St. Nicholas Abbey: Jacobean Great House of St. Peter Parish, Barbados

by DerdriuMarriner

St. Nicholas Abbey hosts archaeological digs, café menus, gift preserves and rums, Jacobean great house tours, and moonlit dinners at St. Peter, Barbados.

St. Nicholas Abbey memorializes Benjamin Berringer’s seventeenth-century plantation

The St. Nicholas Abbey Great House in the northernmost Barbados parish of St. Peter accounts for one of three unique examples of Jacobean architecture in the Western Hemisphere. It therefore belongs on exclusive lists with:

• Bacon’s Castle, Surry County, tidewater Virginia, United States of America;
• Drax Hall Estate, St. George parish, central Barbados.

Like Drax Hall, it continues roles as:

• private residence for owner-occupants, albeit year-round, not once yearly;
• sugar cane plantation, albeit for 225 (91.05) of 400 acres (161.87 hectares) and with trucking 8 miles (12.88 kilometers) to Barbados Agricultural Management Corporations’ Portvale sugar processing factory since 1947.

Like Bacon’s Castle, it depends upon:

• community, educational, holiday, private, special, and tour events;
• on-site gift shop sales.

St. Nicholas Abbey grounds: repurposing an old sugar cane evaporating pan as large plant pot for garden décor

Saint Peter Parish, northern Barbados
Saint Peter Parish, northern Barbados

St. Nicholas Abbey nurtures antiques, appetizers, artifacts, attractions

 

The year 1658 emerges as the construction date for the Jacobean great house built by Lieutenant Colonel Benjamin Berringer (died January 1661). Carved woodwork, casement windows, chimney stacks, curved gables, and pitched roof furnish evidence of the Berringer Plantation’s Jacobean architecture -- in honor of King James (June 19, 1566 – March 27, 1625), I of England and Ireland, VI of Scotland -- and sugar cane successes. Socio-economic resilience and solid architecture indeed guide the seventeenth-century landholding and landmark through tragedies and triumphs under five sets of owners and three changes in name:

  • Yeamans Plantation, after Margaret Foster Berringer’s second marriage to John Yeamans (died 1674);
  • Nicholas Plantation, through Benjamin’s granddaughter Susannah Berringer’s and grandson-in-law George Nicholas’ owner-occupancy. 

 

St. Nicholas Abbey: the old Boiling House complex comprising steam mill, syrup plant, and distillery

Peering above complex (right) is abandoned windmill, providing power for crushing cane before conversion ca. 1890 to steam power, with towering steam chimney (left).
Saint Peter Parish, northern Barbados
Saint Peter Parish, northern Barbados

St. Nicholas Abbey offers distillery, garden, house tours

 

Barbados has powerful competition in producing an introduced cash crop, sugar cane, whose status straddles luxury item and mass consumption statuses. Vulnerability to regional and world events and markets is one reason why St. Nicholas Abbey lacks original owner-occupancy in the twenty-first century, what with:

  • Joseph Dottin’s purchase, as dowry for daughter Christian’s (died 1782) marriage to Sir John Gay Alleyne (died 1801);
  • Edward Cumberbatch’s and Lawrence Trent Cumberbatch’s purchase for £20,500 in back taxes through Bridgetown’s Chancery Court, as inheritance for sister Sarah and brother-in-law Charles Cave (died 1887);
  • Larry and Anna Warren’s purchase in 2006 from Charles’ and Sarah’s great-great-great-grandnephew James Joseph Petri.

Each owner nevertheless keeps the property authentic and intact while individualizing changes. 

 

St Nicholas Abbey front elevation

Saint Peter Parish, northern Barbados
Saint Peter Parish, northern Barbados

St. Nicholas Abbey provides catered events, on-site lunches

 

Family and local histories leave credit with:

  • Christian and John for Chippendale staircase, mahogany tree-lined Cherry Tree Hill, sash windows, triple-arcaded portico;
  • Sarah for memorializing her Bristol hometown in St. Nicholas Parish and marriage in Bath Abbey;
  • Larry and Anna for antiques, digs, events, restorations.

All contributions make sustainable on-site:

  • avocado, breadfruit, citrus, mango, sabal-palm, sandbox, silk-cotton groves;
  • biscuits, cakes, cheeses, chutneys, jams, jellies, marmalades, rums, sauces, sugars;
  • boiling-house, bottling-house, distillery, mills, stables;
  • candlesticks, Coalport china, grandfather clock, Minton bone-china, sailor’s valentines, Sheraton sideboard, Wedgewood pottery;
  • herb (aloe-vera, bay-leaf, chives, garlic, lemongrass, peppers), formal (hibiscus, orchid, rose) gardens;
  • 1930s-made home movies.

Cockatoos, dinners, films, green monkeys, lunches, and tours nurture unforgettable immersions into Barbados’ past and present. 

 

view of mid-17th century windmill which powered cane crushing at St. Nicholas Abbey until replacement by steam mill, ca. 1890

In addition to steam mill, plantation's Boiling House complex includes syrup plant as well as distillery, which was established by Sir John Gay Alleyne (1724-1801) after acquiring St. Nicholas via marriage in 1746.
Saint Peter Parish, northern Barbados
Saint Peter Parish, northern Barbados

Acknowledgment

 

My special thanks to:

  • Talented artists and photographers/concerned organizations who make their fine images available on the Internet;
  • Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University for superior on-campus and on-line resources.

 

Included in tourists' complimentary feedback about St. Nicholas Abbey tours is appreciation of the Warren family's orange tabby, whose friendliness is encountered inside as well as on the Terrace Café.

Saint Peter Parish, northern Barbados
Saint Peter Parish, northern Barbados

Sources Consulted

 

Connors, Michael. 2009. Caribbean Houses: History, Style, and Architecture. New York NY: Rizzoli.

Gragg, Larry Dale. 2003. Englishmen Transplanted: The English Colonization of Barbados, 1627-1660. Oxford UK; New York NY: Oxford University Press. 

“St. Nicholas Abbey.” Barbados Beaches Plus.com > Plantation or Great Houses > St. Peter. Retrieved August 2015.

  • Available @ http://www.barbados-beaches-plus.com/st-nicholas-abbey.html 

“St. Nicholas Abbey.” Barbados.org > Things To Do > Attractions & Sightseeing > Historic Places. Retrieved August 2015.

  • Available @ http://barbados.org/nicabbey.htm#.Vc35LyiWE5Q 

“St. Nicholas Abbey.” Barbados Pocket Guide > Attractions > Attractions by Parish/Location > St. Peter. Retrieved August 2015.

  • Available @ http://www.barbadospocketguide.com/barbados-attractions/attractions-by-parish-location/st-peter/st-nicholas-abbey.html 

“St. Nicholas Abbey.” St. Nicholas Abbey.com. Retrieved August 2015.

  • Available @ http://stnicholasabbey.com/ 

“St. Nicholas Abbey.” Totally Barbados.com > Travel > Sightseeing > Tourist Attractions. Retrieved August 2015.

  • Available @ http://www.totallybarbados.com/barbados/Travel/Sightseeing/Tourist_Attractions/St_Nicholas_Abbey/ 

“St. Nicholas Abbey – Meet Barbados’ Heritage.” The Holiday Place > Destinations > Caribbean and Costa Rica > Barbados > What to Do > Excursions and Attractions. Retrieved August 2015.

  • Available @ http://holidayplace.co.uk/holiday/caribbean-and-costa-rica/barbados/what-to-do/262/st-nicholas-abbey-meet-barbados-heritage  

"The Sugar Barons." Matthew Parker.com. Retrieved August 2015.

  • Available @ http://www.matthewparker.co.uk/the-sugar-barons/index.html   

Webber, Mabel L. (Compiler). October 1924. “Berringer Notes.” The South Carolina Historical and Genealogical Magazine 25(4):173-178. Retrieved August 2015.

  • Available @ http://www.jstor.org/stable/27569640?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents   

 

southeastern view of Barbados' Atlantic coast from Cherry Tree Hill: spectacular scenery at elevation of 850 feet (259 meters) with avenue of mahogany trees (Swietenia mahagoni) attributed to St. Nicholas owner Sir John Gay Alleyne (1724-1801) ~

As part of St. Nicholas Abbey, Cherry Tree Hill borders both Saint Peter Parish and its southeastern neighbor, Saint Andrew Parish.
Saint Andrew Parish, northeastern Barbados
Saint Andrew Parish, northeastern Barbados
the end which is also the beginning
the end which is also the beginning

Barbados 5 Cent "Lighthouse" Two Tone Coin Cut Out Pendant with 18" Chain and Rope Bezel by J&J Coin Jewelry~ Available now via Amazon

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Barbados themed jewelry

St. Nicholas Abbey Sugar Mill, St. Peter Parish, Barbados by Greg Johnston: Available as Photographic Print and Premium Photographic Print ~ Available now via AllPosters

St. Nicholas Abbey Sugar Mill, St. Peter Parish, Barbados, Caribbean

Caribbean Houses: History, Style, and Architecture by Michael Connors ~ Available now via Amazon

West Indian decorative arts scholar Michael Connors examines European heritages of vibrant Caribbean islands (Spanish Antilles, the Dutch Leewards, the English Islands, the French Lesser Antilles, and the Danish Virgin Islands).
St. Nicholas Abbey featured

Me and my purrfectly purrfect Maine coon kittycat, Augusta "Gusty" Sunshine

Gusty and I thank you for reading this article and hope that our product selection interests you; Gusty Gus receives favorite treats from my commissions.
DerdriuMarriner, All Rights Reserved
DerdriuMarriner, All Rights Reserved
Updated: 08/21/2015, DerdriuMarriner
 
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DerdriuMarriner on 08/28/2015

Mira, Couples can make some unexpected choices in regard to their theme dance and song as well as in terms of names. So at first glance, I can find the family birthplace and marriage site persuasive. But on reflection, I understand why you find the explanation plausible but unconvincing.
Perhaps some intrepid reporter will ask Benedict sometime if he knows why the Abbey is so-called despite having no known cloistered association ;-]!

Mira on 08/22/2015

I did wonder whether Benedict Cumberbatch was related to them :)
The story about how Abbey came to be incorporated in the name of this house is plausible but not convincing. But not knowing much about this house and the topic, I don't have other hypotheses. I wish I did though. It's a curious thing.

DerdriuMarriner on 08/22/2015

blackspanielgallery, One of the draws of Drax Hall Estate is that its exteriors and interiors are far less visited than Bacon's Castle and St. Nicholas Abbey. So there's the persuasive attraction of feeling super-special and of sharing in a mystery for those who get to view it during Barbados National Trust's Open House Programme, January through March.

DerdriuMarriner on 08/22/2015

Mira, Drax Hall isn't open to the public other than when it's its turn to be included on the Barbados National Trust's Open House Programme. So it's difficult to compare with Bacon's Castle and St. Nicholas Abbey, whose exteriors and interiors are open to the public.
St. Nicholas is authentically and beautifully furnished whereas Bacon's Castle remains sparsely so.
But all are beautiful in their own right.
The story that sounds most convincing to me is the Cumberbatch family (ancestors of Sherlock Holmes-interpreting actor Benedict ;-]!) suggestion of Sarah Cumberbatch honoring the family home in St. Nicholas Parish, Bristol, England and the place of her marriage, Bath Abbey, to Charles Cave (of super-successful banking fame).

Mira on 08/22/2015

It's such a beautiful house! At least from the outside. I love it. Any idea why it's called "abbey"?

blackspanielgallery on 08/21/2015

I enjoy old things, so I would enjoy touring such a place.

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