Wantley and Berkeley: a relationship that should not be demolished
The history of Berkeley’s relationship with Wantley extends beyond the bricks and mortar that built those edifices. The history is what those buildings represent. To demolish Wantley is to further annihilate and deny Bermuda’s Black population, and by extension all of Bermuda’s population, another significant portion of the island’s history.
Our island is already seeing results of destruction of some of our history through the loss of our value systems. Obliteration of our history contributes to major changes in the marginalisation of our people who often see themselves as products of a hostile environment that distances them from mainstream sections of their homeland.
Wantley as a building, sat on Princess Street, but the influences of those who lived within its walls stretched well beyond its borders. I grew up two blocks away on Ewing Street and passed Wantley regularly. My memories of the neighbourhood are still vivid. It was back of town and the area was a mecca of Black businesses and produced a number of well- known Bermudians down through the years. From Court Street to Brunswick Street, from Dundonald Street to Ewing Street, there were ambitious and aspiring families.
Among them were A.B. Place, editor of the Bermuda Recorder, Jac Smith who owned an ice cream parlour and restaurant at the corner of Reid Street and Burnaby Street along with a restaurant on Angle Street; Clarke of Clarke’s Bar; Cora Scott Gayle and Hazel Ming Greene, both teachers at the Central School and the first and second principals at Purvis Primary School respectively; Henry Ming, who owned horses and stables as well as partnership in the Hill Co, King Street; Kenny Iris, the musician; Hilton Hill II, a photographer and Member of Parliament, W.E.R. Joell, a businessman and tennis advocate; Randolph Dickinson, Chief Probation Officer; Shirley Jackson, who managed a printery on Court Street; Al Seymour, a columnist for The Royal Gazette and his brother, Stanley, better known as Lord Necktie; one of the Robinsons had a dry goods store on the corner of Court Street and Dundonald Street. That store was especially well known for selling reading books used in primary schools.
As a youngster I remember participating in a play directed by Winona Robinson, who taught speech and drama at the Central School. The play was staged on the lawn at Wantley.
Of course, many of the individuals mentioned in the list above were Berkeleyites. Randy Dickinson, Stan Seymour and I began our studies at Berkeley at the same time.
Wantley, and by extension Berkeley proper, produced a large number of well-known Bermudians in that neighbourhood. There many other Berkeleyites in the same neighbourhood and their significant contributions to Bermuda are not as well known.
Wantley’s contribution to Berkeley and its influence to Bermuda is unmatched insofar as its category among contributors is concerned. Demolish the building and add to the destruction of the people’s history at our peril.
Bermuda has marginalised and created enough of a hostile environment for too many. Let’s not continue along that dangerous path.
NORMA COX ASTWOOD