Heritage at Risk Bermuda Dockyard

By Ann Coats – Ann Coats, Chair of the Naval Dockyards Society, reveals an eleventh-hour attempt to save the last workers’ housing in Bermuda Dockyard from demolition…

Albert and Victoria Rows, built in 1846–1847 and 1858, were a unique Bermudian solution amalgamating separate, ‘necessary’ British dockyard facilities (toilets and kitchens), with Bermuda’s vernacular style. Solidly built of Bermuda limestone and cedar, they needed only a regular limewash and removal of vegetation to keep them sound.

Following Britain’s loss of North American naval bases in 1783, the Royal Navy needed a warm-water North Atlantic base. Access to St George’s, Bermuda was dangerous, so Lieutenant Thomas Hurd surveyed Bermuda’s northern reefs in 1788–1797. Assisted by enslaved pilot James Darrell, he charted a safe channel to a deep-water anchorage at the West End. Governor James Craufurd purchased the freedom of ‘Jimmy the Pilot’ ‘as a reward for his skill in Piloting the Resolution and other Ships of War belonging to your Squadron into this difficult and untried harbour.’ 1

Fig. 2. 1863 Dockyard plan - J. Coad (RNH)

In 1809 the Admiralty purchased Ireland Island at the West End of Bermuda. Wharfs and storehouses were constructed from local limestone, window frames from local cedar and prefabricated timber roofing frames imported from Halifax. In 1814 Bermuda Yard employed a workforce of 381. 2

Fig. 3. Hospital and various other building plans, 1909 - J. Coad (TNA)

Typically, British dockyards did not house their workers who usually travelled from nearby communities. But no-one lived on Ireland Island, so artisans had to travel from scattered shipbuilding settlements on the Sound. Dockyard architectural historian Jonathan Coad wrote in 2016:

‘This group of buildings at Bermuda is extremely rare. The buildings as a whole form an important element in the architectural, economic and social history of Bermuda. They are almost the last survivors of very limited examples of housing built for dockyard workers – skilled tradespeople and others – as distinct from housing for dockyard officers. The 1863 and 1909 TNA plans of the dockyard shows a quite extraordinary amount of housing outside the yard for the workforce. It would be interesting to know exactly who was living in these terraces. It would seem that workers’ housing was provided only in very limited circumstances and only survives today at Haulbowline and at Bermuda. In short, Albert Row has considerable rarity value. 3

Fig. 4. Victoria Row, 2007

As Bermuda’s Royal Gazette stated in 2015, ‘Victoria and Albert Rows are the last remaining examples of the housing built for Dockyard tradesmen or artisans and their families.’ It emphasised that,

‘Victoria Row is part of the old Dockyard ‘town’ that included schools, a hospital, theatre, stores and a post office and supplied the technical expertise and labour to run the giant industrial complex. Today, only a few buildings survive in usable condition to represent that thriving community. 4

Four similar terraces had previously been destroyed. Sadly, Victoria Row was demolished in 2016. Albert Row is now all that remains of Bermuda Dockyard workers’ houses, due to be demolished unless de-listing notice https://www.gov.bm/theofficialgazette/notices/gn06632020 is overturned. These rare buildings are as worthy of conservation as the Commissioner’s House.

1 The National Archives, TNA ADM 1/493, ff. 30, 46; 17/23 May 1795, Adm. George Murray

2 The National Archives, TNA ADM 42/2124, 31 May 1814

3 ‘Final act in the tragedy of Victoria Row, built 170 years ago in Bermuda Dockyard, demolished 2016. What hope for the future of Bermuda Dockyard’s historic buildings?’ Dockyards, Vol. 21, issue 2, Dec. 2016, pp. 23-27

4 Royal Gazette, ‘Trust regrets end of Victoria Row’, Oct 10, 2015

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