Wednesday 30 May 2018

Street Smart Or, How History Changes Everything

Streets, Roads and Lanes, Alleys, Avenues and Boulevards: they surround us, frame our lives and echo memories of long time days. Their names, and the circumstances of their naming, delineate important chapters in our historical narrative. Like milestones, they mark our journey through time, while allowing us to understand the societal and cultural road travelled.
The early streets in Port-of-Spain are good examples of all the above. By the 1800s, largely because of the Spanish proclamation of the Cedula for Population of 1783, Port-of-Spain had changed from a fishing depot in a mangrove swamp to something of a little town of four or five hundred houses with a population of perhaps three thousand, one third of whom were French and Patois speakers.

Independence Square, formerly Marine Square, looking west. 
To the left is Broadway; the building on the corner became 
The Royal Bank of Canada; on the right is the foot of Frederick Street.

This was the case because in a population of about 29,254, of which there were some 5,275 who, as free citizens, were classified, under the Law, as Free Blacks and People of Colour.Of these, 2,925 spoke French, having come from Grenada, St. Lucia, Dominica, Martinique and Guadeloupe, with a few from as far away as Haiti, many fleeing the French Revolution of 1789. Others in that category numbered 1,751 mestizos who spoke Spanish; the majority of these may have been locals, but with the down the islands traffic, there may have been many from Down-the-Main as well. There was a small English-speaking cadre of Free Black and Coloured folk of about 599 persons. The European population in the 1800s stood as 2,361, with 1,093 French-speaking, 605, Spanish-speaking and 663 English speakers. There were over 20,000 enslaved Africans who, at first, were brought by force from the other islands by the above-mentioned Europeans and Free Black and mixed-race people, but increasingly came from Africa as the result of the establishment of a plantation economy here, in which French and Patois was the lingua franca.
The Red House was once two buildings, 
joined by an arch which led on to lower Prince Street, 
now named Sackville Street.

Spanish cultural dominance waned with the British conquest of Trinidad in 1797, and with the growing influence of the French and Patois speakers in Port-of-Spain in the 1800s, the street names of the town mirrored this social transition. For example, a street once known as Calle del Infanta by the Spanish became Rue des Trois Chandelles, called that by the French-speaking majority of the town because of the three candles which were lit at the gate of Lodge United Brothers, Les Frères Unis, on meeting nights. The Lodge was first established at the corner of Duncan and upper Prince Street in 1795. Duncan Street was named for a British Admiral, Adam Duncan, who defeated a Dutch fleet in 1797. For us, 221 years later, this may seem remote, even obscure, but as a piece of political propaganda, it was important to the English government in Trinidad, at the time of the Neopoleonic Wars, to send a message to the French citizens of the town of British Naval power. Same for Nelson Street, which was named for Admiral Horatio Nelson of the Battle of Trafalgar fame. That victory actually made Great Britain the ruler of the seas of the world for the next one hundred and fifty years or more. Nelson Street was known by the French and Patois speakers as Rue d’Eglise, because it led to the Catholic Cathedral on the Plaza del Marina, having been named Calle Príncipe by the earlier Spanish inhabitants because it was the main street of the town. George Street was named for King George III by the English, but had been called Calle de San José by the Spanish, and Rue de la Place by the French speakers because the Central Market was situated on that street. The Town’s Spanish street names were the first to be forgotten because of regime change and because hardly any Spanish speakers remained in the town, but the use of French names, although entirely colloquial, would linger into the early 20th century because of the quantity of French and Patois-speaking people living there. They would be eventually be replaced by the official English names. Seeing street names as a historical narrative, one can understand how Trinidad is a product of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars.
The residence of the Warners, later the Queen’s Park Hotel, 
and today the BP building.

Some streets were named in the search for common ground between the local political interest of those times, which tended to divide the population between Catholics—the French and Spanish-speaking inhabitants of all backgrounds, who were in majority—and the British Protestants, also of various backgrounds, who were in the minority, but were represented by the colonial power. An example of that is St. Vincent Street, which was named after St. Vincent de Paul. He was a French Roman Catholic priest who dedicated himself to serving the poor. St. Vincent is venerated as a saint in the Catholic Church as well as by the Anglican Communion. This was one of the relatively newer streets, running north to south and leading to the St. Vincent Wharf, Customs House, Signal Station and grass market. In so naming it, everyone was pleased.
The original Royal Bank of Canada building.

Knox Street, which runs from Frederick Street to St. Vincent Street, was named after Chief Justice William George Knox, and Hart Street, on the other side of Woodford Square, was named for Daniel Hart. Hart was, during a long career as a Public Servant, Superintendent of Prisons, Inspector of Police, Governor of the Royal Jail, Chief Sanitary Inspector for the Board of Health, and Special Magistrate under the Slavery Abolition Act, 1833, which abolished slavery throughout the British Empire. 
Frederick Street looking south from just below Hart Street.

Charlotte Street was originally named Calle de Santa Ana because it led to the Saint Ann river. It was called by the French settlers in the area Sainte Anne. Many of them had arrived in Trinidad from the Bay of Sainte Anne in Martinique. The British, for political reasons, called it Charlotte Street after the wife of George III, Princess Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz.
Port-of-Spain from the Harbourmaster’s tower, now gone. 
It shows the area reclaimed from the foot of St. Vincent going west, 
where the Twin Towers are now. At right is the 
St. Vincent wharf before it was reclaimed from the sea. 
The building on the corner is the Alston’s building, now ANSA McAL.

In much the same manner Henry Street got its name. Called Calle Herrera by the Spanish authorities in memory of a Chief of Police by that name, it was referred to by the French people of the town as Rue Neuve, meaning New Street. Henry Street came about because that was the name of Prince Henry of England.
Calle de San Carlos, named after King Charles II of Spain, was rechristened Rue des Anglais, Street of the English, by the French citizens of the town—a tongue-in-cheek, or picoung, in memory of how the English sailors had fled when attacked by French republican insurgents during the last days of Spanish rule. The British named it Frederick Street, after Frederick, the Prince of Wales.
Calle de Chacon was named for Governor Chacon, who diverted the course of the Saint Ann river into the Dry River, thus creating Chacon Street. This street was not called by any other name.
The streets that run from east to west in Port-of-Spain echoed, or reinforced, the names of the British King, Queen and Princes that were given to the north-south streets. These are Plaza del Marina, so named by the Spaniards because it bordered the sea. The early English colonists, putting the imperial stamp on the island, renamed it King Street, then Marine Square, and today it is Independence Square. Queen Street was called by the Spanish Calle de San Luis, Prince Street was called Calle Santa Rosa, and Duke Street Calle del Astuvias.
St. Vincent Wharf
Woodford Square was once Brunswick Square, named for the Dukes of Brunswick, allies and relatives of the British Crown. With the First World War and Germany the enemy, it was renamed for Governor Sir Ralph Woodford—the Germans were no longer our friends. However, before that it was described in old city plans as Plaza Projectada, because the Saint Ann’s river once ran through it. It was a marshy, somewhat unhealthy place, and there were plans to drain it. It was also known as Place des Armes, place of weapons, or Place des Ames, place of souls. This, because of a legend that in days gone by, before the Spaniards arrived, tribal worriors, Caribs perhaps, would gather there to fight each other as a demonstration and test of their manhood.
The corner of Chacon Street and Marine Square (today Independence Square,) 
looking north towards Trinity Cathedral.

Abercromby Street was so named in memory of Sir Ralph Abercromby, soldier and administrator, noted for his services during the Napoleonic Wars. In 1796, Grenada, that had been overrun by French republican forces under the command of Julian Fedon, was suddenly attacked and taken by a detachment of the army under his orders. Afterwards, Abercromby secured possession of the settlements of Demerara and Essequibo in South America, and the islands of Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and Trinidad. He landed his troops in Trinidad at Invaders Bay, close to present-day Movie Towne, and within days the island fell to the British after almost three hundred years of Spanish rule. 
The Transfer Station on the corner of Park Street and Frederick Street. 
This was where you transferred from one tram to another.

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1 comment:

KerinaM said...

An enlightening excerpt for researchers as it informs us about the evolution of streets, and roads names throughout the years while also discussing the history of the city. The content of this page is important to our Caribbean history as it allows us to understand our heritage and culture.

On reading the post, I was very captivated and engaged in learning about the history of Trinidad as I pass these streets regularly. Understanding the background of the street names like Abercromby Street and Woodford Square once called Brunswick Square, made me appreciate my heritage even more. This site helped me to rethink my culture and identity and I feel privileged in learning about my heritage. The information was very detailed, well laid out with supporting images and the page was very easy to navigate.