In July 1889, the Town Hall of British Guiana became a fantastic representation of tropical colonial architecture, and has been a key character in our history over the years. The building would have been a stop on Princess Margaret's royal visit, it would have been the spot where the British Philharmonic Orchestra often performed, and it would have been one of the many locations where Independence was celebrated. It's design is almost reverent, combining Gothic Revival architectural features with elements of the British Victorian era.
Apart from the style of the building, there are multiple curiousities that show how interesting this building truly is. Granted - City Hall is currently in a deplorable state. There are many reasons to totally ignore this building as you pass it by, and to not take too much stock in the multiple attempts made at fixing it. However, we hold out hope that this beautiful building will be restored someday. Read on to learn more about this wonderful, battered building that has stood tall for over 130 years.
1. The Lost Crest: The original building also had an installation on the front (above the Carriage-porch) with the British Guiana Coat of Arms. The BG Coat of Arms was made up of a ship in full sail with the Latin words "Damus Petimus que Vicissim," which means "We give and take in return." Some translations replace 'take' with 'seek' or 'expect', but the concept remains the same. It was taken down around Independence. We haven't been able to figure out what happened to it or where it went and we've spent an embarrassing amount of time speculating as to its whereabouts. If you have any idea where it went, please PLEASE contact us! We NEED this mystery solved.
2. Secret window: Ever notice that small window in the roof? It was actually initially used as a lookout for the Fire watch. The Fire Brigade Depot was housed on the ground floor, and a lookout at such a height was certainly an efficient vantage point. Access to that spot is now unfortunately prohibited due to the condition of the building.
3. Time Capsule: The foundation stone for City Hall was laid at the northeastern corner of the property. In addition, a Time Capsule of sorts was placed as well - a glass jar containing the original documents of the building, several coins, copies of the Royal Gazette, the Argosy and the Daily Chronicle and a portrait of Queen Victoria. Of course, there is no way to retrieve it without additional destruction, but it's exciting to think that there's a fascinating and inaccessible piece of history hidden right in plain sight!
4. Literally the only one: City Hall is the only non-religious building designed by Ignatius Scoles, a Roman Catholic Jesuit Priest who was in Guyana at the time. He also designed three different Cathedrals in different areas of England, as well as one St. Lucia. In fact, City Hall appears to be the only non-religious building that he designed or was involved in remodeling. Architecture ran in the family, as his father was a renowned architect and so was his brother. He also helped with the construction of the first Cathedral in Brickdam by designing the tower of St. Mary's Chapel, which unfortunately burned down in 1913. The Gothic revival style is actually quite popular in cathedrals and although City Hall isn't a church, you can still see the Cathedral-like elements in the design. St. Mary's Chapel is pictured below.
5. A pretty far throwback: What was at the site before the construction of City Hall? The then Mayor, George Anderson Forshaw (yes, after whom the street in Queenstown is named) acquired the plot of land, which was originally a ‘tumble down coffee logie used for dances.’ What is a Coffee Logie? Most Guyanese would know that a Logie was what indentured labourers lived in during indentureship but a Coffee Logie would have been the structure where coffee was stored during Plantation days. Another example of a Coffee Logie can be found on the Essequibo Coast - the St. Bartholomew's Church. To read more, click here.
And there you have it. Do you know any other facts about the building that are worth sharing? Let us know!
LIFE Photo Collection, 1966
London News, 1889