The heritage of Edward Chappell

  • Love at first site: Ed Chappell records some of the roof details of a Southampton home (Photograph submitted)

    Love at first site: Ed Chappell records some of the roof details of a Southampton home (Photograph submitted)

  • Classic view: one of the hitherto unpublished images of a Bermuda home in 1915 that will appear in the John Lyman book (Photograph submitted)

    Classic view: one of the hitherto unpublished images of a Bermuda home in 1915 that will appear in the John Lyman book (Photograph submitted)


Heritage mattered greatly then and even more so now, as Edward “Ed” Chappell has departed, if you will, for his historic home in heaven at the age of 71.

That is the reward he deserves for 30 years of tireless and unpaid devotion to the great legacy and heritage that is Bermuda’s unique collection of historical buildings, especially domestic houses.

That heritage is the extraordinary culmination of decades of development by all sectors of the Bermuda community, starting with an evolution away from timber-framed and palmetto-thatched homes in the mid-1600s to the elegant, organic, and sympathetic “Bermuda house” as we know it today, and as Ed so meticulously recorded.

Even the silent witnesses, several thousand of our heritage homes have fortunately survived, largely owing to our isolated place on earth and that each was a major capital investment, to be handed down through the generations, father to son, mother to daughter. Such unique heritage is the foundation of much of Bermudian culture in the service of the tourism economy.

It is such fixed and unique assets, like those buildings, the extraordinary man-made landscape, and natural arenas such as beaches and woodlands, that make Bermuda Bermuda.

Our architectural heritage appeals to the very type of person that Bermuda needs for their economic power, and ultimately, their love of this place through assets like that built heritage.

John Sanford Humphreys of Harvard University in his seminal book of 1923, Bermuda Houses, perhaps said it best for all time: “If Bermuda’s prosperity continues to increase, it is to be hoped that the designers of new houses that appear will seek their inspiration in Bermuda’s older architecture.

“It is eminently appropriate to the climate and other local conditions, harmonious and in scale with the surroundings.

“It has the unity, charm and simplicity of an architecture that is the unaffected expression and natural outcome of environment, and, from its simplicity, is entirely adaptable to the modern requirements of Bermuda.”

Ed Chappell first visited the island in the company of another Bermudaphile, the archaeologist Marley Brown, in 1990 and it is from that year that his interest in Bermuda buildings began.

It was love at first “site” and over the next three decades, Ed made numerous trips to Bermuda to record that heritage, working in particular with the indefatigable Margaret Lloyd and her team, who have produced nine books on the historic architecture of the island under the auspices of the Bermuda National Trust. In coming months, Ed was to have completed his last recording work on the homes of Southampton Parish, the subject of the last book of the Trust’s Architectural Series: alas, that is not to be.

Fortunately for Bermuda, in another sphere, Ed completed a major chapter in the upcoming book of the National Museum of Bermuda, John Lyman’s The Old Bermuda, so that his view of the evolution of the Bermuda home will be available for all to read and assimilate.

Yet farther afield, Ed, and his colleague from Virginia, Jeffrey Klee (married to a Bermudian), went on a reconnaissance and recording visit a couple of years ago to Salt Cay in our former possession of the Turks Islands.

The discoveries of that Bermudian heritage abroad will also be presented in the Lyman book.

Others will no doubt give chapter and verse, or walls and roofing, to Ed’s career, but this little note is to extend the thanks of Bermuda to Ed, and to Susan Buck, his wife, for bringing our architectural heritage home.

Nonetheless, as a passionate friend and student of Bermuda cedar furniture, Keith Adams has put it: “A profound loss, never to be replaced.”

Or, as the eminent historian and great friend of Bermuda, Duncan McDowall has written: “The fact that Ed applied his architectural knowledge so lovingly and meticulously to a place other than his homeland says so much about the preciousness of Bermuda’s unique evolution.

“There is one solace that comes with death of a writer: his work will live on as long as we turn to books for our guidance as individuals and as a society. And in their silent way, the built environment of Bermuda will honour his fond attention.”

Edward Harris, PhD, is founding Executive Director Emeritus after 37 years at the helm of the National Museum of Bermuda

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Published Aug 1, 2020 at 8:00 am (Updated Aug 1, 2020 at 7:52 am)

The heritage of Edward Chappell

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