A SHORT HISTORY OF VICTORIA VILLAGE –  By Joseph Barlow Snr.

A SHORT HISTORY OF VICTORIA VILLAGE –  By Joseph Barlow Snr.

With the advent of the 2016 INDABA I decided to offer the wider community a bit of the history of this colourful hamlet named Victoria Village.

Victoria Village, originally Pln. Northbrook lies some eighteen miles East of the capital city Georgetown. As far as records go it was owned by the Scottish family, The Baillie’s who also owned Pln. Dochfour. There still remains, a few miles into the farm lands, an area known as Baillie’s Polder which is famous for its yams.

Latterly, the mulatto, Hugh Rogers became the owner and on his death his executors sold the abandoned cotton estate to 63 manumitted Africans who hailed from neighboring estates of Ann’s Grove, Dochfour, Hope, Enmore and Paradise. The date of the purchase was Thursday, November 7th, 1839. In the year, 2013 November 7th was a Thursday and in the following years of the first half of this century, Thursday November 7th will occur 5 more times: 2019, 2024, 2030, 2041 and 2047.  

A Book published in the 19th century and owned by the late Bertie Prince indicated that what we came and met as the Company Trench was actually the first creek [river] on the East Demerara Sea Coast and its name was North Brook . Plantation North brook was named after same. It had become shallow as some creeks do and was used a high- level trench to blow the outfall channels for drainage. If you trace it some 5 miles south from the sea dam you’ll find sea shells.

The layout of the Village presents you with certain defining lines and boundaries . Section A is bounded by the Sea Dam and the Northern side of the first Alley on the Southern side of the Public Road. Lot 1 section A is the first lot on the Northern Side of the Public Road on entering the Village from Craig Milne. Section B commences at the Southern side of the first Alley and the trench familiarly called The Burial Ground Trench. Lot 1 B starts at that trench, goes all the way down to lot 216, turns around and returns to the first Alley at lot 413. All lots in Section B run from Side line to Middle Walk. Section C takes up from the turn of B and continues South as does D, E and F as you head deeper into the farm lands.

The Village recorded its first homicide in 1919 when Louis Thomas aka Mocka Louwee killed Bengie Blair aka cattle, the village strong man. Bengie was the father of Felix Blair aka Daddy Blair and in a sad twist of the eternal triangle he was the rival of Mocka, a teenager. In the second alley, south of the Public Road that runs from the East Side Line to the Middle Walk Road, there was a permanent Merry-go-Round [ trangway ] called the Ellicock Trangway and after leaving there one Saturday night , Mocka followed Bengie and bashed in his skull with a railway line fish- plate. As fate would have it, the second homicide was Bengie’s nephew, Kaiser Blair in 1955 at a Parish Tea dance at St Andrews Anglican School , Cove & John.

History, being mischievous as it is, loves to repeat itself but loathes reinventing and correct itself. It holds on to the number 83 proprietors but dispatches to London by Governor Henry Light say 63 with the 63 names mentioned. The survey plan shows 86. The Tablet with purchasers’ names once housed at the Wilberforce Congregational Church had a different number .One is apt to accept any of the numbers proffered depending on one’s source of research. In attempting to reconcile these figures some are of the view that the smaller number was interjected because it was prohibitive for more than a certain number of ex slaves to coalesce in buying the abandoned plantations. On the contrary, history shows that this Ordinance did not come about until a decade after the purchase of Northbrook, circa 1849.

The new plantation owners in their petition to his Excellency and their sworn allegiance to her gracious Majesty, the young Queen Victoria, asked for a survey of the plantation – a partitioning as it were —“to prevent anything like the possibility of dispute among us.” This request was granted some 14 years later [1853] by the presence of Matthew M. Newlands, sworn Land Surveyor. Between the purchase and the survey 14 years later, there is documented, gazetted proof of shareholders selling ‘undivided’ parts or shares of their holdings to others. This is the most reasonable cause for the difference in figures : 63 to 83 to 86.

A plan, No. 414 of 1853 and deposited in the Deeds Registry shows the partitions of the newly owned plantation with 86 persons and their allotments in Sections A, B.C,D ,E and F. Because in that survey it took 5 beds to make a lot in Section B, another survey was commissioned in 1909 by the elders who by this time acquired Village status and the plantation renamed Victoria Village from Plantation Victoria. This survey was done by Sworn Land Surveyor, J. Seymour. The idea behind this survey was to garner additional rates and taxes. So instead of 86 section B lots they now had 413 with some areas remaining property of the Village. To get an accurate picture of what transpired, lot 1 in the 1853 survey entailed from the Burial Ground Trench to the Nazarene Church , in the 1909 survey this was divided into 5 lots. What is important about that survey is that each new Section B lot carried its dimension, quite unlike the survey of 1853.

Still remaining is the first village office then called the Toll house and not too distant south is an even older structure which should be of interest to the National Trust. It is the Strawnight or Christian Brethren Church. This building predates the British occupation of the colonies of Demerara and Essequibo in 1815. In the days of Dutch occupation it was used a resting place for the slaves; with occupation of the British it became a cotton bond as Northbrook was a cotton plantation. The Plymouth Brethren purchased the building and converted it to a church (circa) 1842 .When the survey of 1853 was done the elders of the plantation gave the Chappell as it was then called, 3 lots: 45,46 and 47 for its use. Originally the Chappell stood on 46 running North to South but in the middle of the last century it was turned around –running East to West as is the tradition of most Christian churches. It is now in need of dire repairs and because of its historical significance it should not be allowed to collapse. It is a SHAME and DISGRACE that the Georgetown Elders of the Christian Brethren are allowing this building to fall when concerned villagers volunteered their free help and sought the help of the National Trust.

Also of historical significance is the Wilberforce Congregational Church the original of which, built in 1845, was alluded to by the new proprietors of Northbrook in their petition to the Governor as “a new building where they will keep the Sabbath and teach their children to read and write.” The promise was kept and the first head master was William Africa Baptiste ; the last, John Lucy Griffith a dapper little man of just over 5 feet who could rival Prophet Wills in his language skills. The old structure, ravaged by time and salt air, was pulled down during the last decade and a concrete structure erected.

This village has a love affair with religion and now boasts of 18 churches with sizeable number of believers bussed out to other communities for worship on Sundays.

The purchase of Pln. Northbrook was a big and daunting experiment where people were accepted with open arms from all over to country to see the birth of manumission in action. Many stuck around and became villagers; others left with the idea and joined their counterparts in purchasing other abandoned estates.

The village population soon swelled and running out of farm lands, many Victorians moved over to Nabaclis and set up homesteads. The land portions were larger …shares instead of lots and lower taxation. It is for this reason that there is such close kindredness between the people of Nabaclis and Victoria resulting in much intermarriage, coming back to Victoria for church services and even burial. A salient fact, not often remembered, is that of the two people who bought Nabaclis, one was the Victorian, Simon Hanover. In Victoria he owned Lot 25A, lot 10B, lot 20C, lot20D, lot 20E and lot 45 F as is shown in the survey plan No.414 of 1853 by Matthew M Newlands, Sworn Land Surveyor and deposited in the Deeds Registry in 1854. It was the said Simon Hanover, because of his influence in, and part owner of Nabaclis, that he was able to quell the Cent Bread Riot in Nabaclis at the time when the Portuguese businessmen were under siege country- wide ,resulting from an African Child being beaten in the Market over the alleged theft of a Cent Bread.

The same camaraderie was not so with Golden Grove, the sister village of Nabaclis. Up until the late 1920s and early 30s there were running and pitched battles between the Victorians and the residents of Golden Grove. A group called Rue de Terror, that had a signature scarf of white with black polka dots, dared Victorians to enter Golden Grove unless escorted by a Nabaclis resident. This led to an even greater social intercourse between the guys and gals of Victoria and Nabaclis. Claddie Johnson, brother of Kanima Johnson had his abdomen slashed and bowels emptied on the ground by Versailles Punch aka Pagasse Nancy This unsavory belligerence between the two communities cane to an end with advent of the First World War which was a catalyst for social and behavioral change.

To the east of Victoria is Pln. Belfield, the play ground of the rich and famous of the day and regarded as an annex of Victoria. Belfield had its own race track and was the East Demerara Police Headquarters up until 1939. The sprawling compound had the magistrate’s court and Post Office. Belfield was also a terminus for the Demerara Railway and had its own Aerated Water Factory owned by Rico Reis, grandfather of Clifford Reis of Banks D.I.H. The population has now swollen into hundreds and the majority of homeowners are Victorians. What is very interesting is that the vibrant Seventh day Adventist Church there is named Victoria Seventh day Adventist Church.

Dotting the landscape were a number of week-end recreational homes for the well-to-do from the city. The building, called the Belfield Residence of President Burnham was one such week-end house. There was also a Red House, an imitation of what is now known as the CheddiJagan Research Center in Kingston .So prominent was Belfield in the economic and social sphere of things that the building that housed the Belfield Girls School was never at Belfield but for all the years carried that name. In fact it was on the last lot of Victoria bordering Belfield- lot 87A. Once a hotel owned by the flamboyant Luiz Fernandes , it was taken over by the Salvation Army and converted to a Girls’ Reformatory Home. On closure it moved to Cove and John where the Mangrove Secretariat is now sited.

Two lots west of the Girls’ School – 57 A -was the famous D’aguiar Hotel which was removed in 1949 and re erected in the D’aguiar compound where the Russian Embassy now stands. That empty plot saw the erection of a Texaco Gas station in 1957 and this was followed by a Shell Station in 1960 on 32 A. The Texaco was closed in the 90s while the Shell was refurbished and reopened as Guyoil in 1979.

Victoria produced many stalwarts and notables. The paternal grandfather of Sir David Rose and the redoubtable Fred Poole, noted for his engineering exploits, were both Victorians. Mr. Ivor Thom, the monument builder is a Victorian and so was Judge, Sydney Miller. The legendary Tom Charles and King Fighter were also Victorians of no mean order.

The buzz phrase of Feed, House and Clothe Yourself had its genesis in Victoria long before it became politically correct to mention. The village was self sufficient in food with a thriving weekend market ; artisans of all categories flourished – carpenters, joiners , tailors, seamstresses , boat builders, bakers , fishermen, crude oil manufacturers, farine producers, fiber millers, basket weavers, cassava starch producers, cassava bread makers and provision farmers.

In the late 50’s the villagers built a Community Centre by self help for recreational and other purposes. It stands to this day and was recently repaired after a freak storm ripped off the roof on April 3rd 2013. On completion, the village office was removed and sited therein and the plot on which the office stood was acquired by the British Guiana Credit Corporation and a new structure erected. Loans were granted by that organization until 1973 when it closed its doors and all assets handed over to the Small Industries Corporation. The building was subsequently converted to a Health center and serves the community to this day. Prior to the Credit Corporation was the Victoria Cooperative Loans Bank where to obtain a loan one had to buy shares in the Bank.

Adjoining the Community Centre is the Lady Sendall Park which is the ground that is now primarily used for football matches. It was named after the wife of Governor Walter Sendall and any attempt to rename it over the years was met with stiff opposition by villagers. In its heyday it was a well manicured cricket ground and hosted many agricultural fairs, the last such fair was held in 1960. Moves were afoot to have a mini one held in 2014.

The third lot immediately East of the Middle Walk Road on the Northern side of the public road is lot 73 A. It is on this lot that a stage was erected by the villagers for a beloved son of Africa , King Ezeof Nigeria ,when he addressed Victorians and other villagers of the contiguous communities in December of 1950. The building immediately West of 73 was a rum shop owned by D’Aguiar Bros and called Cozy Corner. Up until the late 40s and long, long before rural electrification, there were poles strung with electric wires along the Public Road from a Delco Plant at the D’Aguiar Hotel to give light to Cozy Corner , the top floor of which was used for recreational entertainment and sports. The manager of Cozy Corner at the time was Mr. Braz , father of Joe Braz of the famous “CHOWTIC” meme.

On a five day tour of this country in January of 1960, Mary, Her Royal Highness the Princess Royal, aunt of Elizabeth 11, visited Victoria accompanied by the Governor, Sir Ralph Grey. She was feted at the Community Centre and the Village Steel band, Crossfire, entertained her so well that she even tried her hand at the pans. Her visit was to see this village that was named after her great grandmother, Queen Victoria. The leader of the band was Leslie Bobb, known as Tumble Weed .He is now in his 80s and resides at Paradise Public Road.  Mary was the 6th holder of the title Princess Royal. She died in 1965 and the present and 7th holder is Princess Ann.

Apart from being the terminus for Hire Cars on the East Coast corridor, it was the home for two 39 seater buses and terminus for a third. Golden Boy , owned by Sudama and Dose, was based on lot 50 A and started its first trip to the city before 6 am. Caribbean Queen later renamed Caribbean Express , owned by Budhoo Seraj , grandfather of Sandra Seraj ,was based on lot 23A and Return of The Coin , owned by Seenan ,belonged to the East Bank but had the Victoria- Georgetown route. What is fascinating is that the buses were built across the pond from Victoria in that annex of Cove & John named Craig Milne.

The 70s saw the creation of the Greco Radio Factory where radio sets were manufactured for local sales and Caribbean exports. It folded in 1985 and was the brain child of the Expat Victorian Electronics expert, Uriel Assanah. That plot of land on which the Greco Building stands was originally occupied byAdolphus Isaacs aka Papa Dally, uncle of the legendary Dr. Walter Jerrick.

Along the way many notable characters graced the landscape and it would be remiss of me not to give Aloysius De Souza honorary mention. Brother La-shus as he was familiarly called was a Fisher of Men- biblically speaking. A Jordanite by faith he drew men and women from all parts of the country with diverse backgrounds to be part of his spiritual communism at the Pilgrims’ Rest. They worked collectively and shared the fruits of their labour – From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs. This commune survived for some 3 decades until his passing when his second in command, Brother Gideon took over. The death of the cooperative spirit saw the decline of the movement. Then there was Nana Ageday ….a woman of over 7feet and the only person who was identifiable from the East Coast Public Road when she stood on the railway line. She was a butcher and died in the mid fifties.

A resurgence of the Cooperative spirit took place in 1965 when many of the former members of the Pilgrims’ Rest started the Aliki Co-op land Society , built a boat called the MV Aliki on the Community Centre ground and launched same in the adjacent 40 foot trench. It was then taken overland by flatbed trailer to the Demerara River from whence the pioneers, mostly Victorians and a few Ann’s Grovians sailed to ALIKI, a small farming community nestled on the eastern bank of the magnificent Essequibo River, some 14 miles south of Parika. Of the many pioneers, one woman, Noreen Williams, the last surviving pioneer and widow of Nathan Williams, died in 2014 – well in her nineties –her children and grandchildren still farm on the lands.

Undoubtedly, a Village and Movement this old will have much folklore. There is Ma Dusu. Ma Dusu is real and there is an area in the farmlands called Ma Dusu Polder. She was a run-away slave that disappeared into the farmlands and survived for years without being caught. Legend has it that  she hid in the hollow of a huge tree trunk when being sought by the buffalo soldiers. Then there is Belinda Hopkinson one of the proprietors who dared to guard the kokers at nights to avoid sabotage by neighbouring plantation owners and one night she was found strangled.

What is a little farfetched is that in Belinda’s day no man worth his salt would allow a woman to guard the estate while he lay asleep at home. As John Diefenbaker once said in the House of Commons: Those were the days when men were men and the outhouse was in the yard. Then there is the folklore about Jamesie Cudjoe that was kidnapped by the would-be proprietors to push the wheel barrow of money for the purchase. Legend has it that he was a tat work shy and so the purchasers grabbed him. So much for the village folklore!

The work of William Arno should be continued to document the colourful history of this village which fired the imagination of the Village Movement. It behooves some department of the University of Guyana to access the dusty archives of the United Kingdom and retrieve the much needed data. There was nothing that happened in the villages, information of which was not dutifully sent back to England for record keeping. It’s all there and in this day and age of digital technology, access is a mere keystroke away. A little known fact is that not only the Buxton People Stopped the Train – Victorians also did. A group of villagers headed by Man Man Jerrick stopped the train and were arrested and charged. Man Man, the ringleader, was charged with sedition and jailed, the others were fined.

Where are we today? The economic infrastructure is all gone; the cooperative spirit has disappeared; the teeming artisans are no longer around; a mass of school drop-outs and subculture of young people donning a rug sack over the shoulder and catching a mini bus to eke out a job in the city and elsewhere is the thing in vogue. The scourge of drugs is omnipresent and the village is in need of a massive dose of moral rearmament. A ray of hope is a Fish Processing Plant that Butters & Grant have earmarked and actively pursuing for the hamlet and hopefully that will be a catalyst to attract other entrepreneurs to invest here. Can this decadence be reversed to bring back this once stellar, economically viable hamlet to a semblance of its glory days? Time and history will tell. In the mean time between times, young Victorians have stepped on the gas to qualify themselves and come hell or high water, Victoria will rise again. The baton has been passed to a new, young and vibrant generation . Many hands make light work and no one person or group can make us shine; let there be a thousand points of light.

This Document is not for sale or to be used for monetary gain, and any addition thereto of subtraction therefrom must be done with expressed written approval of the author, Joseph Barlow Snr.

Eddie Grant —- Village Life

Lord Kitchener – Pan In A Minor

 

 

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