This is a sketch of a Chattel house in Barbados. Quaint, small, beautiful houses which remind me of houses in Gonzales – Port of Spain and Belmont, Trinidad. While in Barbados I could not stop taking photos of them. I find them very appealing, neat, beautiful, and bookmarks of the country’s history. Chattel means ‘moveable property’ and years ago, plantation workers (slaves) built and owned these small timber dwellings. These houses were built on coral, cinder blocks, etc. so they could be easily moved from one place to another as the land did not belong to the slaves, but to the estate. Plantation owners refused to sell building plots to former slaves, therefore, one section at a time, the house was lifted onto a cart and moved to a new estate.
Houses were single units, or joined multiple units. The design was always symmetrical, reflecting the formality of Barbados larger Georgian buildings. Early houses had hipped roofs, but later gable roofs allowed a high-level louvered vent. Sash or side-hung windows often featured ‘bell’ awnings. Small porches protected the entry, often a front verandah was added. Additional units were wider than the front unit, allowing the installation of a breeze collecting corner window. Some large houses have ornate surrounding verandahs.
Caribbean Heritage: Architecture of the Islands by Robert Douglas
Barbados: British Empire in Miniature by Graham Norton
Back of the Big House: The Architecture of Plantation Slavery byJohn Michael Vlach
Barbados: The Lord’s Song by Henry Chase
The Chattel House was originally the design of the plantation workers home. They were modest wooden buildings set on blocks so that they could be easily moved from one lease holding to another. In early settlement days, home owners were not necessarily landowners, but part of a tenantry system of the plantations. The houses were constructed to be transportable in the event of landlord and tenant disputes. The name chattel referred to the fact that they were movable property. The steep gable roof, constructed of corrugated iron, were adapted to suit the climate of heavy rains and winds. The roofs angle deflect the wind rather than provide a platform for it to lift off. The fretwork around the windows and openings were placed there to provide shade and a filter against the rain. Over the years fretwork has became an attractive architectural feature in its own right. Many chattel homes have distinctive jalousie windows, with tree sets of hinges – Two vertical and one horizontal, that allows maximum flexibility against the wind and sun.
Click here for more photos of Chattel Houses in Barbados
This work by Vernelle Noel is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.