On Thursday 20th February 2020 the Anguilla Archeological and Historical Society (AAHS) held a general meeting to present the plans for the restoration of The Old Courthouse at Crocus Hill.
The Courthouse is the only remaining 18th Century Government building on the island. Up until 1955, when it was destroyed by Hurricane Alice, it was the main administration building on the island housing the Courthouse, Treasury, Post Office, Customs and Prison. Since its destruction the remaining structure has continued to deteriorate with no real effort to have it restored. Its only occupation since that was after Hurricane Donna in 1960 when it was used as a makeshift shelter for persons who had lost their homes.
Before the presentations were made, President Ms Jansie Webster welcomed the attendees and expressed thanks to Mr and Mrs Michael Taylor who are financing the entire rebuilding project. The Taylors are US nationals, and part-time residents of Anguilla for over 30 years, who are now Anguilla Belongers. She said that the Taylors have no interest in the restored building other than to ensure that it is available for the use of residents and visitors.
She also thanked Mrs Heather Nielsen who has Anguilla connections – as one of her foreparents served as minister of religion in Anguilla during the 1800s. Mrs Nielsen has dedicated much of her time and money to filming and transcribing historical documents from the Leeward Islands. In Anguilla, she has done the records of births deaths and marriages from the Anglican Church going back to the early 1800s, and Government registers of births deaths and marriages and deeds, and other historical documents held at the Courthouse, which go back to the 1700s.
A brief review of proposals to expand the building in 1824 was made by Kenn Banks, Vice President of the AAHS. He explained that there was a series of references in the minutes of the Island Council meetings of 1824 when the state of repair of the jail and Courthouse was a matter of concern. The Governor General of St Christopher, at the time, wrote a letter indicating that the buildings would be repaired using the money raised from the payment on the exportation of salt. His Excellency wrote: ‘The primary object is to establish a jail and then a building for a Court House which, until a regular place of Worship is erected, could accommodate a congregation and admit of being used as a school room’.’
It was noted that this was in 1824. There was no Anglican Church as in 1796 when the French invaded Anguilla they burnt the only Anglican church. It was not rebuilt until 1829 so there was no place of worship in Anguilla until John Hodge a man of mixed race was converted under the Methodist preaching in St Barts, then a Swedish colony, and returned home to begin the Methodist Church here and built a chapel in 1815. Mr Banks explained that the records indicated that although the land in question was used by the crown for the same purpose for over 100 years prior, there appeared to be a private claimant. The Governor General therefore wanted to make sure that issues surrounding the ownership of the property were resolved before public money was spent on the project.
Up to this point there was a separate jail and Courthouse. The proposal prepared for council by the committee, specially set up for the purpose, was to combine the buildings with the jail downstairs and Courthouse upstairs. Information on the tendering process and the award of the tender was also included in the minutes of the executive council meetings at the time. Mr. Banks indicated that the documents he reviewed were held at the National Archives in St Kitts and were transcribed my Mrs. Heather Nielsen.
Mr Gregory Permuy, of Permuy Designs, who is the architect on the project, then presented and explained the plans for the restoration of the building. He said that the objective is to have the exterior of the building be a close replica of the old building. The restored first floor will sit on a floor slab supported by columns from inside the ground floor. While the walls will be reinforced blockwork. These will be cladded with wood both on the outside and inside to mimic the original structure.
Following the presentations, the audience shared stories of the old building based on their own experiences and those handed down.
Before closing the meeting, the president explained that the restored building would be used as the home for the National Museum and Archives. She also reported that the Government has agreed to set up a committee, led by the Department of Youth and Culture, to create the National Museum policy.