Monday 24 February, 2020

Red House heralded as birthplace of democracy

On Friday, Parliament returns to the Red House, hailed as the original birthplace of Trinidad and Tobago’s democracy.  

The historic building, now listed as a Heritage Site, has been the stage for several major events tied into the young nation’s history.

Virtually every century since the original build in 1848 the Red House has been struck by some, now historic event. However, after extensive renovation managed by the Urban Development Corporation of Trinidad and Tobago (UDeCOTT), it is now ready to own the valuable title and designation as a Grade 1, Listed Heritage Site on the Heritage Asset Registry of the National Trust of Trinidad and Tobago Council.

Registered as a Listed Heritage Asset under designation Grade 1 is defined as a “Property in which there should be no change, nor alteration to its shape or form, nor in or upon any material object, plant or other thing that may deform or deface the property.” This prevents future redesigns or alterations to be conducted on the building. 

The Government, in alignment with Trinidad and Tobago’s National Development Strategy, Vision 2030’s Theme II: Delivering Good Governance and Service Excellence, in relation to Sustainable Development Goal 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities has made a commitment to secure the nation’s heritage assets for future generations.  In its bid to protect those heritage assets that are fundamental to our communities and cities, some of the legislations and policies developed include:

The National Protected Area Policy (2011) - Refers to the protection and conservation of the country’s natural and cultural heritage, through land use and physical development planning. This is to ensure that issues and needs relating to Protected Areas Management are integrated into national policies and plans.

The National Spatial Development Strategy (NSDS)

Policy sub item 10: identifies planning positively for the Historic Environments. The main  objectives being: Identification and assessing the significance of specific historic assets; Encouraging the refurbishment and re-use disused or underused buildings of some historic or architectural merits and where appropriate plan for them to be incorporated sensitively into regeneration schemes; Recognizing opportunities for enhancing existing tourism attractions and for developing the potential of other area and sites of historic interest; Promoting the conservation of historic assets that are valued by the local or national community and plan for changes to the historic environment to be undertaken with due sensitivity.

The Town and Country Planning Act Chapter 35:01: Allows for the preservation of historical, architectural or archaeological structures of interest to be placed in development plans.

The National Trust of Trinidad and Tobago, which was established by Act No. 11 of 1991 and amended by Act No. 31 of 1999. Its focus is the improvement of communities through the safeguarding of the built and natural heritage and its mission is to lead the efforts for the preservation of Trinidad and Tobago’s built and natural heritage.

Under the stewardship of the Office of the Prime Minister, Government placed energies and focus on the renovation of five historical buildings in and around Port of Spain, the Red House, Castle Killarney also known as Stollmeyer’s Castle, Mille Fleur, President’s House and the Whitehall Office of the Prime Minister. Four of the five have been successfully completed and in full use, while the fifth, Mille Fleur is almost complete.

Chairman of the National Trust of Trinidad and Tobago Council, Margaret McDowall noted that the Red House is much more than a building, holding significance in its link to Trinidad and Tobago’s cultural heritage.  

“It is the site upon which this democratic nation was born and where that democracy overcame an unprecedented challenge. Therefore, this monument is inextricably connected to the collective consciousness of Trinidad and Tobago and must be protected for the enjoyment of future generations.”

According to the National Trust, the first Government Building on the site of the existing Red House was constructed between 1844 and 1848. The buildings compromised two blocks as a concession to allow Prince Street, now Sackville Street, to remain open to St Vincent Street and Brunswick Square, now Woodford Square.

In 1892, in an effort to provide much-needed accommodation, alterations were carried out. Two new buildings of two floors were erected on either side of the northern building, used for the Court House- one to house the Registrar, the other the Record Office. Ornaments were also added to the exterior of the building.

In 1897, to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee, the Government Offices were painted red and subsequently became popularly known as “The Red House”. The building was destroyed by fire in the Water Riots of 1903.

With D. M Hahn as the architect, the Red House was then rebuilt using the most of the external walls, but with added galleries and the Chambers at the northern and southern ends. Additional ornamentation in neo-classical style was added to upgrade the appearance and the building was reopened in 1907.

The Red House is bounded on the north by Knox Street, on the south by Hart Street, on the east by Abercromby Street and on the west by St. Vincent Street.

The Seat of Parliament will be formally reopened tomorrow.

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