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Notes on the Geography of Guyana: Guyana: Central Georgetown

About a mile upstream from the mouth of the Demerara, the Dutch West Indies Company in 1782 established a settlement named for the president of the company, Nicholaas Gellvinck, Lord of Stabroek. That's the name of the city's oldest ward today, a rectangle now measuring two blocks along the water and a dozen inland. Stabroek is still the busiest part of town.

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We're at the water's edge with fish to prove it.

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Here's the inland side. This version of the market, replacing an older one, was completed in 1881 by Daniel McKay of the Edgemoor Iron Company of Delaware. No Brits here: the company specialized in bridges and among other projects handled the superstructure of the Brooklyn Bridge.

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Best not to rely on the clock.

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Small sit-down restaurants line one wall.

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Casual dining, Guyana-style.

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Sunday morning. The clock is still wrong.

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Step back from the market. Croal Street approaches an intensely congested transport hub. An odd name? Maybe: John Croal was the first mayor of Georgetown.

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Forget buses; they used to exist (so did a railroad), but minibuses have replaced them and are hard to dislodge, mainly because fleets of them are owned by people with clout. And, yes, American fast-food franchises have arrived. The most popular is Church's Chicken. There are three in town and seven more elsewhere in Guyana.

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A food cart supports the reelection of David Granger, the ex-military officer who became president of Guyana in 2015 and was running for re-election in 2020. The building on the left?

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It's the famous ice-house, or DEMICO, as in Demarara Ice Company, which did in fact sell Canadian ice, along with liquor. There was a hotel upstairs. Roy Heath, in his memoir Shadows Round the Moon, recalls "a notorious drinking place opposite Stabroek market, where the reek of stale rum engulfed its clients in a thick, invisible haze" (p. 172). Not on Sunday morning, at least.

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The grander building is the Public Buildings, now the Parliament Building, designed by Joseph Hadfield and completed in 1834. It's probablly no big surprise that it rests on a foundation of logs, but it might come as a small shock to learn that the building itself is made of wood and is only stuccoed to resemble stone. Photos from the 1960s show the walls and dome in white, with the columns and balconies in a dark color, perhaps the same brown surviving on the balconies.

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Not bad for fakery.

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Two main streets run parallel to the river. This is Water Street, closest to the... well, water. You're not blown away now, are you? (It's still early Sunday.)

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A block inland is Main or High Street, now called Avenue of the Republic. The mid-street drain is a common feature, though some in town have been filled. That's a courthouse on the right.

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Hunt and you can find venerable canal bridges, in this case on Brickdam, a block south of Croal.

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British Guiana's motto roughly meant "We give and expect in return." What they expected is not stated. Fair treatment from London, as defined by plantation owners?

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Speaking of this court house, James Rodway wrote about 1900: "The style of architecture is peculiar and seems hardly suitable for Courts of Justice, but otherwise it is convenient and airy. The late Father Scoles, well-known as a good architect, said it was much in the style of the timber-framed buildings of the time of Queen Elizabeth; it struck, as far as this colony was concerned, a new and truthful line; it suggested the right and honest application of timber" (The Story of Georgetown, p. 61).

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Nicholas Guppy, visiting in the late 1940s, called the courthouse "an enormous rambling concrete and half-timbered Swiss chalet."

See Guppy's A Young Man's Journey, 1973.

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Guppy noticed as well the "dumpy" statue of Queen Victoria. Perhaps she had already lost her hand.

Guppy himself (1925-2012), a native of Trinidad, did some serious exploration of British Guiana's forests and went on to found the organization known today as Survival International.

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In front of the City Engineering Department is a kiosk reading: "In memory of William Russell, a native of Elgin, Scotland and in recognition of his public services the inhabitants of British Guiana have erected this fountain. Born 15 March 1827, died 28 March 1888" According to Grace's Guide, Russell was known as the "sugar king" for the helpful advice he gave planters.

See https://www.gracesguide.co.uk/William_Russell

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The beard seems better suited to Scotland than the lowland tropics. Georgetown sits at six degrees north, and it is said that the temperature once fell all the way down to 66 degrees Fahrenheit.

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Guppy calls the city hall "a weatherboard and cast-iron Rhenish castle." The designer was the same Ignatius Scoles who called the law courts Elizabethan.

Scoles was also a Catholic priest and author of the sympathetic but deeply condescending Sketches of African and Indian life in British Guiana, 1885.

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Some restoration work has been done, but more remains.

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And here's the city's official pride, St. George's Anglican cathedral, from 1892. Guppy calls it "the world's tallest, biggest and perhaps ugliest wooden building..." Rodway almost agrees and says "it is generally admitted that this is ugly, and it is certainly not water-proof" (The Story of Georgetown, p. 70).

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Maintenance work was continuing in 2020. Rodway has a photograph showing a reticulated network of dark-colored half-timbering.

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The interior is arresting.

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The architect, Arthur Blomfield, never visited British Guiana and only reluctantly agreed to build with wood.

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The columns and braces, however, are cast iron.

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Across from the parliament building there's an older church, St. Andrews presbyterian, which opened in 1818. Closed during the week, it was open this Sunday morning.

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Half an hour before the service.

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The minister tests the sound system.

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The pipe organ wasn't operable, but the electronic instrument was good enough to fool me.

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The church is famous for having early on allowed Africans to worship, albeit upstairs.

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Too bad the drummers weren't playing.

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On the wall.

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Younger still, by far.

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Near St. George's, the town has a Carnegie Library, designed by the assistant director of public works, Leonard Percival Hodge (1864-1941).

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Interior.

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Among the city's oldest commercial buildings is this, the Guyana and Trinidad Fire and Life Insurance Company, founded in 1880; this building is from the 1890s.

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Even older: here's the Hand in Hand Mutual Fire Insuance Company, established in 1865. This, the head office, is from the 1870s.



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