FGSJ Jamaica Tour: an impression by Andrew Crawshaw


Laura Facey’s Ascension, Photograph John Pheasant

Although delayed for five days by the Icelandic ash cloud, FGSJ’s visit to Jamaica turned into a triumphant success thanks to the brilliant improvisational skills of our hosts and organisers who salvaged almost all the original programme.

Some 18 participants stayed at five of the pleasantest spots in the island (Goblin Hill, Strawberry Hill, Jamaica Inn, Good Hope, as well as the Andreaes’ own home at Runaway Bay), whilst the numerous interconnections of the party ensured that the atmosphere was almost cousinly, yet entirely open to non-Jamaicans like myself.

The general plan was to explore and record sites more to the east of the island than earlier tours and the memory of the trip gives images rather like a clear night sky, with the overall direction given clearly if rather hazily by the Milky Way, and the whole illuminated by frequent highlights and vivid stars.

For me, two aesthetic experiences were in a stellar class of theirown. One was the wonderful quality of Laura Facey’s art, particularly her Ascensionin St Andrew Parish Church, Kingston, and Their Spirits Gone Before Them in her studio (see p 23), both of which possess in abundance the movingly authoritative irenic peace-seeking spirit that I believe to be one of her hallmarks. The other, more mundane but equally striking, was the powerful artistic quality that Chris Blackwell has built into the bathing hole in the factory ruins at Pantrepant. Both leave indelible memories.

Against them may be set perhaps our one disappointment, which was a failure to get to, let alone record, the site at Stokesfield, which Douglas Blain thinks may be the oldest house on the island. But he and John Pheasant faithfully recorded a great deal else, notably at Hordley and Holland, while the party was on the way to view the lighthouse at Morant Point, which came complete with a dead crocodile on its morass causeway.

Later we visited the burnt-out courthouse at Morant Bay where memories of the tragic rebellion are still all too acute. The eastern leg of our visit also allowed an instructive visit to the old Botanical Gardens at Bath where some of Captain Bligh’s seedlings were successfully planted. Both places were windows into Jamaica’s emotional history.

During our visit to Kingston an unexpected shooting star appeared in our itinerary in our eccentric visit to Fort Augusta, now the women’s prison. There we unintentionally found ourselves involved in the prison’s annual sports day and (after being frisked) heard ourselves announced to the baffled crowd as “distinguished Georgian visitors”, before eventually inspecting the 80 guns of the old Fort. After that we passed on to Tom Concannon’s restorations at Port Henderson (including Admiral Rodney’s house), now alas somewhat neglected, but still instructive to us.

Crossing the centre of the island on the return we had a delicious moment of past achievement, when, though we did not stop at Spanish Town, we had a chance to walk across the iron bridge over Rio Cobre, just recently reopened to pedestrians. We could reflect that FGSJ had played a small part in its restoration. As it happened its charm was much enhanced at that moment by the goat with two newborn kids who were the chief users of the walkway.

This is not a chronological account and I forget at what precise point we fitted in the eminently restorable Hyde Hall and enjoyed an excellent lunch at Harmony Hall, where some of Eve Foster’s paintings were on display, but at mid-tour we were back on the north coast. There, on an extended visit to Falmouth, we saw with delight that Jim Parrent is indeed as hoped employing local craftsmen in his projects, which have much expanded in recent years: his tally of restored houses is now 33. It was hugely encouraging, even though the FGSJ is not the prime mover, to feel how firmly Falmouth is now on the heritage map, even if the church clock has, temporarily we hope, once again stopped.

And so, finally, to Good Hope with its magical scenery. A trip rafting down the Martha Brae was pure self-indulgence and thanks to sheer generosity we were also fabulously entertained en route by Maurice and Valerie Facey at Bellevue and Mount Plenty and were also able to see the nearby estates at Annandale, Pantrepant, Orange Valley and Wales. Fortunately on our last night at Good Hope we were also able to invite some of our benefactors to a jovial thank you dinner before returning to Runaway Bay for one last night. And this time our planes were on time!

Combining as it did serious purpose with knowledgeable entertainment and exposure to huge natural beauty, the trip could hardly have been bettered as a way of seeing the happier side of modern Jamaica which has indeed changed for the better in the last ten years. In spite of past troubles the visit has made me believe the right trend will continue.

(This article first appeared in Georgian Jamaica, the FGSJ newsletter, in 2011.)