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Berkeley Institute meets in bid to save historic house linked to the school

Wantley, on Princess Street, North Hamilton (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

A glimmer of hope for the preservation of a landmark Hamilton home that was the birthplace of one of the island’s top schools was announced yesterday.

The Ministry of Public Works last night confirmed that a demolition order had been given for Wantley House on Princess Street, North Hamilton.

The home was the scene of the first meeting of the founders of the Berkeley Institute in 1879.

The meeting was called by Samuel David Robinson, a prominent Hamilton businessman, whose home is a rare example of Victorian Bermuda architecture.

The Berkeley Institute’s board of governors yesterday discussed the fate of Wantley after news broke this week of its planned demolition.

Craig Bridgewater, the chairman of the school’s board of governors, said Wantley was “a very important symbol” for the school.

He added: “It’s a very, very significant building within the history of the Berkeley Educational Society.”

Mr Robinson, a wealthy Hamilton merchant and business owner, was a founder of the society.

Mr Bridgewater said: “We’re just working on it as a Berkeley family to decide on what the options are, and what kind of partnership we can create to do something with it.

“We hope to go out and look for public partners for it.”

A public works spokesman said the property, owned by the Bermuda Housing Corporation, has been plagued by drug use and squatters and has also been damaged by fire.

He added: “In early 2020 the Bermuda Economic Development Corporation was working to repurpose the building and make it into their headquarters.

“However, following a fire in December 2020, a structural appraisal was required and has been carried out.”

The spokesman said the building would have required “a complete overhaul” which would have cost $1.2 to $1.3 million.

The appraisal recommended demolition and rebuilding the structure, which is not a listed building.

The spokesman added: “While the building's history was very much considered, in light of this information and the fact that the property was a health and safety issue for area residents and the adjacent Diabetes Association building, the Bermuda Housing Corporation made the difficult decision to demolish the structure.”

The order, granted on March 17, said the building as derelict.

It added that the two-storey house “continues to degrade and becomes increasingly hazardous to attached buildings and surrounding community”.

But the spokesman said the house’s location in a historic protection area meant demolition needed further planning permission.

He added it was “unfortunate that it cannot be restored to what it once was”.

But the spokesman said: “However, the legacy of Samuel David Robinson and the importance of his contribution to the development of a lasting institution in Bermuda will be honoured and preserved when the location is redeveloped.”

The Bermuda National Trust said the house’s owners sold it to the BHC in 2008.

The BNT added: “In 2018, the BNT contacted the BHC to offer help and support as it became clear that this important building was seriously deteriorating.

“We were advised that renovations were being planned for Wantley, once work on Victoria Terrace, a historic housing project also on Victoria Street, was completed.”

The BNT said the building appeared structurally sound, although “squatters had been allowed to occupy it and made an appalling mess”.

The charity added: “The demolition order on Wantley still stands – but we hope that public scrutiny of this situation will encourage the owners to make every effort to protect this important part of Bermuda’s history.”

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Published June 11, 2021 at 7:57 am (Updated June 11, 2021 at 8:34 am)

Berkeley Institute meets in bid to save historic house linked to the school

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