Hibbert House, also known as Headquarters House, is the home of the Jamaica National Heritage Trust (JNHT). It was built in 1755 by Thomas Hibbert, a wealthy English Merchant. Its story, including its possible use to auction newly arrived enslaved people, is told in Louis Nelson’s truly valuable book, ‘Architecture and Empire in Jamaica’.
In 1814 it became the headquarters of the British Army in Jamaica and home of its General. In 1872, with the permanent removal of the Capital from Spanish Town to Kingston, Headquarters House became the location for the Colonial Secretary’s office and the permanent seat of the Jamaica Legislature until 1960. Self-government for Jamaica under its first Premier, Norman Manley, became a reality in this historic building.
Hibbert House has been neglected and maltreated by its occupants; its roof doesn’t keep the water out, gutters have been lost and not replaced, and air-conditioning units drip onto the walls. All these defects cause damp and timber decay, exacerbated by preventing ventilation so that the cool air is not lost. Any understanding of building physics is trumped by the demand for air conditioning, yet a little expenditure would sort out most of the building’s problems.
Next door is the former Coroner’s Court, most of which was burnt out in 2005. After 15 years it is still awaiting the essential first step towards its reuse – a structural survey of its reinforced concrete frame, which appears little damaged. The JNHT have occupied its undamaged wing and are supposed to be restoring the entire building for their own occupation. This would allow Hibbert House to be used as a multi-purpose venue like Devon House, including to display some of its treasure trove of artefacts and documents, presently has stacked in environmentally unsound conditions in its basement.