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Algernon Harford: tales of a Somerset contractor

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West End School is set on a slight plateau overlooking Scott’s Hill Road. Its old-world architecture is often taken for granted and few ever wonder who the builders were.

Algernon Harford

This school building was completed in 1944 after many years of the Somerset community appealing to the Government for better facilities. Finally, it was ready to be occupied. There was no assembly hall and no staff bathrooms, but there were six classrooms, inside toilets, a small medical clinic, a principal’s office and drinking fountains.

West End School was completed in 1944

Algernon Harford, described at the biggest contractor in Somerset during that era, is credited as the man responsible for the construction of this building. Many men in Somerset with surnames such as Bulford, Burt, Philpott, Forth, Lapsley and others worked with him. These were men who began their school years at the old West End School.

Mr Harford was born in the late 1880s and, like many Somerset men, began his career as an apprentice shipwright in Dockyard. (A shipwright is a carpenter skilled in ship construction and repair.)

It is unknown when Mr Harford completed his training at the Dockyard but it is known that he opened his own business on the corner of Gilbert Lane and Somerset Road — the building remains there today.

Roderick Pearman recalled the intense smell of cedar emanating from the building. Asquith Phillip recalled more than 75 years ago assisting his uncle by sweeping up the vast amounts of cedar dust created by the saws and the hand-sanding. In the summer holidays, he went with his uncle to hand him tools.

Mr Harford not only specialised in the making of cedar lamps, bowls, plates, letter openers and souvenirs similar to the craftsmanship of renowned Somerset cedar craftsman John Davis. He also made cedar furniture and was involved in the extensive renovations of several houses in Somerset — Willowbank, Seaforth and Treganna, to name a few. In 1936, he was the contractor and decorator of renovations to the Odd Fellows Lodge in Somerset, making it the largest hall in the parish.

Older Bermudians ranging in age up to 102 recalled that carpenter contractors always had masons working alongside them on large projects.

William “Bill” Anderson, who is now 91, worked with Mr Harford on many projects, including the Cambridge Beaches contract. He described him as a disciplinarian. More than 70 years ago, many of the tourist cottages at Cambridge Beaches were wooden. The contract required they cover the wooden cottages with wire mesh and plaster them to conceal the wood.

Although I have focused on Mr Harford’s professional career, he was also very involved in the Somerset community. In 1935, he was elected vice-president of Somerset Cricket Club and president of the West End School PTA. In 1936, he served as the president of St James' Church Guild. Mr Harford was the chairman and historian of the Packwood Home in 1955 and in 1959 served as a trustee and historian of the Victoria and Albert Lodge. He was also a member of the Hannibal Freemasons Lodge 224 GRI.

Mr Harford was extremely proud in the early 1940s when his son, Sinclair, at the age of 15, was accepted as a shipwright apprentice at the Dockyard, thus following a family tradition dating back to the 1800s.

West End School was extended in the mid-1960s, but the original building remains little changed.

Algernon Harford died at the age of 77 on August 26, 1967.

Cecille C. Snaith-Simmons, the mother of Sandys South MP Jamahl Simmons, is the 2020 winner in the Adult section of the Dr Stanley Ratteray Memorial Christmas Short Story Contest. Reference: Bermuda Recorder and Heritage by Kenneth E. Robinson, PhD (1979). With appreciation to Barclay Carmichael and Lynne Woolridge (grandchildren of Algernon Hartford and participants named in the article)

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Published March 10, 2022 at 7:55 am (Updated March 10, 2022 at 7:55 am)

Algernon Harford: tales of a Somerset contractor

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