Places You'll Find in My Books: Georgetown

It's almost impossible to describe Georgetown adequately to someone who has never been there. How do you explain a Bottom House or a Demerara Window or an Outside Staircase or a Gallery? What about Purpleheart and Greenheart? These are all quite normal features of a traditional GT house, the kind of house that was common in the decades I spent growing up there, but which is becoming all too rare.

So this is a primer on Georgetown Architecture as well as street scenes as the characters in my books would have been familiar with in the last century.

To begin with: originally, almost all the houses were made of wood, and painted white. Because of the danger of flooding, they were built on stilts, or thick columns; the area "under the house" was known as the Bottom House. This is where you parked the car or hung up washing when it was raining, or where teenagers hung out or set up there table-tennis-tennis table or held their fetes.

Here is a typical old-fashioned Georgetown House with a Bottom House:

See those slanting windows at the side? Those are Demerara Windows. They keep out the sun while letting in the breeze; in the early days, people would place blocks of ice in the windows so that the breeze would be cooled before entering the house!

This is an example of a house that has everything: a Bottom House (enclosed at the front) as well as an outside staircase and a Gallery. The gallery is that front area with all the windows and louvres; a cool, light area where the breeze would filter through the walls! Families would sit here in the evenings and chat or play games or listen to music. The front stairs would be good place for teenagers to "lime" (hang out) and "gaff" (chat).

And here (below) is my own family home, the house that belonged to my grandmother and where we all lived for many years. It had a wonderful Bottom House where a child could get up to all sorts of adventures!

Most houses had a backyard; Georgetown homes were mostly built on large lots, and people would grow flowers, fruit and vegetables. Mango and genip and star-apple and golden-apple trees -- yum! Here's a backyard -- though it's a bit cheating, as this was a house in the country, not in Georgetown.

If you have read Of Marriageable Age you may have wondered what Saroj's house really looks like. Well, it looks just like this! This is a recent photo of the house my friend Margaret used to live in, at the corner of Camp and Church Streets. It has a Bottom House (concealed in the photo), which was built up because her father, a doctor, had it converted into a surgery. It does not have an outside staircase; instead, the stairs are enclosed in the square tower you see on the left. At the tip of the tower is the Widow's Walk where -- ahem -- things happened in the story. See the famous Widow's Walk? That's where -- ahem. No spoilers!

Margaret and I and other friends used to lime (hang out) a lot up there in the tower. The house is unfortunately very run down at the moment and needs a good coat of paint. But at least it's still standing, unlike many other of the most beautiful houses. And of course, in OMA the house was set in a beautiful garden, which is missing from the real-life model of the house.

Some more Georgetown houses:

Below, a very rare three-story house, spoilt by a fire-escape, but with a beautiful outside staircase with lots of space for liming! And the ubiquitous gallery.



In 1885, an Irishman, Mr. William Fogarty, visited Barbados for health reasons. After a while, he set up a business there, which did not do well. Sometime later, he came to British Guiana as it was then called. Seeing that this country had possibilities of doing business, he then ventured to Ireland and bought merchandise which he started selling using a donkey cart. At that time, he employed an old man to assist him in selling his goods.

Being a visionary and businessman with a flourishing business, he realized that it was time to get his own place to sell his merchandise. He purchased a brick building at 21 Water Street, Georgetown, and later at 20 Water Street, where he set up his Wholesale Department Store.In 1892, William Fogarty business started in the then British Guiana. By 1906, the business was a demanding and flourishing one, so he expanded and purchased the Philharmonic Hall, where the first retail store was housed.


And here's a slide show of Georgetown in the colonial days!

No photo album of Georgetown is complete without the Sea Wall:

And, because I love it, the slide show of Old Georgetown once again:

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