History and museums
The Parliament Buildings (also known as The Public Buildings, or more rarely Parliament House), is the seat of the Parliament of Barbados. Built between 1870 and 1874, the buildings have been the meeting place for both chambers of Parliament since 16 June 1874, and a former site of Colonial administration of Barbados. It consists of two buildings in the neo-Gothic architectural style, and are reminiscent of the Victorian era of Great Britain.
The buildings are situated along the north bank of the Constitution River and are bordered by Upper Broad Street and National Heroes Square to the south; strategically at the heart of the capital city Bridgetown. Prior to the establishment of the buildings, the legislature met at the Town Hall building on Coleridge Street.
In 1989 the Public Buildings were officially renamed the Parliament Buildings by Act of Parliament. In 2011 both buildings were designated as UNESCO protected properties within the World Heritage Site of Historic Bridgetown and its Garrison area.
Although Parliament was established in 1639, these buildings which house the Parliament were only constructed in the late 19th century. The reason behind the erection of these buildings was twofold. Firstly, there was the need to find a safe place to store the island’s public records, which prior to the construction of the Parliament buildings, were stored in various government offices located around Bridgetown. Secondly, the island’s legislature needed an appropriate place to convene. From the establishment of the House of Assembly in 1639 to the erection of the Parliament buildings, the legislature shifted from building to building around Bridgetown, and at several instances, it actually met at taverns and alehouses. This of course was frowned upon by many of the island’s previous Governors, several of whom proposed that money be voted for the erection of an appropriate building to house Parliament.
In addition to its beautiful architecture, the Parliament buildings have several notable architectural features.
The green color cast iron railing surrounding the courtyard of the Parliament Buildings was made by a British firm called Messrs Andrew Handyside & Co. Ltd. Another notable feature of the building itself is many of the windows of the buildings have louvered shutters for blocking out direct sunlight.
During the months of November and December, the city of Bridgetown has an annual national lighting ceremony. During this time the Parliament Buildings are often elaborately illuminated in the colors of the National Flag (in November) or Green/Red for Christmas (by the middle of December).
A prominent feature of the coral-limestone structures is the clock tower attached to the west wing. The Tower located in the west wing can be seen from several vantage points around Bridgetown and is complemented by a four-faced clock on each side. The Barbadian flag is flying triumphantly on top of it. However, the clock tower was not always located in the west wing.
A clock tower with a peal of bells was previously attached to the east wing where both the Senate and House of Assembly chambers are located, however poor soil conditions destabilized the clocktower's base causing it to begin sinking. Within ten years of its construction, the clock tower had sunk by ten feet into the ground. The tower was dismantled in 1884 and a clock tower was later constructed at the west wing where it stands today. The clock was designed and manufactured by John Moore & Sons of Great Britain (1875). It was designed to run for 8 days and is designed to continue operating even when being wound.