The capital of Barbados.
Bridgetown, the capital city of Barbados was first called Saint Michael after the parish of St. Michael, but was commonly referred to by the ancient bridge found at the bay by a second group of English settlers to arrive on the island in 1629. Charles Wolverston's expedition called it ‘Indian Bridge’ making reference to the earlier Amerindian inhabitants. This second settlement began on just one hundred acres, just north of the the bridge and Careenage, granted by then proprietor [Hay], Earl of Carlisle.
The main streets laid out by the surveyor John Swan and named in 1657, with the boundaries were legally defined some thirty years later (Act of 1660), [Ligon] was one of the first to describe the town with the street names Reed, Swan, James, Tudor, High, and Palmetto still survive unchanged to this day. By the 1740's there were at least 1200 houses built of coral stone; ‘the windows glazed and sashed; the streets broad, and the Rents as dear in Cheapside, in the Bridge, as in Cheapside in London’.
Carlisle Bay, at the bottom of which the Bridge stands, is very spacious and capable of holding 500 sail ships. The massive stone Mole that ran out from James Fort into the sea was subsequently destroyed in the tempest hurricane of 1694.
Although the central bay area used to be a foul swamp area drained and fortified by 1707, there remained swamps on the east of the town, that at times overflow the whole town; which lie at the entrance to a valley that runs several miles into the ‘country’ then called the Valley of St. George.
Like so many towns on the islands in the Caribbean, Bridgetown has had its fair share of early disasters such as the fires of 1659, 1668, 1673, 1756, 1758 and 1766 (plus others in the mid-nineteenth century) and the hurricanes of 1675, 1780 and 1831. Incidences shaping the peoples memories to this day with their devastation, in some cases smashing 80 per cent of the town, burning of over 26 acres, and destroying 1140 buildings. This is why little remains of the structures from the 17th century.
There are few rivers on Barbados and one small one that ran into Carlyle Bay, at the Bridge and often used by the early Planters and Merchants to go up for at least a mile into the country, had by 1740 quite choked up and remains so to this day.
The first fort just west of town, is ‘James Fort’ near Stewart's Wharf, which in the 1740's was mounted with 18 canon-guns. Another, built near Governor Lord Grey house was Wilkughby's 12 guns Fort, built on a small neck of land running out into the sea. At the time some 1200 Militia men of the Regiment of Foot-Guards were ready to protect the city.
To the east of the city a smaller eight guns fort stood to secured the ’richest Town of the Chariblees’ of Merchants storehouses and well furnished Tradesmens shops. The Governor's residence at the time was called Pilgrim's, from the name of the Proprietor of the land on which it stood.
The Church, located on St. Michael's Row, Bridgetown has always been large and is considered a Cathedral since its consecration in 1665, with ’a very good ring of seven bells and a fine clock’. This too was destroyed in the 1780 hurricane and subsequently rebuilt nine year later and only elevated to Cathedral status in 1825. Since the 17th century it has been famed for housing one of the first, finest and largest Organs on western hemisphere, its origins went back to the organ of 1683 at Roman Catholic Chapel, St. James Piccadilly, London, England which was purchased or promised to this church. That organ was 'disposed' of in 1788 to a church in St. Philip and the current ’Walker’ organ was rebuilt in 1924 (and is greatly suffering in recent times).
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- Oldmixon 1741, p. 98.
- St. Michael's Church Vestry records; also Journal of the Barbados Museum and Historical Society, 17 (1950): 190