Chattel houses are modest, wooden buildings, usually comprising of two small rooms, set on foundations of coral blocks. The roof of these houses are steep, and made of corrugated iron. In the early days, the roof had four sides, and were triangular in shape (pyramid like). However in the 20th century, they became more steeped and gabled, with only two sides. The triangular shape of the roof was constructed to withstand the heavy winds and rain that sometimes occurred across the island. The angle of the roof repelled the wind, as opposed to providing a platform for the wind to lift the roof. Fretwork was placed around the windows and openings of the house. This provided both shade from the sun and a filter against the rain, but has evolved into an attractive architectural feature of these houses. Chattel houses also have jalousie windows, which have two sets of vertical hinges and a set of horizontal hinges, to provide maximum flexibility against the type of weather experienced in Barbados. Each house has a door in the center of the front panel of the house, with a window on each side. Some houses also feature open verandahs and wooden banisters.
These houses were originally the plantation worker’s home and the first was built in the late 17th century. Plantation workers were not land owners and thus rented the houses from the plantation owners, who owned the land. The houses were set on blocks to allow for ease of transportation from one location to another, in the event of possible landlord and tenant disputes. This is where the name “Chattel” originated – because the houses were movable property. In today’s Barbadian society, chattel houses are painted in bright colors, and reflect a key aspect of Barbados’s architectural legacy. Chattel houses have been modernly restored and also provide a piece of heritage tourism, as tourists can visit areas where Chattel houses are located (see below). Many persons Barbados still reside in chattel houses. Additionally there are also small shops in neighborhoods in Barbados called chattel shops that have a similar construction to chattel houses and sell everything from food to machine tools.
Chattel Houses in Barbados
As stated previously, chattel houses still continue to be a major part of Barbadian society, despite the evolution of architecture on the island. Below are some of the locations where persons can visit chattel houses.
- The Chattel House Villages
Located in Holetown St. James and St. Lawrence Gap Christ Church is a shopping village called the Chattel House Village. Each of the stores within this village is housed within a chattel house and are separated by lawn and cobblestone pathways. These stores sell anything from souvenirs to beachwear and exotic clothes.
- Tyrol Cot Heritage Village
Tyrol Cot was formerly the home of the late Sir. Grantley Adams. The main house is flanked by several Chattel Houses, each displaying the work of craftsmen and artists and just like the chattel house villages in Holetown and St. Lawrence Gap, items are available to be purchased.
In addition to the above, the Barbados National Trust allows for an open house tour of the restored Welches Plantation in St. Thomas, and a chattel house is located on this property as well. Also, as previously stated, Chattel houses are still prominent across the island, and therefore tend to be visible on any drive throughout the island. Therefore, have your camera ready to snap a piece of Barbados’ agricultural legacy, should you take a visit to the above locations or happen to come across them as you explore the island.
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