East Lothian

This article was revised and published in the one-hundredth anniversary edition of the Guyana Annual

Monday May 7, 2007: We sat – literally and metaphorically – in the shadow of the old house. Mr. David Fraser explained that the house “of a hundred-and-one windows” was built by his dad’s sister’s husband, a Mr. Hicken, in 1921. The construction took all of two years to complete.

The timber was imported from Great Britain, discharged at New Amsterdam, and mule-drawn to East Lothian, a journey of ten miles which took nearly a day barring any mishap. Mr. Fraser took pride in naming all the hamlets and villages the mule train would have passed on the East Coast Berbice road on its way to East Lothian: Esplanade Park, Fort Canje, Canje Creek Bridge (“swing bridge”), Voorburg, Sheet Anchor, No.2 Village, Palmyra, Bramfield, No.7 Village, Lewis Manor (where the toll gates were installed in the 1970’s), Treurniet, Hermitage, Susannah, Bohemia, Kendalls, Warren, Dunrobin, Industry, Hammersmith, Mervil, Cheswick, and finally East Lothian.

If you kept going east, the names of the villages are Marysburg, Borlam, Gibraltar, at which point you are now on the Corentyne Coast road starting with No.0 Vilage, then No.1 Village, No.2 Village Courtland, No.3 Village Fyrish, No. 4 Village Kilcoy/Chestney, No. 5 Village Albion. Given that many of us are of the opinion that everywhere between Borlam Turn and Palmyra Seawell Turn can be referred to as plain vanilla “No. 19” one can only be fascinated by the textured and evocative blend of Dutch, English and Scottish names. Not to mention such bland and colorless names as No. 0 Village !

Mr. Fraser pointed out that although the house was built with a hundred and one windows, his family was ordered to seal two windows because, either by statute or tradition, no residential home was allowed to have more windows than the Colonial Governor’s residence in Georgetown.

The house was visited in the early 1960’s by at least two Governors, Sir Ralph Grey and Sir Richard Luyt. Luyt was known as the “curry governor” because of his partiality to curry and roti. It is also possible that the American aviator, Colonel Charles Lindbergh, visited the home in September 1929 when he landed his “flying boat” (amphibian plane) on the Berbice River.

This grand and historic house is in desperate need of repairs and Mr. Fraser propositioned the Guyana Government to declare the house a “heritage home” under the National Trust Act and to undertake the urgent task of its restoration using public funds. One of the aims of the National Trust is ” to conserve, preserve, and promote the nation’s patrimony so that the present and future generations will access and enjoy the richness of Guyana’s heritage.” We do know that this house sits on what was once a Dutch cotton plantation which was in existence since the late 1700’s. Some of the present-day residents of the nearby villages of Girbraltar, No. 1, and Fyrish are the the descendants of slaves who once lived on this estate.

It is easy to lose track of time as one sits under Mr. Fraser’s umbrageous flamboyant tree enjoying the vastness of the vista and the gentleness of the north east trade wind. At 2:00pm it is that still and quiet time of day when all you hear is the distant plaintive notes of a lonesome plover, or the melody of savannah starlings and meadow larks. I mentioned to Mr. Frser that I saw large flocks of spurwings and even some whistling (wissi-wissi) ducks as we were driving in from the public road. He said there is prolific bird life on the estate. He has seen nearly all 24 varieties of humming birds, not to mention flocks of of grass birds also called grass canaries or grassy, robins, herons also called cranes or gauldings. Cotingas, wood doves, ground doves, yellow warblers, sugar birds, and pimpimchuri are also frequent visitors.

Soon it was time to leave. I took one last look at this once handsome and majestic landmark as we drove on the dirt road towards the public road. Its future looks bleak and it is just a question of time before this stately house of a hundred and one windows crumbles to the ground, lost to all time to the national patrimony.

Rishi Singh