A legacy under threat
A piece of history was poised for destruction this week: Wantley on Princess Street, Hamilton faced demolition. The fate of this fine example of Victorian domestic architecture hung in the balance while the community looked on, horrified.
Yes, it bore the scars of years of neglect, including scorched walls and piles of used needles and empty bottles. Yes, it had no running water or electricity, leaving its transient occupants to find their own ways of waste disposal. But is that a reason to expunge the memory of a family that contributed so much to Bermuda and most notably, to the Black community?
Wantley was built in the 1870s by Samuel David Robinson, one of the most prominent Black businessmen and community leaders of the time. He and his brother Joseph Henry left a rich legacy in the city, especially in the buildings they developed, including The Emporium on Front Street, the Arcade on Burnaby Street and Victoria Terrace on Princess Street. A proponent of higher education, Samuel Robinson was a founder of the Berkeley Educational Society, an organisation dedicated to providing integrated and improved education for Black and White Bermudians. Its first meeting held in the drawing-room at Wantley led to the establishment of Berkeley Institute in 1897 at Samaritans’ Lodge on Court Street.
The matter is ongoing, and the BNT is engaged with efforts to save Wantley – including Maxine Esdaille of the African Diaspora Heritage Trail who alerted us all to the situation and the Berkeley Education Society.