Today, as the Government of Trinidad and Tobago reopens Parliament at its traditional home, the Red House building on Friday 24th January, 2020. We reminisce and highlight the concise history of the building, its restoration, construction and reservation.
The Red House’s history has been described as a colourful one by many historians. The Red House has been the site of major historic events that have resulted in its destruction and its subsequent reconstruction and restoration. The Red House has bared witness to many dark and tragic events that have occurred in Trinidad and Tobago history and has re-emerged many times out of these disasters. The emergence of the First Red House was no exception as it too emerged after the Great Fire of Port of Spain.
The Great Fire of Port of Spain
In 1808, there was a great fire that destroyed that destroyed a large section of the city of Port of Spain. The fire, which was started by accident, quickly spread throughout the city propelled by the winds blowing into the city. The fire spread from house to house, completely destroying some houses and partially destroying others. The ensuing blaze caused a large amount of structural damage to the city as most of buildings within Port of Spain at the time were made out of wood and shingles. At the end of the blaze it was estimated that 12 square blocks were totally destroyed and the remaining 49 blocks of the city were destroyed only partially. The blaze also destroyed 435 houses and left 4500 persons homeless. Historical documents were also destroyed in the blaze that dated back to the late 15th century.
Recovering from the blaze
After the Great Fire, Governor Thomas Hislop and his administration passed legislation that changed building regulations and stipulated that any buildings to be rebuilt over the destroyed areas of Port of Spain were to built with brick and stone. This was done to prevent such a blaze from occurring in the future and also to prevent the loss of important government records.
The rebuilding Port of Spain however, was a very slow and gradual undertaking. Major infrastructural works to rebuild the city after the fire, only began in 1813 when Sir Ralph Woodford became Governor that same year. In addition to this, the city of Port of Spain did not have an official government building following the fire but rather the seat of governance resided wherever the Governor lived.
In 1831 there seemed to be a change when Governor Lewis Grant constructed the Treasury Building. This building which was not only used to house the Treasury and Rum Bond but was also the site of the Government House. However, only small section of this building was allocated to government duties and the upkeep of government records.
Laying the Foundations
On February 15, 1844 Governor Sir Henry Mc Leod laid the foundations for a new government building which was to house the colonial administrative offices, government records as well as the courts of law. This building was to be built on the Western side of Brunswick square now known today as Woodford Square. The architect of this building was the artist Richard Bridgens, who was the ten Superintendent of Public Works, and the builders were the contractors, G. de la Sauvagere and A.A. Pierre. This building was to become the First Red House.
The first Red House was opened in 1848 by the then Governor Sir Thomas Harris. The building was not fully completed but its opening was still inaugurated at the Trinity Cathedral that same year. The First Red House was a much smaller building than the one today.
The building was composed of two blocks, the North and South block, which were connected to each other by a double archway. The Northern Block of the building was to be the Chamber of the Legislative Council and the Registrar while the Court House was housed on the Southern Block.
The double archway allowed for the flow of pedestrian and vehicular traffic to pass from Abercromby Street into Prince Street or present day Sackville street.
Construction and Completion of the Red House
The Red House construction ran into many delays and issues shortly after the foundation was laid. This was due in part to the faults in the engineering and architecture of the building as the roof was too heavy for the beams that supported it. This caused delays in construction as well as cost overruns. These delays resulted in the Red House still not being completed fifty years after its inauguration.
This attracted public criticism and this resulted in allocation of £ 15,000 to carry out alterations and extensions to the Red in the 1890s. In 1897 the Red House was first painted red in celebration of the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria. The locals thus referred to the building as the Red House and that is how the building got its name.
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