Call to save historic Albert Row
A former resident of under-threat historic Dockyard houses pleaded for their preservation yesterday.
Roger Bendall, who now lives more than 10,000 miles away in Sydney, Australia, said the crumbling Victorian-era terraced homes in Albert Row should be restored as a memorial to the “heroic” craftsmen who lived there and worked in the former Royal Navy base in the darkest days of the Second World War.
Mr Bendall wrote to The Royal Gazette after owners the West End Development Corporation announced earlier that the 16 homes, vacant for six years, would have to be taken off the list of historic buildings and knocked down unless millions of dollars were spent to make them livable again.
The quango estimated that refurbishment of the four blocks of houses would cost more than $10 million.
Mr Bendall said news of Albert Row's fate had caused him “great sadness”. He added: “For my brother and for me, the destruction of our childhood home in Albert Row would be a great tragedy — but we believe, too, that for Bermuda it would be missed opportunity.”
Mr Bendall said the homes were a symbol of the “epic” experience of life in Bermuda during the war.
He explained: “Surrounded by U-boats, and at the mercy of enemy battleships, Bermuda was a soft target, with Dockyard workers and their families living in fear of a battery of attacks on the Dockyard munitions store and the consequent destruction of every building on Ireland Island, including Albert Row.”
The buildings, built between 1845 and 1860, were home to families of skilled workers, including shipwrights, seamen and carpenters.
Mr Bendall, a member of the Naval Dockyards Society, added: “Albert Row is one of the world's last remaining examples of a unique form of Dockyard architecture, built specifically in the mid-19th century to accommodate the skilled artisans so essential to the maintenance and performance of an international maritime power.”
He said that his father, Alfred “Bill” Bendall, had helped maintain the Atlantic convoys of supplies from the United States to Britain during the war.
He was posted to the island in 1936, and the family left in 1950.
Mr Bendall added: “Working day and night in life-threatening conditions, these men would take their small craft and tugboats out through the channel and tow sinking ships into safety and onto the floating dock for repair.
“U-boats sitting on either side of the channel entrance were able to torpedo and disable merchant and naval ships as they passed into and out of the channel.
“Our father and his workmates went out into the open waters beyond the reef in all weather to rescue the sinking ships and bring them and together with their grateful crews to safety.
“We know this because our home was replete with gifts from the masters of the US, Royal Navy and merchant marine vessels they saved.”
Mr Bendall added the story of the civilian heroes who risked their lives deserved recognition — and could boost tourism.
He said: “This is not just the chance to tell a truly heroic narrative, but also the chance to build a commercially successful tourist business.
“The Dockyard Township including Albert Row offers a unique story that is more relevant and accessible to the tourists of today than the laneways and colonial buildings of St George's.”
Mr Bendall was backed by the Naval Dockyards Society in Britain, which accused Wedco of a failure to invest in the houses and allowed them to “decay by neglect”.
Ann Coats, chairwoman of the NDS, added: “That is not responsible management.”
Joanna Cranfield, Wedco's business development manager, said the quango had looked for a developer to take on the terrace for 15 years without success.
Ms Coats said Wedco was mandated to care for historic buildings such as Albert Row, which have not been maintained since 2009.
A similar block of 19th-century homes, Victoria Row, was demolished in 2016.
But Wedco said that Albert Row could still be saved if a deep-pocketed investor came forward.
Mr Bendall, a member of the NDS, suggested the homes could be used as an extension of the Dockyard-based National Museum of Bermuda, with the interiors depicting scenes from their history.
He added: “Bermuda was our home.
“Albert Row was the home of generations of men who braved the North Atlantic and made its shipping and its sailors safe.
“Our father and the generations before him lived in Albert Row and came home to their families with stories of bravery, success, defeat and fear.
“The preservation of Albert Row should be our tribute to those men and their families.”