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by Kesha Stewart | Associate Writer
If you are in the mood for a little bit of history, you are browsing at the right place. Jamaica boasts some of the most beautifully appointed historical buildings with a colonial background that is deeply ingrained in our culture.
The Jamaica National Heritage Trust carefully preserves these edifices from our past. Not only that, many of these buildings have been in use up to now and offer a connection between the past and the present.
One type of these buildings is our court houses. While these are not the only sites preserved by the Trust, they are certainly some of the most regal and historic and what’s more they have a deep connection to our past for it is in some of these very buildings that some of the laws which dictated the course of our history were enforced. Here are some of our historic courthouses.
You'll find the historic Black River Court House in the equally historic town of Black River, St. Elizabeth which was featured on our YouTube channel recently.
Unfortunately, the precise date of the court’s construction is not available. I do think though, that it is possible to make educated guesses as to the period in which the court was built.
From whichever angle you approach the building even if it’s from the sea, it presents a striking if not imposing appearance. The attractive building is painted white.
Before the court being in Black River sessions were held at Lacovia - the former capital of the parish. An “act dated December 6, 1788”, led to the court being transferred to Black River and sessions have been held there ever since.
Of Georgian design, this courthouse was erected in 1815. Among the beautiful features of this building are its fanlights, shingled walls and jalousies. Despite being destroyed by fire in 1926, it was rebuilt.
This is the Court House where the infamous trial of National Hero Sam Sharpe took place in 1832. Today it is known as the Montego Bay Cultural Centre and is the home of the National Art Gallery West, a museum space for the performing arts and a bistro.
Montego Bay and the wider parish of St. James in general, have a history in the heart of the city as this building was constructed in 1774. However, it was opened on October 6, 2006, as the Montego Bay Civic Centre. The rebranding took place in 2014.
This is the Court House where the infamous trial of National Hero Sam Sharpe took place in 1832. Today it is known as the Montego Bay Cultural Centre and is the home of the National Art Gallery West, a museum space for the performing arts and a bistro, Montego Bay and St. James in general have a history in the heart of the city as this building was constructed in 1774.
However, it was opened on October 6, 2006, as the Montego Bay Civic Centre. The rebranding took place in 2014.
The Morant Bay Courthouse is where Paul Bogle, one of our National Heroes, and some men of Stony Gut marched in protest over the oppressive economic and social conditions which prevailed on October 11, 1965.
Unfortunately, it escalated into a riot instead of a protest and the subsequent violent confrontation set the stage for the loss of life and property. The Custos and members of the militia were killed and the courthouse was burnt. Martial law was declared by the sitting governor, and Paul Bogle, who led the rebellion, was hanged on October 24, 1865, and his friend George William Gordon also a National Hero, was executed on October 23, 1865.
Monday, February 19, 2007, the courthouse was razed by fire leaving only the foundation and the statue of Paul Bogle which was installed on the grounds. The Courthouse was the venue for the St. Thomas Parish Council meetings and the sitting of the Circuit Court in St. Thomas
In 1807, The St. Andrew Parish Court was built with the approval of the Parish Vestry Committee. Among the members of the Vestry were Hon Joseph Gordon and his son George William Gordon. A storm came 2 years later and caused some damage but it was repaired in 1882.
The building was unscathed by the 1907 earthquake. Due to the wear and tear of time and use the court house has had some repairs since and is now being administered by the parish’s Municipal Corporation.
In 1895, the Colonial Secretary gave the directive that established the Port Antonio Court House. The two-storey structure has an upper front and rear verandah. William MacFarlane and Company of Glasgow, Scotland did some of the detail on the structure. “It is fenced round by an ornate iron baluster and is supported by columns of cast iron work.”
One of the walls within the building displayed a plaque bearing the message to “the Governor from the Secretary of State for the Colonies, dated November 16, 1918, after World War I.”
Georgian architecture is displayed in St. Mary at the Port Maria Court House. Its original construction was in 1821. It now houses the police station until a fire damaged it in 1988. It was restored and renamed, The Port Maria Civic Centre in 2000.
The Urban Development Corporation (UDC) and the Jamaica National Heritage Trust (JNHT) together ensured that the building was restored to reflect its original Georgian style.
The Savanna-la-mar Court House was built in 1925 at Norman Square on Great George’s Street. It is protected by the Norman Square Act, which protects the lands surrounding the courthouse. Only Mandeville has a similar provision for its public square which surrounds the courthouse there.
This Court House was built in 1817, again the Jamaica Georgian style was used and features “two storeys, the top floor having columns, louvres and sash windows.” Additionally, there is a double spiral staircase which transports you up from the lower storey onto a portico and the top storey.
One interesting thing I learned is that Limestone blocks were used to build the courthouse. So far the design of the structure has not been tampered with. The authorities created supporting offices on the premises.
A few interesting facts about the Mandeville Court House as supplied by the National Heritage Trust:
The dent in the public purse for the Georgian building erected to house the Spanish Town Court House was ₤15,700. It is built on grounds that used to be a cemetery but at other times have been a chapel and armoury.
Unfortunately, as the National Heritage Trust shared, the building was destroyed by fire on March 18, 1986. Even up to that time it was still in use. Indeed up until the fire, this structure that the architect Mr. James Delaney designed was multitasking as a court – Resident Magistrate, Circuit and Petty Sessions- as well as concerts and similar events on its upper levels
Court Houses were erected in the major towns of each parish across the island. Some structures housed a police station or vestries/parish council offices on the lower level of the building.
Some prominent Jamaicans were tried at these locations, namely two of our National Heroes, George William Gordon at the Morant Bay Court House and Sir Alexander Bustamante at the Port Maria Court House.
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Court Houses In Jamaica | Written: September 09, 2022