Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Pre-fabricated dream...

My body may be back in England now, but my mind is still in Barbados. The sights and sounds, the smiles, the heat, the smell of the fish markets, the blue and yellow buses and the incredible rich and varied landscape. Anything can happen around any corner in Barbados. It's full of surprises.

I came across this place high in the hills in St John's, above Bath Beach around Welchtown. It sat on its own just a little away from the dirt road surrounded by luscious hill vegetation. I couldn't tell if it was lived in or not, but compared to many of the chattel houses that seem to be everywhere on the island it's in pretty good condition. Mind you I have seen ones that look like a single gust of wind would blow them and their torn net curtains away, so dilapidated that nobody could possibly live in it, only to notice a satellite dish high above its patched leaking roof and an electricity meter outside.

Chattel houses, how I love the romance of them. Made from pre-cut planks and often painted in brightly coloured 'not quite' pastel pinks, greens, yellow and blues, they were designed to be packed up and moved to a new home whenever the need demanded. The buildings have no firm foundations, but are balanced on blocks of one kind or another. Coral stone or cinder block it doesn't seem to matter so long as the standing is firm and high enough to catch the cooling breeze.

As your family grew then so would your house adding a room at the front or back or building a veranda. A 'one roof house', 'one roof house and shed', 'two roof house and shed'; you see them lining the roads all over the island often with rusting tin roofs, although sometimes with wooden ones. Most have only a couple of rooms but some, like this one, are really quite big. No nails were used in the past and the wood simply slotted together. Nails would have been hard to remove quickly when you were told to get out by your landlord.

I imagine myself with my kerosene lamps listening to the tree frogs or the winds of an approaching Atlantic storm. I can see myself on my veranda drinking rum and eating souse and pudding. If I dream a bit harder I can even see myself painting pictures of the local sights in bright Caribbean colours. What a dream of a life it would be.

It's still possible to buy a chattel house if you can find a local wanting to sell one. They go from between thirty and fifty thousand pounds dependent on size and condition, how much land is involved, and where that land is. Beach front land can fetch millions. I guess you could call them the original pre-fab and I think we could all learn a lot from their simplicity of concept and compact design.

Maybe one day.


  1. Clare Pritchard
    You're definitely selling Barbados to me Andrew x

    Andrew Height
    The rum shacks are the thing.

    Clare Pritchard
    Don't encourage me even more!!!! grin emoticon x

    Andrew Height
    If you do decide to go let me know. I can give you some tips. Right up Dave's street I'd think. Although it is ho, hot, hot...

    Clare Pritchard
    Sounds good to me x smile emoticon

  2. Lorna Gleadell
    You should have one in your garden in Wales !!