St. James, Woodbrook, Corbeaux Town
In the 1800s, Port of Spain was surrounded by sugar estates. As a matter of interest, when General Picton landed, his more than 6,000 troops came ashore just east of the Maraval river delta, just off the foreshore opposite to where the Jean Pierre Stadium is now. In those days, the area belonged to a large sugar estate called ‘Peru’, owned by the Devenish family, Irish catholics who had taken advantage of the Cedula of Population of 1783. This sugar plantation yielded a large rum punch party on that occasion. The soldiers, upon landing, found a quantity of rum an of course lots of sugar. So St. James, because that is what most of Peru became later on, had its first lime...
Before that name change, Peru lands thrived as a sugar plantation that survived the emancipation upheavals and functioned during the first decades of the Indian indentureship period. In the closing decades of the 19th century, it was developed increasingly as a housing estate. It attracted a quantity of new residents, but retained a lot of the original Indian families, Hindus, Shiite Muslims and Tamils. The streets were named by the colonial administration of the day in memory of the British establishment in India, recalling their conquest of that vast subcontinent. Lucknow after the relief of that city from the mutineers, Delhi and many other cities, states and principalities are commemorated in memory of the British Raj.
Nearby Woodbrook estate was also a big sugar plantation. This was owned by Henry Murray, after whom a street in Woodbrook is named. It comprised 367 acres, extending from Lapeyrouse cemetery to St. James Bridge. By 1838, it had passed on to William Burnley, Trinidad’s first millionaire. When in 1899 Wm. Burnley & Co. of Glasgow, Scotland, went into liquidation, the estate was bought by the Siegert family for £50,000. By then, sugarcane was no longer being cultivated, and almost 70 acres were occupied by tenants.
Olga Mavrogordato records in her book ‘Voices of the Street’ that the masters of the ward schools were trained by a Mr. Sugars at the former estate manager’s house where the fire station is situated today. This house was also occupied by Mr. G. Bayack, who was manager of the estate during the period of both Burnley and the Siegerts. Colville Street was the eastern boundary. From Wrightson Road to Tragarete Road, from French Street to Colville Street stretch streets named for the British generals of the Boer wars, British colonial wars in which several hundred Trinidadians and Tobagonians served and gave their lives, particularly in Africa. To an older generation, the names Kitchener, Roberts, Colville, Buller and Gatacre, to name just a few, would be meaningful in the context of Empire days.
The Siegerts were entrepreneurial in temperament. Apart from planning to build a railway from Port of Spain to Chaguaramas, they also saw the viability in the development of housing estates. The street names of Woodbrook remember this clan of German Venezuelans, who also gave the world the famous Angostura Bitters. The streetsnames, given after members of their family Anna, Rosalino, Alfredo, Luis, Carlos and Petra, colour the memories of thousands of people of sunlit afternoons, the sky washed a clear blue all the way to Venezuela...
As a matter of interest, Siegert Square, opposite to St. Crispin’s church, was where the old sugar factory was. The first cinema in Trinidad was the London Electric on French Street. It later became the Astor theatre. The first children’s playground was also situated in Woodbrook. With its schools and churches of various denominations, its Carnival bands, children’s homes, pan yards, places of entertainment and recreation, Woodbrook is a microcosm of all that is splendid in our country.
Corbeaux were brought to this island by the Spanish colonists for reasons of public hygiene. The stately birds also gave their name to a very fashionable neighbourhood at the turn of the 20th century.
Corbeaux Town had its origins in a fishing village and boatbuilding site from as early as the 1840s and comprised Charles, Sackville, London, Ajax and Richmond Streets. Located on lands of Melville was a sugar factory.
In the 1900s, the Corbeaux Town jetty was ooposite Charles Street. This was where the Venezuelans landed their cattle in the water and walked them ashore. Opposite to London Street was the fish market. Young fellows kept their pirogues there. Many were for rent and it was popular to take young ladies out rowing or fishing in the Gulf after work on an evening, so as to see the sunset.
“Such was the simple and wholesome pleasures of the day and all lived happily.”