Spanish Town

Old House of Assembly

Parish: St.Catherine

panish Town, built by the Spanish after Sevilla Nueva (New Seville) was abandoned, dates from 1534. It was first known as Villa de la Vega, later St. Jago de la Vega and then Spanish Town. The town is the oldest continuously inhabited city in Jamaica. It was the capital of Spanish Jamaica from 1534 to 1655. When the English captured the island in 1655, Spanish Town remained the capital of the island until 1872 when this status was conferred on Kingston. Spanish Town still possesses memories of the past with its many historical buildings. The Emancipation Square is generally acclaimed to be the most impressive of its kind in the West Indies.

Old King's House
In 1762, a new official residence for the Governor, King's House, was erected on the site of the Old Spanish Hall of Audience. The Hall was demolished in 1761 to make room for the new mansion. This building formed the first unit of the civic square designed in the then popular Georgian style.

In 1838, the proclamation of the abolition of slavery was read from the steps of King's House. The structure was destroyed by fire in 1925 leaving only the main eastern facade and the stables.

Old House of Assembly
This two storey brick structure was constructed around 1762. The House of Assembly was the scene of many bitter debates and struggles between the Governors and the members of the Assembly.

The Assembly Chamber was used occasionally to host balls to honour celebrities. In 1838 for example, the Assembly Chamber was used to host a ball in honour of Sir Henry Bartley on his arrival in Jamaica as Governor.

When the capital of the island was transferred to Kingston in 1872, the Assembly met at Headquarters House in Kingston. After this date, the Old House o f Assembly was used for several purposes. The structure now houses the offices and Mayor's Parlour of the St. Catherine Parish Council.

Rodney's Memorial
This elaborate edifice was created in honour of the celebrated British Admiral Lord Rodney. The Memorial, designed by the famous English sculptor John Bacon in 1801, commemorates Rodney's victory over a French fleet that had attempted to invade the island in 1782. Rodney is made to resemble a Roman Emperor.

A tavern dating from the time of the Spanish occupation, which is said to have also been where the mules and horses belonging to the Governor were tethered was demolished to make way for the statue.

Old Court House
This Georgian building on the south side was the last unit built to complete the Square. It was erected in 1819 at a cost of 15, 700 pounds. The site was originally a cemetery and later a Chapel. It was then altered to form an arsenal for small arms. This structure was eventually destroyed and the Court House was then erected on the site. The upper level of the building was used as a Town Hall.

In 1986, the Court House was destroyed by fire.

The Cathedral of St. James (Anglican)
This is the oldest Cathedral in the British Caribbean. It stands on the site of the Chapel of the Red Cross which was built by the Spanish in 1525. When the English captured the island, they destroyed the original Spanish Chapels. This Anglican Church was therefore built on the foundations and with materials from the original Chapel of the Red Cross.

The first Anglican Church building was destroyed by hurricane in 1712 and rebuilt in 1714. In 1843, it was named the Cathedral of the Jamaican Diocese of the Anglican Church. The building is a mixture of many different architectural styles including Medieval. The Cathedral is shaped like a cross and includes a number of monuments by John Bacon. Its floor contains marble headstone memorials to prominent British colonists that date as far back as 1700s. The tower was added in 1817.

The Cenotaph
To the north of the Cathedral is a cenotaph erected in memory of the sons of the parish of St. Catherine who died in the two World Wars 1914 to 1918 and 1939 to 1945.

Old Barracks Building
The Military Barracks was erected in 1791 to house both soldiers and officers. It was built from a grant of 15, 000 pounds sterling voted by the House of Assembly. Red bricks and stone were used to construct the two main wings and central portico. A wide flight of steps lead to the upper level and the lower level has arched arcades.

In its heyday, the Barracks was the place where volunteers to the two World Wars, scouts and guides were drilled. It was also the site for festivals, fairs, games and races. From 1910 to the early 1970s, the Government Elementary School was housed there. The building is now in an advanced state of disrepair.

St. Catherine District Prison
The Prison was built in 1714 from the proceeds of the will of George Fletcher. It was formerly the Middlesex and Surrey County Gaol. It was managed by the Provost Marshall or his Deputy. It serves as one of the largest prisons in the island.

Phillippo Baptist Church
The Church is named in honour of its first pastor, Reverend James Mursell Phillippo. He was a Baptist missionary who became one of the greatest advocates for Negro Improvement during slavery.

Phillippo built the Church to replace an earlier one which was destroyed by fire. The present building dates from 1827. On the Church grounds are buried some of the shackles of slavery of our forefathers. A slab which marks the spot commemorates the 150th year of the Church, November 20, 1968.

Phillippo died in 1865 and is buried in the churchyard. There are two tablets in the Church building dedicated to his memory and that of his wife.

Cast Iron Bridge
The Cast Iron Bridge was erected in 1801 at a cost of 4, 000 pounds. It was designed by Thomas Wilson of England and manufactured by Walker and Company of Rotherham in England. The bridge spans 29.7 metres and stands as the oldest iron bridge of its kind in the western hemisphere.

The Spanish Town Historic District was declared a National Monument by the Jamaica National Heritage Trust on December 29, 1994.


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