is and we need to get behind Barbados’ cultural heritage, and independence is one of the most important aspects of that,” Stevens stressed.
Meanwhile, Woodroffe said the entire ordeal was taking an emotional toll, but he was hopeful the courts would be convinced to see things in his favour now that efforts were being made to save the structure.
“As the only relative still present on the island I think I could safely say that my grandfather would be rolling in his grave if he knew what was going on . . . . It is okay to talk about pushing it down but when you look at the person who lived in that building there should a much greater sentiment and effort to ensure that the building stands,” said Woodroffe, who was barely able to contain his emotion.