Caretaker of the manor
As the property caretaker of Manor House, Warren Darrell has 13 acres to groom and 58 condominiums to oversee, but his hardest job is changing a single lightbulb.
The lightbulb sits in the crown at the top of the ornate tower across from the development on Harrington Sound Road.
“I need two separate ladders to change that lightbulb,” Mr Darrell said.
An extension ladder helps him to reach the trapdoor below the crown. Then he has to manoeuvre another 20ft ladder through the trapdoor so that he can reach the wire framework surrounding the lightbulb known as “the birdcage”.
The Manor House was built in 1929 as a winter retreat for American railroad magnate Ledyard Blair and his wife Florence.
In 1947 the estate was sold to Dorothy Vera Hunter and became an exclusive guesthouse, Deepdene Manor. Years later it was turned into the Manor House Bermuda condo development.
The property is now held in trust by the Outerbridge family.
“It gets interesting when it is a bit windy,” he said. “I always choose long-lasting LED bulbs, but sometimes when a wind gets up the bulb swings and goes out.”
On September 14 the Manor House property was damaged by Category 2 Hurricane Paulette.
“It felt like a tornado went through,” Mr Darrell said, explaining how several Manor House dwellings lost roofs.
“It also collapsed the foundation inside the tower. That was scary. I had to block off the tower and lock off the cedar door so no one entered it.”
After extensive repairs, the tower reopened to Manor House residents two weeks ago.
Changing light bulbs is Mr Darrell’s least enjoyed task. His favourite is the gardening. He has created a small nursery where he can propagate plants.
Other than a landscaping crew that comes in regularly to mow the lawn, he single-handedly cares for all the flower beds, ornamental shrubs and trees.
“It is a big property and it is sometimes hard to decide on what to work on next,” he said.
He joined Manor House as the assistant caretaker in 1992. Back then some of his work included maintaining the property’s swimming pools. There used to be three, but one was filled in a few years ago.
He left for two years to be head caretaker at Mount Wyndham in Hamilton Parish, but returned in 1996 to take on his current role.
He was thrilled when he got the job.
“It was a bit overwhelming, but also very exciting,” he said.
He remembered how property owner, Rosemary Outerbridge, came over to check out his work.
“I was putting some flowers up in the urn in the main house and she came and visited me,” Mr Darrell said. “She said, ’I just had to see who this new gardener was.’ She wanted to see if I knew what I was doing. We had a nice conversation and we have been good friends ever since.”
Some people might be surprised to learn he is a city boy, having been born in Harlem, New York to Bermudians Rosewald Darrell and Gloriette Iris.
He moved to the island to live at 15.
“My grandparents took me to the beach and I started to sink into the sand,” he said. “I was thinking of television quicksand. I was scared. Now I love the water.”
His grandfather, Ewing Darrell, was a farmer and soon had him helping out.
“He was from Harris Bay near Talbot Lane in Smith’s,” Mr Darrell said. “He used to have a big piece of land down there. He would have me up early in the morning to farm with him. Before coming to Bermuda I had never put my hand in the soil. I had never seen a goat – or a crab for that matter.”
Helping his grandfather, he fell in love with plants. He then honed his skills at Aberfeldy Nurseries at which time he was sent on courses to learn how to propagate seeds, graft citrus trees and craft bonsai trees.
“Other than that, what I know I have learnt from reading,” he said.
Today, plants are his all-consuming passion. His 15-year-old daughter Breynia was given the Latin name of his favourite plant, the Hawaiian Snow Bush.
"My daughters are my heart,“ said Mr Darrell who also has a 14-year-old daughter, Khylie-Waryn. ”They love plants and know a lot of them by their common name and by the Latin name. I take them through the woodlands and through Spittal Pond and the nature reserves and teach them the endemics of Bermuda.”
He always has a number of different gardening projects on the go at any one time.
“We have a limekiln that was used to make the lime to build Manor House,” he said. “I am planting it with begonias and ice plants. It is going to look really beautiful.”
His favourite garden is farther back on the property next to one of the swimming pools framed by faux Roman pillars.
“The agapanthus and day lilies are flowering right now,” he said. “It looks really beautiful. I am encouraging the Manor House Association to put out hammocks for the residents.”
Mr Darrell knows all of the residents by name, and also the names of their parents, children and pets. He lives on the property himself. The other residents spoil him with baked goods.
“I used to be skinny when I started this job,” he joked. “They really take good care of me, and look out for me.”
In addition to gardening, he also loves learning languages. One of the Manor House residents who is from South Africa, is teaching him to speak Zulu. Another person taught him some Filipino.
“Years ago, I worked for Joe Cabral doing landscaping,” Mr Darrell said. “I was the only Black boy in a group of 13 Portuguese men. I had to learn how to speak Portuguese. I had a lot of fun.
“A few years ago I went to the Azores by myself on a vacation and I did quite well. The Portuguese people there were surprised to hear me speaking Portuguese.”
The property has been through its changes. A few years ago the coach house, which used to house the hotel’s salon, sold. The boathouse, on the waterside below the tower, is up for sale for $1.95 million.
“The grounds, tower and bridge are all communal property, and will remain that way,” Mr Darrell said. “Whoever buys the boathouse will have access to the communal property.”
He is not the first Darrell to work on the property. Years ago, when the manor was a luxury home, his great great aunt Louise Darrell worked there. His father remembers people from the surrounding area trying to sneak into the hotel pool at night.
“My father said he used to come up here and play when there were a lot of trees,” Mr Darrell said.
A pet peeve is the trucks that somehow seem unable to avoid the stone bridge that connects the tower to the Manor House property.
“They keep hitting it,” he said. “Every time the police come they tell my people that we need to do something with the bridge. There is nothing we can do. It is a lifted bridge. I don’t think you can just change the shape of it.”