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The story of Manchester, part II

By Donald I Blair

Monday, June 16, 2014    

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AS Manchester marches boldly towards its 200th birthday in December 2014, it does so with a capital, Mandeville, that is beautiful and inviting; resourceful and pioneering; and absolutely unique. The citizens of Mile Gully, Carpenters Mountain, and May Day, whose initiatives resulted in the creation of Manchester gave much thought to the parish capital. It had to be accessible as well as provide those essential services that initially warranted the creation of the parish.

On December 13, 1814, the Assembly accepted the citizens' petition and the parish of Manchester was born. Without much delay, a site was chosen for the capital and named Mandeville in honour of the sitting Governor of Jamaica's eldest son and heir, Lord Mandeville. The site was chosen because of its accessibility and central location relative to the rest of the parish.

Local residents demonstrated their appreciation by offering land for the laying out of the capital and timber for construction of public buildings. Joseph Russell, for example, offered 50 acres as a free gift from his Grays Hill property, while Daniel Virtue offered timber from his Berwick property. It is unclear why the Vestry (the forerunner of the present Parish Council) refused the free offers and decided instead to purchase from Robert Crawford, 110 acres at 10 pounds per acre off his Caledonia property.

With the acquired land the Vestry planned to lay out the town on the entire parcel but build the town centre around an 8-acre open space known as the Parade. It was also decided to construct four public buildings: a Rectory, a Court House, a Gaol/Workhouse, and a Church. While the buildings soon became a reality, the intended size of the town did not. Only 50 acres were used and the remaining 60 acres were divided up into lots and sold at public auction.

The Rectory was the first building to be completed. However, its intended purpose was short lived as it became a tavern by 1820, and subsequently a boarding house, the Grove Hotel. No vestige of the Rectory exists today as Grove Court Shopping Centre now occupies the spot. That leaves the Court House as the oldest building in the capital. The Mandeville Court House was completed in 1817 on its present site with limestone blocks as the primary building material and slave labour. It was constructed in the Georgian style with two floors and double spiral stairs leading from the ground onto a portico and the second floor. The lower floor was used as a temporary school-house in the early 1820s. Although the building has been much improved upon, the original structure has not been changed and the Court House continues to serve its intended purpose with supporting offices on the premises. In 1955, while on tour of Jamaica, Princess Margaret was welcomed officially to Manchester, at the Mandeville Court House.

Both the Gaol/Workhouse and the Church were also constructed on their present sites using limestone blocks, the cheapest material, and slave labour. Both have been improved and added to in subsequent years. The Gaol/Workhouse has been transformed into the Mandeville Police Station, while the Church (St. Mark's Anglican Church) continues to be a place of worship. This Church remained the only church in the parish until the second half of the 1820s, a living witness to the life and times of Mandeville. It holds the memories of those who were held as prisoners in its belfry during the rebellion of 1831. The church's cemetery protects the remains of British soldiers who were victims of the Yellow Fever outbreak in the mid-1800s. They were garrisoned in Mandeville in what would eventually become the Mandeville Hotel.

Mandeville is located uniquely at the centre of both Manchester and Jamaica. It is one of four parish capitals that is not located on the coast or a river and situated at an elevation of 2061 feet above sea level, Mandeville is the capital that is above all others. Its unique geographical position gives residents and visitors relatively easy access to any place in Jamaica.

Mandeville is endowed with unsurpassed natural beauty, accentuated by warm, sunny, breezy days and cool, cozy nights. These factors, along with the capital's close resemblance to places in England captivated the colonists to the point where Mandeville soon became known as the "English Village." The capital is also referred to as the "Republic on the hill." It is home to a wide assortment of flowers and ornamental shrubs, as both tropical and temperate plants flourish in the welcoming climate. The unique agapanthus lily, orchids, and a variety of exotic plants decorate private gardens, some of which are open to visitors. Here one can also visit the Manchester Horticultural Society, one of the oldest of its kind in the world, founded in 1865. It is also in the "English Village" that Charles Johnson crossed the orange with the tangerine to create a unique citrus fruit which he named ortanique.

The parish capital boasts several secondary educational institutions, among them Manchester High, Bishop Gibson High, DeCarteret College (High School), and Belair High, and a growing number of tertiary institutions, including: Church Teachers' College, International University of the Caribbean, University College of the Caribbean and the Northern Caribbean University. To top it all off, Mandeville is home to Jamaica's oldest free library, the Manchester Parish Library, established in 1938.

As the British Empire stretched far and wide, some of its wealthy citizens sought out places where they could leisurely enjoy their wealth. Mandeville was, naturally, a favourite destination. They carried with them the sport of golf, modernized during the mid-1800s in Scotland. The Manchester Club was formed in Mandeville in 1868 and holds the distinction of being the oldest of its kind in the Caribbean and the Americas. Seven years later the landmark Mandeville Hotel opened its doors for business. Today it is the oldest business of its kind in the Caribbean. Other hotels in the town are Golf View Hotel, the Tropics View Hotel, and the Astra Country Inn.

The capital continued its progress in the 20th century as it led the way in the development of Manchester and contributed significantly to the development of Jamaica. Its businesses and manufacturing operations have propelled Manchester into having one of the country's highest per capita incomes. On November 1, 1961, one year before the colonial British Empire loosened its grip on Jamaica, Mandeville was raised to mayoral status with the late Stanley Edwin Brooks, J.P., as its first mayor.

Mandeville is the capital of "Community Tourism", developed and pioneered by Diana McIntyre-Pike and Desmond Henry in 1987. McIntyre-Pike has since created her own company, Countrystyle. Located at her Astra Country Inn, Countrystyle is designed to develop and market sustainable tourism throughout Jamaica and the Caribbean. It has gained international recognition.

In recent years Mandeville and its surrounding communities have become a favourite destination for Jamaicans and their families returning from foreign countries, especially England. Residents in the capital and surrounding areas are always a short drive away from Mandeville's more than ten shopping malls and shopping plazas and the two hospitals - one public and one private. There is also an adequate number of doctors with private practices, some of whom make home visits.

The local police and private security companies provide a sense of security although much needs to be done to curtail the influx of gang activity that is filtering into the capital and surrounding communities. Finding a solution to this problem has the potential to be a major undertaking, however, the capital is equal to the challenge.

As December 13, 2014 approaches, Mandeville continues to be a beacon on the hill, proudly fulfilling its destiny. The capital has stood the test of time. It has progressed from a few public buildings to a bustling town with a beautifully renovated park, activities, businesses, and services to suit everyone's needs, and The Jamaica Cultural Development Commission produces cultural events throughout the year.

For many residents of this town, Mandeville will always be the jewel in Jamaica's crown.

The space now occupied by Grove Court accomodated the very first building in Mandeville, historians say

Related Story:

The story of Mancherster Part I

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