“Classical, or as it sometimes called, ‘polite’ architecture is architect-designed and builder-built, as opposed to the vernacular, which is the instinctive architecture of craftsment and peasants,” wrote John Newel Lewis, H.B.M., in his authoritative book on Trinidad architecture, ‘Ajoupa’.
“A classical building is one whose decorative elements derive from the architectural vocabulary of the ancient world,” commented John Summerson in his ‘Classical Language of Architecture’.
The sense of authority and dignity which the classical orders inspire makes it a suitable language for official buildings. The Red House, for example, uses the Corinthian order in columns and half-columns. The General Hospital employs the Doric and Ionic orders. The Tuscan order is also used quite often, for example in the Old Railway Station (now City Gate). Trestrail’s on Broadway in Port-of-Spain has Corinthian elements, in fact it is surprising how many of these classical elements can be found on buildings in our capital.
Classical forms also lent its weight to the Georgian style. This style is a peculiarly English phenomenon, named for the Hannoverian Kings of England George I, II, III and iV. The Police Barracks in St. James, built in 1827, is an example of Georgian architecture. The Commissioner’s house in front of the St. James Barracks is also Georgian, and the sense of architectural harmony and order is unusually strong in this official residence.
These buildings, perhaps the oldest government buildings still in use in Trinidad, were originally commissioned in 1819. When at the request of His Excellency Lord Combermen K.C.B., Governor of Barbados and Commander-in-Chief of His Majesty’s forces in the Windward and Leeward Caribbean Islands, and His Excellency Sir Ralph Woodford, Governor and Commander-in-Chief of Trinidad, purchased land for the establishment of a Barrack. The land selected comprised about 143 acres and was situated in St. James. The cost of the land was £3,133. The foundation stone for the Barrack was laid 13th May, 1824, as can be seen on the northeast corner of the south block and underneath the staff officers’ quarters. The building was completed in June 1827 at a cost of £80,000, and it was estimated to accommodate 400 men.
Yellow fever and other tropical diseases seriously affected European troops stationed in St. James. The 59th Regiment of foot had to be removed from the barracks and set up camp in the Savannah ih 1838. Other British regiments to be stationed at St. James were the York and the Lancaster Regiments. These were eventually posted to Jamaica in 1889.
Because of the depredations caused by the tropical fevers, local volunteer corps were developed from an early date.
The first regular (not volunteer) unit of soldiers in Trinidad was left under the command of Sir Thomas Picton, who had a garrison of 1047 men, within which were Colonel De Soter’s black corps, the first regular Trinidad military unit, which numbered 47 men. This corps eventually became known as the Trinidad Rangers.
Fort Picton, which is located on Laventille Hill and also known as St. David’s Tower (named after the patron saint of Wales, Governor Picton being a Welshman). The troops based in St. David’s Tower actually wore St. David’s star as part of their uniform to help identify which unit of volunteers they belonged to. This is the origin of the sixpointed star which was eventually adopted by many of the volunteer units and is used by both the Police and the Regiment to this day.
In 1889, St. James Barracks was handed over to the Trinidad Government. This was with the understanding that, should the British Army ever wish to return, they should have it.
In 1890, a decision was taken whereby a body of police were to be trained in the proper use of arms at St. James to provide protection for the colony. As a result of this, St. James Barracks became a training school for the police.
By 1898, the Trinidad Rifle Volunteers of artillery was formed. It comprised nine companies of infantry, with four in Port-of-Spain and one each in San Fernando, Arima, Princes Town, Couva and Tunapuna. By 1902, its strength was six troops of cavalry, a battery of artillery and six companies infantry, headquartered in Port-of-Spain at the St. James Barracks.
The mounted branch was further enhanced in 1906, when 42 men were transferred to St. James, where they were trained. By 1914, a bicycle company and a motor cycle platoon came into existence. Volunteers had to supply their own vehicles.
The Barracks at St. James has produced many very remarkable men and women officers, who have distinguished themselves both locally and in the world at large. One of them began his military career as a member of the Trinidad Light Infantry Volunteer Motor Cycle platoon. This Trinidadian became one of the highest ranking offiers of the Royal Air Force: Air Vice Marshall Claude Vincent C.B., C.B.E., D.F.C., A.F.C., Silver Star Serbia.