Professor of Public Management
It is more than a dream come true. My niece Carmelita “Camy” Bissessarsingh, after what appeared to be an eternity of searching, researching, calling and looking at houses, found the perfect house. She finally held the keys as the new owner of the Meyler House at 88 Circular Road, Belmont, two weeks ago.
The house is a beautiful old gem, well restored by the former owners, who, it was evident, poured a lot of love and money into a perfect restoration project.
Carmelita with her brother Mario, his wife, Andrea and, of course, we, the older heads, Patricia, Rudolph, Julius, Geeta and I, are beyond excited. We could have only dreamed of becoming part (perhaps a small part?) of such a worthwhile project.
It was a dream of Angelo’s, and now it has become a reality, and Carmelita will have her hands filled.
The Meyler House–also to be known as the Angelo Bissessarsingh Heritage House–is said to be a George Brown House built during the years 1903-1906.
George Brown was born in 1852 at Strathmiglo, Scotland. He qualified as an architect and builder at Glasgow University, and he travelled in 1883 to Trinidad to join Turnbull, Stewart and Company.
According to the book Ajoupa by John Newel Lewis (1983:191), Brown had: a sensitive aesthetic perception coupled with an austere discipline and a passion for hard work.
He was both an architect and builder, and this dynamic force took Trinidad by storm.”
Indeed, it was claimed that Brown transformed the Ajoupa—the French Creole form of an architect, into Carnival Queens.
On his arrival in 1883, Brown became involved in building No 6, Cipriani Boulevard. Later, he was asked to rebuild both sides of Frederick Street, which had been destroyed in a fire in 1895. He also built Harriman’s, the Union Club, Hoadley’s, Archbishop House and Muir Marshall among others. To safeguard against future fires, Lewis (1983) informs us that Brown re-created stony, party walls. Inside this casing, he inserted simple cast-iron frames with columns, beams and roof.
It was what Lewis (1983:195) suggested was a prefabricated fast-track system. Using his new system George is credited with building several historic houses in Port-of-Spain and its environs, among them the Mille Fleurs house, the Meyler House as well as the house of the famous artist, Boscoe Holder, the Boscoe Holder House (1884).
Among some of Brown’s innovations in design were raising the houses off the ground, adding elongated posts holding up the roof, the introducing of gallery or galleries in the case of two-storied buildings, isolation of the main roof into a decorated lid, narrowing the column spacing, and the redesign and standardisation of doors, windows, railings and jalousies.
He believed in the use of dowelled joints. It is said: that he waved a magic hand and Port-of-Spain became a new city...The flowering was accompanied by whole fields of gingerbread houses, which he built and for which he produced miles of fretwork until the year 1921 (Lewis: 201).
It is astounding but on first looking at the Meyler House (The Angelo Bissessarsingh Heritage House) the building looks small but majestic. It has a gabled roof and there has been no sparing of the fretworks. Furthermore, it is a welcoming house—holding your hand and walking with you up the steps into the large doors. Walking through the front steps, one is surprised to see a very large and accommodating (with high moulded ceilings, surrounded by at least two layers of beautiful fretwork) main salon.
Did I tell you that the flooring is beautiful wood? It could only be described as “awesome”—a blast from the past.
In this house, there is no porch, since the porch was added on as a main addition to the house to create a lobby.
The doors, original doors with original handles and even hinges are over ten feet tall. The house has four bedrooms, a large dining room and a large kitchen which was more than likely a later addition. I accompanied my niece Camy and could only sit and admire…and admire…and admire. She was working and working…ah…age and youth…who said age did not have the advantage?
When the Josephs (family of one of the former owners Mr Kelvin Joseph (1956-2007) joined us later that day, we heard them whispering, talking of the parties, the aunties, the uncles, the cousins…The house came alive. It beamed…). Strangely, too, it seems that Carmelita was the name of an aunt who lived there many, many years ago. As my niece Carmelita stretched out her hand, smiled at the Josephs and said welcome, Mr Joseph stepped back…Did Carmelita return to her house after so long? My guess is good as yours.
Anyway, the young people have had their first meeting, drafted their first mission and vision statements and commenced their strategic plan.
It comprises a full list of activities and projects and it is so fulfilling to see these three young people, each with their specific disciplines (Mario is in Maths and Physics; Andrea in History; and Carmelita is in the field of Fine Arts and Design) sitting and brainstorming.
I have advised young graduates that while employment in their area may not be available, what the University of the West Indies has provided them with is the ability to not only think outside the box but to create new boxes and new spheres and to grasp opportunities. UWI should also, and I know it did with my graduates, have fostered in them a selfless way of giving back to the community and the country. My young people, Camy, Mario and Andrea have taken this path (note that my other nephew Julio is on an engineering path in the UK. Perhaps he will find his dream there, I hope, in the future, a château?)
The Angelo Bissessarsingh Heritage House will be, when the young people are finished, the only house of its kind in the West Indies. It will make us Trinidadians and certainly the people in Belmont, who have already welcomed us, very proud.
(This is part of a series of the Angelo Bissessarsingh Heritage House Collection. I am excited to now become a Belmontian. Imagine, as my friend Prof Ganpat commented, “Siparia coming to Belmont? Awesome.)