The Red House

Trinidad and Tobago 61st Independence is celebrated on August 31st, 2023. Check out our featured products from the Red House Series. 

This series of photographs were taken prior to the renovations and restorations to the national monument. Within it is the stories of 1990 that speaks to the democracy of the twin island republic.

In the year 1808, Port-of-Spain was destroyed by fire. At that time, it was a sprawling town of wood and shingle, which had grown tremendously during the previous twenty-five years.

As a result of this disastrous fire, Government brought in legislation with regard to building regulations, and for this reason the new government buildings, all of which had been destroyed by the fire, were built of brick.

On the 15th February, 1844 the Governor, Sir Henry McLeod, laid the foundation stone for a new block of government buildings, on a site on the west side of Brunswick Square (now Woodford Square). The land belonged to a group of eight persons. The architect was Mr. Richard Bridgens, Superintendent of Public Works, while the buildings comprising two main blocks, north and south, were to be connected by a double archway, much as the Red House of today, but on a smaller scale. The double archway was a feature required by the City Council to keep Prince Street open, as the building was built over it, with the stipulation that it should never be closed to the public, and through which pedestrians and wheeled traffic passed freely. Though incomplete, the southern wing, containing the law courts, was opened in 1848 and a month later the Council Chamber was formerly inaugurated with much ceremony by Lord Harris, after an impressive ceremony in Trinity Cathedral.

To quote from the Port-of-Spain Gazette of 1892:

“Nothing further had been done to complete the buildings since their erection some fifty years ago. The only attempt to relieve the monotony of the whole is to be seen in the arching of the carriageway through the courtyard which is a perfect skeleton and, like the ruins of Pompeii, is more suggestive of what the buildings must have been than of what they were intended to be.”

The urgent need for a proper record office arose, and the plans proposed by the Director of Public Works, Mr. J. E. Tanner, showed that two new buildings of two storeys each, were to be erected at the southern corners of the northern building, and two similar structures on the other side of the carriageway, abutting the Court House or southern building. One of these was to become the office of the Registrar and the other, the Record Office. These and many other additions, alterations and ornamentation were carried out at a cost of £15,000.

In 1897, as Trinidad was preparing to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria, the buildings were given a coat of red paint, and the public promptly referred to them thereafter as the Red House.

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