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The grand bandstand of Victoria Park

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‘In 1889, the Corporation completed the erections of a handsome galvanised cast iron BAND STAND made to their order by the Sun Foundry, Glasgow' — Bermuda Almanack 1893

Given its size, the City of Hamilton could not afford the luxury of a ‘central park', like that of Manhattan which checks in at 840 acres, slightly smaller than some of Bermuda's parishes.

The former island itself is not much bigger than ours, weighing in at 15,000, as opposed to our 12,000 acres.

With some new buildings leading the way in Hamilton, we could look like Manhattan, from St Catherine's Point to Commissioner's Point, no worries! Incorporated in 1815, the Town of Hamilton had no parks until Her Majesty The Queen, Empress of India, etc,, celebrated her Golden Jubilee in 1887, marking Victoria's fifty years on the throne.

That commemoration inspired the denizens of the Town to order a bandstand, which necessitated the finding of a site for the musical monument, and it also caused the Town to become the ‘City' of Hamilton, albeit ten years after the passage of the Jubilee.

Thus the first dedicated ‘green space' in the Town became Victoria Park in the late 1880s, being earlier used as a playground for the children of Alfred Deane's Springfield Academy, according to a former Hamilton parks superintendent, George Ogden in “Bermuda's Heritage”, a book compiled for publication in 1983 by one of the island's greatest heritage boosters, the late Reginald E Ming MBE JP.

The ‘recreation area was affectionately known as “Deane's Bottom”', although one suspects the name elicited other emotions and remarks to boot.

A few decades later, land was purchased out of the William Perot (as in the Post Office) estate and that acreage became Par-la-Ville Park, including the great rubber tree, which is yet a reminder of the Victorian penchant for bringing plants from anywhere to everywhere, largely as ornamentals, hence the presence of the casuarina and other noxious ‘invasives'.

(Some might suggest that the former was only brought here after the cedar blight struck again in the later 1940s, but photographic evidence shows the casuarina here earlier, and so perhaps it is fair to say that it was only spread around more after the disease killed most of the cedars, to disastrous effect on the environment today.)

Albouy's Point, Fort Hamilton and Barr's Bay were later added to the City's park system, but Victoria Park, with its restored bandstand remains the earliest and perhaps to a degree the most pleasant, minus any appearance now of military bands.

The City of Hamilton evolved in the late 1700s as a central place to trade from, as opposed to the far easterly and original capital of the Bermuda, the Town of St George's (est 1612).

Long before the suggestion of making a town on the south shore of Pembroke Parish, Governor Daniel Tucker thought that St George's was an inappropriate spot for a harbourside town, so he set out to establish one on the southwestern corner of Castle Harbour, naming it appropriately, ‘Tucker's Town'.

He ‘laid out streets, erected a few houses, and awaited developments', of which there were none and he admitted defeat, ‘To work off his excessive ire and energy he betook himself to the more rewarding campaign of exterminating black rats', who ‘showed the same reluctance to conform to his will as the St Georgians'!

However, by the early 1790s, a few years after the end of the American Revolution, the new Town of Hamilton came into being, later taking over the position of the capital of Bermuda from St George's.

The Town was named for Henry Hamilton, a former British Army officer, who arrived on the Island in 1788 to become Governor and whose earlier claim in infamous fame related to his nickname of ‘Hairbuyer', for he rewarded British-allied Indians for proof in dealing with ‘Americans' during the Revolution, unfortunately paying for more scalps than prisoners of war.

The new town was to be 145 acres or about one square mile and the land was purchased from its owners by the Government and then sold off in lots, many of which survive today, as do roads like the ‘Second Longitudinal Street'.

Back to ‘Deane's Bottom' and the Bandstand, the latter a creation of the famous Sun Foundry of Glasgow, Scotland. Cast iron was one of the first materials that allowed for the mass reproduction of metalwork, based upon standard and reproducible ‘patterns'.

Before the cast iron Victoria Park Bandstand, Bermuda possessed one of the most important early cast iron buildings, namely, the Commissioner's House at the National Museum, constructed some 60 years before the Bandstand.

The Foundry also made cast iron clock towers, one of which survives at Basseterre, St Kitts in the West Indies, while its twin at Glasgow was unfortunately demolished in the early 1930s.

In 2008, the Corporation of Hamilton decided to restore the Bandstand and Charles Laing & Sons, Brass & Iron Founders and Historic Restoration Consultants, of Edinburgh, were engaged for the task. Being prefabricated, the structure was unbolted and taken apart for cleaning, although some pieces needed to be replaced, including the roof.

Most of the structure was shipped to Scotland for restoration and then returned and the bandstand was rebuilt in 2009.

The result is splendid and a great credit to the Corporation, the Charles Laing team and Bermudian Steven De Silva, the Superintendent of Parks for the City of Hamilton and to Butterfield Bank, a major donor of the project.

The original bandstand ‘opened with a befitting ceremony [in] January 1890, which not only improves the Park but will serve to bring British martial music forward more prominently before “Mudians” and visitors to the capital of our insular group'.

Unfortunately, the military band concerts are largely a thing of the past, although we have excellent performers in the Bermuda Regiment Band.

The restored bandstand, however, continues splendidly to enhance Victoria Park as it has done now for over 120 years.

Edward Cecil Harris, MBE, JP, PHD, FSA is Director of the National Museum at Dockyard. Comments may be made to director@bmm.bm or 704-5480.

The Bandstand and Victoria Park became one of the premier attractions in the Town of Hamilton after its erection in 1889. In all three images a curtain wall of cedar trees lines the perimeter of the Park, and the subject was a popular one for postcards. On the right, a crowd has gathered for a concert, which was usually given by British military bands stationed in Bermuda, the ‘Gibraltar of the West'.
Victoria Park was brought into being in the late 1880s and in this view the foundations for the bandstand have been laid in its centre in 1888. In the distance rises the new Government House, with very few building on the ridges of Glebe and Langton Hills. The inset shows some of the restoration crew in 2009.
The newly erected Victoria Park Bandstand stands in pristine condition in 1889 protected by a hedge of Bermuda cedars. At right, the Victoria Park Grand Stand after its restoration in 2009.
The Band Stand today after its restoration which was completed in 2009.

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Published October 19, 2013 at 9:00 am (Updated October 18, 2013 at 5:37 pm)

The grand bandstand of Victoria Park

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