Both older and younger generations of conservation activists held a vigil yesterday outside the former Speaker’s House in St Clair, calling for a reversal of its apparent neglect by successive governments and what they believe are plans to rebuild it for use as an embassy or tourist attraction.
Architect Rudylynn Roberts and conservationist and architect Geoffrey MacLean joined trainee architect Abigail Charles and artist Joshua Lue Chee Kong to publicise the building at 9 Mary Street. Charles told Newsday, “Neglect shouldn’t be allowed. I don’t see the point of losing this, and then having to go outside TT to see it. The tile work and fretwork you don’t see again in TT.”
Lue Chee Kong began the protest to raise awareness among his generation, many of whom were spoilt by the oil boom to want only modernisation, he said. “With the loss of each bit of our historical identity, we’ll be left with nothing,” he lamented. “This is a small, gorgeous house, with a lot of detail like cast-iron railings, fretwork and tiling all from that Victorian period. There’s a lot to preserve here.”
He was not encouraged by the recent renovation of Stollmeyer’s Castle, which he said had since not reached its full potential. Roberts said the building is owned by the Property Management Division in the Office of the Prime Minister, while its maintenance is under Udecott. She alleged, “They don’t care about it. They’re not interested.”
While the property was likely covered by a covenant restricting alterations, she lamented that the Town and Country Planning Division has breached its own recommendations by granting approval to convert the site into a multi-storey building, violating the character of the neighbourhood. “It’s a charming cottage with encaustic tiles, each one done by hand, with each colour poured in separately. It has historic merit. It’s a little gem.”
Roberts said the National Trust and Citizens for Conservation had met Udecott, the Ministry of Planning and T&CP to try to get them all to reconsider plans to replace it with a multi-storey building. MacLean urged TT to follow Cuba’s lead in embracing its heritage buildings as tourist attractions.
“Heritage tourists stay longer, spend more and contribute,” he said. “Cruise ships come and the first place the taxi takes the tourists is to see the Magnificent Seven.” He said it’s a natural move to preserve Speakers House.