The Garrison- World UNESCO Site

Garrisson resizeBack in the 18th and 19th century, the Americas were undergoing a serious transformation with the English, French, Spanish and the Dutch all vying for power and land. The Caribbean was not to be left out and these powers constantly warred with each other to secure for themselves key trade routes and resources.

Unlike some of the other islands, Barbados had not changed hands from a British rule, no doubt thanks to their strong defence capabilities. Barbados was also a base for the British Military while protecting its colony of islands. The British built a number of forts all along the easily accessible west coast and built a Garrison close to Bridgetown. It is important to also note that Barbados’ Garrison was the first and largest Garrison in the British colonies around the 18th and 19th century.

During this time period the Garrison was the base and headquarters for members of the British West Indies Regiment in Barbados. It originally started with the construction of St. Ann's Fort in 1705 and expanded to include soldiers' barracks, a parade ground and commissariat. The Garrison is located about 2 miles south of National Heroes Square in Bridgetown. A large main area, 30 acres, of the Garrison is the Savannah, which now stands as the island's only racetrack.

The Garrison as a historic site includes The National Cannon CentreThe Garrison Savannah RacetrackBarbados Museum & Historical SocietyThe Main Guard House And Clock TowerGeorge Washington House & MuseumSt Ann's Fort, and Needham’s Lighthouse.

Other important mentionables of the Garrison are: Sandy Lane Barbados Gold Cup, Charles Fort, and Barbados Military Cemetery.

The National Cannon Centre

Located within the Garrison at St. Ann’s Fort, you will find the world's rarest and finest collection of 17th century English iron cannon. It is also one of two collections that include a gun with Cromwell’s Republican Arms- the only one known to ever be found on land. 

This gun is especially rare as it bears the crest of Oliver Cromwell. This crest was ordered to be struck off of all cannons, following the rule of King Charles II in a bid to eliminate all traces of Cromwell’s reign. The other gun bearing this crest can be found at the Tower of London.

This collection currently boasts of over 400 guns. Major Michael Hartland, who is the driving force behind this extensive collection and author of ‘The Great Guns of Barbados’, stated "The island is littered with old cannon... We have found them in gardens, cellars, on beaches, embedded in the sides of buildings and buried under fortifications".

It was subsequently catalogued by Charles Trollope, a British military weapons expert specializing in historic artillery.

The oldest cannon retrieved dates back to 1620, with the youngest one, a rare cannon called the Victoria Gun that is the first rifled muzzle loader made in England, dating back to 1870. In addition to British cannons, Spanish and Dutch cannons are also being unearthed.

In front of the Main Guard facing the Garrison Savannah are 26 of these cannons magnificently placed on display as a relic of Barbados’ rich history. Others are positioned at St. Ann’s Fort and St. Charles Fort, also within the Garrison Historic Area.

Tel: (246) 426 0982
Appointments by reservation only

The Garrison Savannah Racetrack

IMG 1359resizeThe Garrison Savannah was originally established in 1807 as the centrepiece and parade ground for the surrounding military barracks. Horse-racing in Barbados first started around 1845 when the officers of the British Regiment stationed in Barbados used this parade ground to race their horses. In time, the wealthy merchants and planters later participated.

Today however, the Garrison Savannah is still synonymous with horse-racing, and is the home of the Barbados Turf Club.

The Barbados Turf Club was established in 1905 and promotes and regulates horse racing in Barbados. This prestigious club divides the year into three seasons for horse racing, with about 25 race meets throughout the year, running mostly every other Saturday. The three seasons are:

·     Spring Season (January to April)
·      Summer Season (May to September)
·      Winter Season (November to December)

The race track is a 6 furlongs oval grass strip and races are run at distances of 5 furlongs (1000 meters); 5½ furlongs (1100 meters); 7.8 furlongs (1570 meters); 9 furlongs (1800 meters) and 10 furlongs (2000 meters), with the horses running in a clockwise direction.

By far the most prestigious horse racing tournament that takes place at the Garrison Savannah is the Sandy Lane Barbados Gold Cup.

Sandy Lane Barbados Gold Cup

Established in 1982, the Sandy Lane Barbados Gold Cup is not only the most prestigious thoroughbred race in Barbados, but also in the Eastern Caribbean. This event is transmitted a live television audience in the United States and England of more than 300 million. It is open to horses three years and older.

It was first sponsored for 15 years by Cockspur Rum, but the last 16 years have seen Sandy Lane Hotel Group as the official sponsor. The Gold Cup certainly is the crowing event in the Sandy Lane Gold Cup Festival, a series of events concluding on the Race Day. These events include polo, Celebrity Golf tournaments and even Street Parade through the Bridgetown.

The Sandy Lane Barbados Gold Cup is a one-day race that takes place annually in early March. This esteemed race attracts entrants from across the Caribbean, the United Kingdom and North America. Some of these international entries are owned by some of the world’s leading investors in thoroughbred racing.

The Gold Cup begins with an impressive opening parade and some cultural entertainment, and is a day full of races all leading up to the feature race. The sought after Gold Cup, cast in England, is flown to Barbados on British Airways and prominently displayed for some weeks before the Gold Cup. 

The Sandy Lane Gold Cup is certainly an event for horse enthusiasts and even the whole family. From the engaging entertainment, live music, Bajan delicacies, coconut water and of course, top-quality racing, The Garrison Savannah is transformed into a colourful hive of activity and sounds. Other notable horse races that take place at this historic Savannah are:

·      The Barbados Triple Crown of Thoroughbred Racing- a series of thoroughbred horse racing held annually. The series are:

The Banks Barbados Guineas- 7.8 furlongs, run in mid April

The Pinnacle Feeds Midsummer Creole Classic- 9 furlongs, run in early July

The United Insurance Barbados Derby- 10 furlongs, run in early August

·      The Coolmore "Home Of Champions" Trophy- held in January (local horses)

·      The Victor Chandler Trophy- held in December (local horses)

Types Of Bets

  • To win: winnings if your horse finishes first.
  • To Place: winnings if your horse finishes 1st, 2nd, 3rd.
  • Forecast: winnings if you choose the first two finishers in the exact order.
  • Trifecta: winnings if you choose the first three finishers in their exact order.
  • Superfecta: winnings if you choose the first four finishers in their exact order.
  • Hi - 5: winnings if you choose the first five finishers in the exact order.
  • Pick 4: winnings if you choose the winner of 4 consecutive races.

The Barbados Thoroughbred Breeders' Association also sponsors a series of 5 races specifically for Barbadian bred horses each year, and has collaborated with Diamonds International, a leading fine jewellery establishment in Barbados, to promote a series of 5 races for West Indian bred 2-year-olds.

Races can be viewed at the Grandstand, Sir John Chandler Stand, the Field Stand, the Owners & Trainers Bar, the Corporate Boxes and from the outskirts of the race track or in-field. 

The Garrison Savannah is used for more than just horse-racing. Many locals use this track to take a morning or afternoon walk/jog, and the track is also used to host Rugby, Football, Cricket and Basketball matches. It is also the home of the Barbados Rugby Club.

Barbados Museum & Historical Society

IMG 1319.JPGBarbados MuseumresizeEstablished in 1933 by an Act of Parliament, this Museum is located in one of the several buildings in The Garrison- the former British Military Prison. This prison was first built between 1817 and 1820, with a lower section added on in 1853.  

The mandate of the Barbados Museum & Historical Society was to "to study and put on permanent record the history of the Island, its leading families and public men, old buildings and other matters of interest to antiquarians in Barbados and overseas". It has since acquired over 500,000 artefacts.

Its building is certainly of interest as it reflects the architecture of 17th century Britain. The Museum also boasts of artefacts dating back to pre-Columbian times, leading to a better understanding of the indigenous peoples that lived in Barbados and the Caribbean. It serves as the centre for archaeological research on the island, and through this research has established a new date for the settlement of first inhabitants to Barbados- 2000 B.C.E.

There are eight galleries to explore while visiting this historic Museum:
1.     Charles A. Robertson African Gallery- Here you can learn about the rich legacy and customs of Africa and its connections with the Caribbean. You can also learn about rich and powerful African kingdoms, and their various cultures.

2.     Warmington Decorative Arts Gallery- Named in honour of Mr. Jack Warmington who bequeathed a collection of over 300 objects including furniture, glass, ceramics and silver to the Barbados Museum and Historical Society. This gallery highlights the lifestyle of the Planter class during the 18th and 19th century in four rooms- a master bedroom, living room, nursery and a dining room. This gallery seeks to give an idea of the luxuries contained in a plantation house of that time period.

3.     Children’s Gallery- The most interactive part of the Museum, this gallery features a ‘dress-up’ corner where children can try on clothing and become a Zouave soldier, an African prince, a mulatto girl with headgear and all the trimmings which ladies of the day wore. Barbadian history and social life, from Amerindian days to the colonial takeover, are told to children in an appealing story-like way.

4.     Harewood National History Gallery- Here you can learn about the beautiful natural environment of Barbados. This gallery contains interesting information on sea turtles, ecology of our coral reefs and even the migratory birds that visit Barbados annually. This is definitely a must-see gallery for nature lovers.

5.     Jubilee Social History Gallery- With the date of the first known settlement in Barbados at 2000 B.C.E, you can imagine the course of human development over the years. This gallery takes you through the modes of life of the earliest inhabitants, the Amerindians, onto early European settlement, the transition from a frontier society to a plantation society supported by the enslavement of Africans and their descendants.

6.     Military Gallery- With the Garrison being one of the main military focal points in Barbados, there is a wealth of information here on the historical development of the armed forces from the 17th century until the end of World War II. It also carries you through to the development of the Barbados Defence Force in 1970. Military regalia, armaments, medals and photographs and the list of names of those Barbadians servicemen who lost their lives in World War I and II are all on display here.

7.     Cunard Fine Arts Gallery- This gallery was named after Sir Edward Cunard, a collector of West Indian prints who bequeathed a total of 65 prints to the Barbados Museum. Some of the prints are from two military artists- Lieut. J. H. Caddy and Lieut. J. M. Carters.

8.     Aall Gallery- Named after benefactor of the Barbados Museum and Historical Society, the late Mrs. Sally Aall, the Aall Gallery is a changing exhibition gallery, which means that there are different exhibitions here depending on the time and cultural significance of the year it is.

In addition to these galleries, there is also a reference library which is available for research on the island's history and genealogy, a Museum shop for purchasing a wide range of West Indian books, reproductions of maps, prints and other Museum specimens, as well as beautiful Barbadian craft and jewellery, and a cafe for refreshments.

Tel: (246) 427-0201
Fax: (246) 429-5946

Open Daily:
9am until 5pm (Mon to Sat)
2pm until 6pm (Sun)

The Main Guard House And Clock Tower

mainguardThis magnificent building is located within the Garrison Historic Area, and it consists of the main house, a clock tower, a gallery and a guardhouse located at the rear. Built in 1804, its architecture is 17th century Gregorian and is positioned to look out over the Garrison Savannah. 

One of its most striking features is its Clock Tower, an imposing structure made by Dwerrihouse and Carter of London in 1803. The Barbados Coat of Arms was added to the Clock Tower between 1816 and 1837. This Coat of Arms is made of coade stone, a 19th century vitrified ceramic more durable than stone.

The Main Guard was originally used in the 1800s by the British military to carry out Courts Martial. The small guardhouse in the rear was used to keep prisoners during this period 

Later in its history, this Garrison building became privately owned in 1906 and became the controversial exclusive ‘Savannah Club’. During this period as the ‘Savannah Club’, a new gallery was added to the building. In 1989 this building was purchased by the Barbados Government, who subsequently renovated the property in 2000, including replacing the original mechanism for the clock with a more modern system. Since then the clock chimes every fifteen minutes to this day.

Every Wednesday, the Barbados Defence Force mounts a ceremony as the sentry at the Main Guard in the Garrison Historic Area is changed. This is known as The Changing of the Guards. The ceremony starts promptly at 11:50 am end ends with the clock in the Clock Tower striking mid-day.

George Washington House & Museum

George Washington House resizeAn interesting piece of Barbadian history is the ‘George Washington House’, located in the Garrison Historic Area, Bush Hill, St. Michael. This former plantation house, known at the time as ‘Bush Hill House’ was the two-month residence of the United States’ first President, George Washington, and his ailing half-brother, Lawrence Washington. George Washington was not President at this time in 1751, and Barbados is said to be the only country, outside of the USA, that he had ever visited.

Much to the delight of Barbadian historians, George Washington marked his two-month stay in Barbados with a few entries in his diary. From this diary we can even learn how much he paid a month to stay at the House: 

“Nov 8th:Came Captn. Croften with his proposals [for the rental of his house] which tho Extravagantly dear my Brother was oblig’d to give.   ₤15 Pr. Month in his charge exclusive of Liquors and washing which we find.

As it seems, the journey to Barbados was for the purpose of helping his older half-brother, Lawrence Washington, who was ailing from tuberculosis. Virginia doctors strongly recommended a tropical environment, and Barbados was just the island, as the island had a reputable reputation for healing lung issues such as that. Below, we see George Washington make mention in his diary of his brother’s medical condition, and his quest for suitable lodgings in the island.

Nov. 5th:Early this morning came Dr. Hilary, an eminent physician recommended by Major Clarke to pass his opinion on my brother’s disorder, which he did in a favourable light…In the cool of the evening we rode out accompanied by Mr.Clark to seek lodgings in the country…And was perfectly ravished by the beautiful prospects which on every side presented to our view”

Lawrence Washington however did not recover as anticipated and grew worse while in Barbados. A move to Bermuda did not improve his medical condition, so he moved back to his home in Mount Vernon, Virginia where he died in the July of 1752.

Through these diary entries, we even learn that during his brief stay on the island, George Washington contracted the disease known as smallpox.

“Nov. 17th:Was strongly attacked with the small Pox: sent for Dr. Lanahan whose attendance was very constant till my recovery and going out which was not ‘till Thursday the 12th of December”

It is interesting to note that George Washington made a full recovery from small box due to the excellent medical attention he received in Barbados. The resulting immunity from this deadly disease enabled him to continue leading the American Revolutionary War, as forces were being decimated by this terrible disease. 

After his two-month stay, George Washington left Barbados to return to his home in Virginia. He also made a note about the hospitality he encountered while on the island.

“Dec. 22nd: Hospitality and a Genteel behaviour is shewn to every gentleman stranger by the Gentlemen Inhabitants….The Ladys Generally are very agreeable… 

Took my leave of my Br., Majr. Clarke and ca. and Imbar[ked] on the Industry, Captn. John Saund[ers] of Virginia wai’d anchor and got out of Carlile Bay abt. 12.”     

George Washington House is certainly an interesting piece of Barbadian and American heritage, and offers a glimpse into Barbados in the 18th century. Here you will see on display furniture, and even medical equipments that were used back in 1751. You will also find several artefacts that bring to mind the horror and unpleasant nature of slavery, such as barbed-neck collars and spiked manacles- barbaric forms of punishment. There are also other references to slavery, including reference to an African, Olaudah Equiano, who “purchased his freedom for £40” in 1766. There is also information on the major role Barbados played in trade as Barbados was a major hub in commercial activity and trading, with people and goods moving between Bridgetown and other American-British colonies. 

Visitors to George Washington tour will experience a guided tour, with a short film. There is also an interactive museum upstairs which highlights Barbados’ social, economic, and political conditions of the 18th century, and how they influenced George Washington’s ideas.

George Washington House was opened to the public in 2007, and is currently managed by the Bush Hill Tourism Trust Inc. The House was structurally restored in 2004, and remains a place of great historical interest to locals and visitors alike.

Tel: (246) 228 5461 / 228 5710
Fax: (246) 228 4772

Monday to Friday: 9am – 4:30pm

Adults: BDS $20.00
Children (5  – 12 years): BDS $5.00

Under 5 years: FREE

Special Rates for:
BARP members / BHTA staff / BTA staff / Teachers & School children

The following enter FREE:
National Trust members / Museum staff / Main Guard staff

St Ann's Fort

Named after Her Majesty Queen Ann, St. Ann’s Fort was built in 1705 and was the main command post and communication point for the six signal stations located around the island. These stations were constructed after Barbados’ major 1816 slave rebellion and were ‘look-out’ points across the island, used to warn the military base at Garrison Savannah of approaching ships or slave rebellions. It currently houses The National Armoury and is also the official base and headquarters of the Barbados Defence Force.

Here at this Fort you will find some very interesting military attractions:

· Soldiers Barracks- Also more commonly known as Drill Hall, these barracks were originally built on to St. Ann’s Fort in 1790 and renovated and used as an Armoury in the 1800s, and later in 1881 the Headquarters of the Garrison. The Barbados Government purchased the barracks in 1905 where they became a gymnasium and drill hall for the Volunteer Force, and finally in 1979, the Officers’ and Sergeants’ mess of the Barbados Defence Force as it remains today.

This site is also where Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip were received on their state visit to the island.

· The Barbados National Armoury- Opened in 2004 inside the old naval magazine alongside the walls of St. Ann’s Fort. It houses the world's rarest and finest collection of 17th century English iron cannon, a recreation of the Mermaid Tavern where the Charter of Barbados was signed, a bottle collection, plans of the fort, maps, colorful pictures of soldiers through the centuries and very interesting artifacts from the 17th and 18th century.

· The High Altitude Research Project (HARP) Gun- This gun is the largest of its kind ever made, and is capable of shooting projectiles 99 miles in the air. This gun is located at the front of the Soldiers barracks.

Tel: (246) 427 1436

Tours are guided and by appointment only

Charles Fort

Located at Needhams Point on the grounds of Hilton Barbados, Charles Fort was built by the British Navy to protect the Bridgetown and Carlisle Bay area from attack from the Crown’s enemies.  It is considered part of the Garrison Historic Area.

Originally named Needham’s Fort, its name was subsequently changed to Charles Fort in 1660 when King Charles II regained the throne from the rule of Oliver Cromwell. 

This historical site fell into disrepair, and has been restored with a brick lined walkway that passes by 24 cannons that have been retrieved from the sea.

Barbados Military Cemetery

This cemetery is located at Needhams Point between the Hilton Barbados and St. Ann's Fort. This site, once swamplands, was once a mass burial ground for Barbadians who died of yellow fever, often times the bodies were not buried properly, or left exposed completely. 

This area was then converted to a Military Cemetery around 1780 dedicated to the men and families of British Forces, who died serving in Barbados between 1780 and 1906. The earliest identifiable grave dates back to 1822.

Restored in 1984, the Barbados Military Cemetery is still used as a burial ground for ex-service men and women, who served in the Commonwealth Armed Forces and is kept in great condition.

Open: 9:30am – 3:30pm
Admission: Free, however donations are accepted 

Needham’s Lighthouse

Built in 1855, this Lighthouse is located on the grounds of the Hilton Hotel Barbados, to the south of Carlisle Bay, where ships dock. It is the second oldest lighthouse in Barbados, and is different to the other three lighthouses with two marked features- its octagonal shape and its stationary light (the other lighthouses have lights that rotate). The focal plane is 43 ft / 13 m; flash every 8 seconds.

This lighthouse is part of the Garrison Historic Area, and is no longer in operation.

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