Why Great Houses?

I haven’t really spoken about what prompted the initial consideration of Great Houses and heritage sites as an area for visual exploration. As a person of Jamaican-African heritage, I have over the years spent much time on the island. Some years ago, I think 2007, I attended a friends wedding that was held at the Bellefield Great House in Montego Bay. I acted as the unofficial photographer for the day, taking those candids that everyone is so fond of these days.

On the day of the wedding rehearsal, whilst waiting for the bridal party to finish, I took a wander around the grounds and spoke to some of the workers who were erecting the marquee in the grounds. I was told that the family that owns Bellefield Great House are descendants of the same Kerr family that owned the estate back in the times of slavery. As yet I haven’t confirmed this information to be correct, however the information prompted me to view the site from a different perspective.

For the first time, I looked at my surroundings and connected the place with the trade in enslaved Africans, my ancestors. The Great House and the well manicured gardens, the Sugar Mill (now a two tiered restaurant), the back lawn all very picturesque, very tranquil now, but back 300 years ago, it would have been a very different place.

These musings however would not have been enough to prompt a further look at the phenomenon of the Great House and these thousand plus acre plantations as most were back in the day.

Just prior to leaving the site, while the bridal party trickled back to the vehicles that would carry us back to our respective hotels, some of the children who were there ran down and began playing in the area of the Sugar Mill. Three to four of the mothers went to collect the children and I went with them. Once on the lower level, we all walked into the lower floor area of the Sugar Mill. It was dark, quiet and had an eerie feel about it. Almost at the same time, all of us, all women collectively shuddered, looked at each other and beat a hasty retreat, children in tow, back to the upper level (ground level) got in the vehicles and left.

I cannot speak for the others, but for myself, my thoughts on the drive back to the hotel circled around the people who would have been working on the plantation, in the sugar mill. They would have had no choice in the work that they were doing, they would not have been paid, they were not free to come and go as they pleased on the estate, unlike Jamaican-Africans of 2007, who as consumers were coming back to eat and make merry in a place in which such pain, such hardship was endured by earlier generations.

On my return to the UK, I looked at the images that I made on that day and the subsequent wedding day and decided, perhaps the subject of the Plantation and the Great Houses that adorn them would be worthy of further research and investigation. They may only serve as the foundations on which this project is built over time. One needs to start somewhere, and I think this is as good a place as any.

Morlene Fisher

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