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For Dignitaries

Designing for Dignitaries

Old Government House:1925-1926

The Old Government House (OGH) was designed by Thomas F Tomlinson AMICE, an engineer from Trinidad, and was built by his key workers and local labour Clerk of Works Cecil Georges, whose job it was to record all the materials and labour costs for the job. Unfortunately, his detailed records were all destroyed in a fire in Antigua from where, at the time, the BVI was under governorship. Now 104 and living in Road Town, Mr Georges was never the less able to provide a wealth of details and sketches to provide for historic displays at the OGH.
Mr Georges recollects a time before heavy machinery and high-tech gadgetry ruled the job site. In the 1920s, hardships were more prevalent—especially on a small island. In fact, besides a small concrete mixer, everything else at the OGH was done by hand: pouring and lifting the concrete by barrow and bucket, pumping up water from a well in the lower garden (which is still there), raising the shuttering three feet at a time—it must have been backbreaking work. Sand was collected from the beach and gravel from the ghuts by boat, mule and cart. Steel and cement in barrels came from Denmark via St Thomas, and were unloaded on the shore below and carried and rolled up the hill. Fifteen months of arduous work. All a most remarkable story as told by Mr Georges, a modest Tortolian gentleman—one of many local stories that should be more fully recorded before the past is forgotten.



Reception Hall: 2002
Brian Russ of West End brought out his local crew to take my design of this facility and turn it into the multi-functional venue it is today. This 28- by 38-foot hall was designed to seat 70 people, a structure that could be used with either Government House (old or new), or on its own for investitures, parties, lectures and fundraisers. Special attention was given to the key design elements of the OGH: its arches and fort-like parapet lines to its flat roof. The Reception Hall had a pitched roof (to cope with the wide interior span), but this would hardly be visible from close up or in the garden below, so the gutter would become the top parapet line. These lines were also built into the divider wall between OGH and the Reception Hall. Arched doors were incorporated and painted the OGH’s trademark Vigilante green. The budget was tight but the skilled workmen chamfered the edges of the roof beams so that once they and the grooved plywood roof was stained with a cherry stain the end result was quite elegant.

From London, the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office and its architects strongly resisted the Reception Hall concept. They argued that it was not needed, and that the governor of an overseas territory should not be entitled to such amenities. They went as far to say that it may not be safe for the governor to enter. After this notion, I sent my plans overseas for the FCO for approval. However, by this point in time I had lived to see some ten administrators and governors, so I felt I knew best what was needed. Indeed, the Reception Hall has lived up to the gratitude of its occupants, including the first governor to use the facility, Tom Macan, who told me upon departing office that he had recommended to the FCO that all governors and high commissioners have such a reception hall.

New Government House: 2003-2004
This building was designed by Stephen Gorton RIBA of Onions Bouchard & McCulloch, and built by Meridian Construction; and I was clerk of works and BVI project manager. Gorton had the difficult task of using an existing set of drawings that needed to be altered to cater to a newly desired elevation. Three sets of elevations were drawn, from which one was chosen to be built. Some arches were added, and some planned sandstone columns and stained wood doors were kept in areas where the pitched roofs gave a more modern look—but the parapet detail was the clincher.

Each individual building was kept white, which helped to create a unifying result throughout the landscape so that all three buildings fit comfortably on the hillside overlooking Road Harbour. When the projects were finished, then-Chief Minister Ralph O’Neal, who lent his continuous support to the project, commented that he admired the buildings as he rode in on the ferry from his residing district in Virgin Gorda—a satisfying compliment given to difficult projects that came in on time and under budget.



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