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Government tears down house linked to Mary Prince

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Levelled: The remains of what was Watlington House. The house, where National Hero Mary Prince is believed to have lived for a short period, was believed to have been spared from demolition. (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

An historic building with ties to National Hero Mary Prince has been demolished.

Watlington House, which stands on what is now the Ocean View Golf Course, was spared from demolition in 2021 after the history of the building was highlighted.

However, the structure has been completely torn down this week. The news was first reported by Bermuda Broadcasting yesterday.

Charlotte Andrews, head of cultural heritage for the Bermuda National Trust, said the demolition came as a complete shock.

“In 2021, the Bermuda National Trust, along with a number of other groups, objected to the proposed demolition of the house, due to the site’s historical link with National Hero Mary Prince,” Dr Andrews said.

“In August 2021 it was announced that the Ocean View Golf Club had revised its plan and would site the new warehouse elsewhere, saving the house. It seems there was a change of heart about saving the house and this significant site has been torn down.”

She said the BNT was saddened by the loss of “an important piece of Bermuda’s cultural heritage”. She added that the move came after years of neglect allowed the building to become unsafe.

“We would like to see steps taken to recognise the significance of the site in Mary Prince’s legacy in some appropriate way,” Dr Andrews said. “In addition, the trust has advocated for Historic Monument listing of the nearby Watlington tomb and we wait to hear if that will be done.”

Margot Maddison-MacFadyen, a historian who highlighted the building’s history, said she was disappointed by the news.

Dr Maddison-MacFadyen said: “I and others had hoped it would be saved and stand as a memorial to Bermudian National Hero Mary Prince because it is where a significant moment in her life happened.

“Mary Prince was a revolutionary emancipationist whose powerful agency reaches out to us from the past. To me, she is more than a Bermudian hero, she is an international hero.

“Even though the old house is gone, the Ocean Club Golf Course can work as the keeper of this important history. I sincerely hope that there is a plan to memorialise Mary Prince at the site.

“I also hope the Ocean Club Golf Course will protect the nearby grave of Francis Watlington as a historical monument.”

Kim Swan, chairman of the Board of Trustees for public golf courses, told The Royal Gazette they should contact the Ministry of Public Works about the demolition.

A spokesman for the ministry did not provide a reason for the demolition, but said: “The ministry received confirmation that the building in question was not listed nor protected by a historic protection area.

“Therefore, under the Planning Act, permission is not required for demolition”.

Before destruction: Watlington House on Ocean View Golf Course. (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

In 2021, the Ocean View Golf Club submitted a planning application to tear down an “existing warehouse building” and replace it with a new warehouse.

But Dr Maddison-MacFadyen, of the University of Prince Edward Island, warned in a letter of objection that the building was actually the historic Watlington House.

She said that early in The History of Mary Prince, the landmark autobiography that contributed to the end of slavery in the British Empire, Mary Prince recalled being told by her young owner, Betsy Williams, that she would be sold.

Miss Prince wrote that she was then taken to Betsy’s “father’s sister” to be prepared for sale by her own mother.

She described the “sorrowful meeting” at the home and recalled her mother telling her: “I am shrouding my poor children; what a task for a mother!"

Dr Maddison-MacFadyen said that based on historical records, the home described was Watlington House, and urged that the structure be protected.

Her letter of objection was one of several received by the Department of Planning, including letters from the Ministry of Youth, Culture and Sport, the Mary Prince Historical Trust and celebrated local historian Clarence Maxwell.

After the concerns were raised, the plans were changed with the proposed warehouse moved to another location on the Devonshire property.

A report by a planning officer in August 2022 said that because of the change on location there was “no proposal to demolish the existing warehouse”.

The revised plans were later rejected by the Development Applications Board because the new proposed location for the warehouse was on Woodland Reserve.

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Published March 09, 2023 at 7:54 am (Updated March 09, 2023 at 9:32 am)

Government tears down house linked to Mary Prince

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