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The chattel house acts as a unique Barbadian icon

The Traditional Bajan Chattel House

Over time, the chattel houses of Barbados have retained their heritage appeal, adding significantly to the charm and beauty of the landscape. Along with the local village shops, they convey a remarkable historical and cultural story related to the post-emancipation plantation economy.

Chattel houses were located on plantations lands as removable structures, since workers often had to relocate their families, if circumstances required. Over time, they evolved both in style and detail, „borrowing‟ some elements, e.g. entrance porches and fretwork, from the stately plantation houses. These ornate features added character and interest to the buildings (Walker, 2011). Built with pride, each of these wooden structures had its own unique character.

Given its appeal across the Barbadian cultural landscape, the chattel house acts as a unique Barbadian icon that can offer a unique experience to visitors. As this once pervasive emblem slowly disappears from the landscape, opportunities have arisen to maintain the legacy of this icon. Chattel house villages have been immortalized in select locations such as St Lawrence Gap, Chattel House Village in Holetown and Tyrol Cot in St. Michael.

Chattel houses are now being utilized both as places of business and as tourist attractions, becoming a signature element of the local tourism brand. “It is one aspect of the visual heritage of Barbados…all these adaptive reuses of chattel houses mean that somebody can, with a modest outlay, acquire a business place. This is the renaissance of the chattel house, its architecture being a whole rich story of a people” (H. Fraser: In Evanson, 2012).

Today, chattel houses are slowly diminishing in number since tastes and building styles have changed, but their use is now being adapted to commercial enterprises. The historical connection to South Carolina as some of the plantocracy relocated northwards is an opportunity to be further explored in the context of developing heritage tourism.