Over 350 years old, Speightstown is one of the four major towns in Barbados, the northern most and 2nd largest town on the island. In terms of cultural significance and importance, Speightstown is the second most important town in Barbados. The town was settled in 1630 and was named after William Speight, the owner of the land where Speightstown is situated. However, the area was known as Spykeses Bay on a 1640 map drawn by Captain John Swan, pronounced by many as Spykestown.
In the 17th century, the town was a major seaport, commercial and trading hub in Barbados. The port conducted what was an especially productive trade with Bristol in England, the “mother country”. Due to the productivity of this trade, Speightstown was also affectionately known as “Little Bristol”. It was also due to this reason that Barbados rapidly arose as one of the wealthiest colonies in the entire world.
Speightstown was the site of numerous attacks between 1651 and 1654 by Admiral Sir George Ayscue, sent to Barbados by Oliver Cromwell to quell the uprising in Barbados against Cromwell. After King Charles I was executed by Cromwell’s Protectorate, many of his (King Charles’) followers, known as Cavaliers, emigrated to Barbados and forced out the existing government. However, the attacks on Speightstown by Sir George were repelled by the numerous small forts along the shore that protected the town. These forts included the Orange Fort, which was located in the town centre where the fish market currently lies, the Coconut and Denmark Forts, which were located near to the Orange Fort, where the Speightstown Esplanade is currently located, Dover Fort or Dover Castle, which overlooked the cliff to the East and Heywoods Battery, situated just north of the town. Sir George was therefore only able to land Barbados via Oistins Town.
Presently, as you stroll through the town, you will see some colonial architecture, with buildings dating back to the early settlement of Barbados still standing. One such is the Arlington House, formerly the home of a wealthy merchant. Built in the late 18th century, Arlington House was constructed by the early settlers on the island in a classic “single house” design. The ground floor was originally used by ships’ chandlers to carry out their business and thus was the working area of the house.
Another historical building of interest is the St. Peter’s Church, constructed in 1629 and is one of Barbados’ oldest churches. It had to be rebuilt twice, but has been restored to its former glory with a Georgian-style architecture which catches the eye of many who pass the area.
While this culturally significant town has passed its days of bustling activity and trade, many efforts and initiatives have begun to resurrect it. What is for certain is that such a historical piece of Barbados should not be left by the wayside and everything should be done to restore it to its rightful place as one of the major hubs of commercial activity on the island.
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