Friday 19 July, 2019

Injunction granted against historic Castries prison demolition

On 9th September 2018, the Saint Lucia National Trust successfully petitioned the High Court to issue an Order to stop the demolition of the buildings and associated burial ground known as the Castries Prison, formerly the Royal Gaol, until further consideration of its application.

The Order instructs the contractor, Cyril Dornelly, the Ministry of Infrastructure, Ports, Energy and Labour and the Commissioner of Crown Lands, and their agents, employees, officers or servants, to cease any action contrary to this Order. The Development Control Authority is also listed as a respondent in this matter.

The Saint Lucia National Trust Act (No 6.02 of the revised Laws of Saint Lucia) mandates the organisation to list buildings, objects and monuments of prehistoric, historic and architectural interest and places of natural beauty, and to locate and promote the preservation of buildings and objects of archaeological architectural, historic, artistic or traditional interest. It is in pursuit of this aspect of its mandate that the Trust initiated legal proceedings to protect the Castries Prison.

The National Trust became aware through social media, of demolition works at the Royal Gaol on Thursday 6th September 2018. Upon visiting the site and monitoring the activities therein, the Trust was satisfied that demolition works were advanced, with the demolition of sections of the perimeter walls, entry gate, two masonry structures, main entry staircase to the Gaol and roofs.

Given that the Trust had not observed any official Government announcements, nor had it been engaged; and given that it appeared that the structures faced imminent destruction, the Trust was duty bound to seek immediate relief in the public interest.

The Trust considers the Royal Gaol a significant historic site by virtue of its age, architecture and uniqueness within the Saint Lucian context, The Royal Gaol is the oldest known standing structure in the Castries City Centre. A 1784 French plan for Castries shows two structures at the site of the Gaol in what appears to be an enclosure or wall. Another 18th century plan of Castries shows the “Geôle” located at the same site near the southern end of Rue D’Ennery (now known as Bridge St).

Under British colonial rule, between 1824 and 1827, the current main structure of the jail was constructed, apparently incorporating parts of the older French structures. According to the historian and Administrator, Henry H. Breen, writing in 1844, 1844, the Gaol was one of the most prominent buildings in Castries at the time and was considered one of the best in the West Indies. The prison was damaged by fire in 1997 and, after over 200 years of continuous use, ceased operations with the opening of the Bordelais Correctional Facility in 2003.

The Royal Gaol forms part of a collection of historic structures at Upper Bridge St. which date from no later than the 1890s. These include the one-level Police Offices, two-level Police Barracks Building (formerly Baron’s Asylum) and the two-level Old Telephone Exchange Building.

While cities grow and develop, buildings are replaced, expanded or reappointed to meet emerging needs. In pursuing these ends, city planning should embrace the architectural uniqueness and history of the place as a reminder of the past and inspiration for the future.

The National Trust wishes to promote development that is sensitive to and embracing of our Saint Lucian heritage. In the coming days we will pursue this matter further with the hope that technical assessments will be conducted, consultations will be held with heritage conservation organisations and opportunities to integrate the prison buildings into any plans to redevelop the site will be explored in good faith.

In the meantime, we expect that all involved will abide with the High Court’s Order.

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