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Save the magnificent Ragged Point Lighthouse

ragged-point-lighthouseBy Sir Henry Fraser From CARIBBEAN360

BRIDGETOWN, Barbados, Sunday March 29, 2015 – Two people called me this week to tell me that the hideous Radar Tower erected a few feet away from the historic Ragged Point Lighthouse, that great life-saving landmark on the cliffs of St. Philip, was lying dismantled on the ground – apparently for repairs. So I went, I saw and I’m writing, calling, praying and exhorting the powers-that-be to take the opportunity to correct the terrible tragedy of its erection in the first place … the ever-so-wrong place. This hideous tower, however potentially useful in protecting us from air attack by our enemies (?), had no right being placed alongside the lighthouse; it’s been widely described as an act of philistinism and it really must be moved … so now’s the time.

Hundreds visit Ragged Point Lighthouse every week. I’ve never been on one of my brief visits without seeing a couple of H cars. And technicians working on the dissembled tower right now report the same experience. Both the Constituency Council of the area, who invited me to meet with them three years ago, and several private tourism entrepreneurs are interested in developing the site as a STAR ATTRACTION. Tenders were invited three years ago, and apparently forgotten about. NOW’S THE TIME for action, to move the tower and award a tender for this magnificent site.

As a tribute to our historic lighthouse, here is an abbreviated, edited version of a column of four years ago:

henry-fraser-150Lighthouses are majestic beacons of light, saving lives for centuries; for some, symbols of power and might; for others, simply the finest phallic symbols – everyone loves them. For many Bajans, the South Point Lighthouse, shown on our 5 cent coin since 1973, is ingrained in our consciousness, although I suspect the 5 cent coin is hardly noticed in these days of inflation, and for younger people the symbol may be meaningless.

Lighthouses have a glorious history – steeped in legend and tales of danger and bravery. The most famous of all time is the ancient Lighthouse of Alexandria, in Egypt, built on the island of Pharos, and so massive (about 400 feet) that it was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. (And the word pharology means the study of lighthouses.)

Barbados has four lighthouses – South Point, Needham’s Point, Ragged Point and Harrison’s Point. The South Point Lighthouse (Gordon’s Lighthouse) is the oldest. It’s very special and quite famous, as it’s understood to be one of only three “pre-fabricated” lighthouses built entirely of metal. It was designed by the famous Scottish engineer Alexander Gordon and exhibited at London’s Great Exhibition in 1851, as part of Britain’s boasted achievements of Empire. It must have been an awe-inspiring spectacle at the exhibition, as the great towers of Westminster Palace (rebuilt 1840 – 1870) were not yet completed. It’s one of our most dramatic, attractive and valuable assets.

It was dismantled and shipped to Barbados in 1852, and erected at South Point. It went into service on April 12th, 1852. Its bands of red and white are as dramatic as its location. It’s 90 feet high and the beacon 145 feet above sea level, with a range of 18 miles, flashing three times every 30 seconds. For the technocrats, it’s equipped with a Mark 2 rotating power beacon, an LC 6 automatic lamp changer, photoelectric switch, control panel with test switch, constant volt battery charge and 6-volt lead/acid batteries. (Data shared by Martin DaSilva of Innotech Services Limited, who carried out restoration in 2004, to its pristine glory.) Unfortunately recommendations for regular protective repainting of the metal bands, have not been followed by the Port Authority, in whose care the lighthouses fall – another example of penny wise, pound foolish Government neglect.

Needham’s Point Lighthouse was built in 1855. It’s the smallest, but makes a dramatic feature in the Hilton Hotel grounds. Ragged Point, in St. Philip, followed in 1875. It’s the tallest, and would have saved many ships from the Cobbler Reefs. It is built 2 kilometers North North West of East Point, on a dramatic clifftop site. The coral stone tower is 29.5 meters (97 feet) tall, with lantern and gallery and a continuous red light. The keeper’s house was (scandalously) demolished when the tower was built, and the assistant keeper’s house, once lodgings of the father of Red Plastic Bag, assistant keeper, I understand, is roofless. It would make a splendid café or museum and shop.

Our lighthouses, apart from Needham’s Point, are all apparently the responsibility of Barbados Port Inc. Sadly, they have been neglected, with even the South Point no longer maintained.

Many lighthouses around the world, but especially in Britain, have become financially self-sufficient by becoming everything from quirky hotels to museums. “There are some really great lighthouses turned into internationally acclaimed museums, such as the Kinnaird Head in Scotland,” says one lighthouse expert. “Hundreds more have been converted into unconventional bed and breakfasts.” The Landmark Trust of the UK leads this successful new movement.

Similarly, according to the Fisheries and Oceans Canada website, in May 2010 some 490 active lighthouses and 480 inactive lighthouses across Canada were declared surplus to its needs. Under the new Heritage Lighthouse Protection Act, they can be transferred to new owners wishing to take advantage of their heritage designation and / tourism potential. The Act is a means to protect heritage lighthouses by allowing them to be used for other purposes, as long as they are maintained in a manner consistent with established conservation practices.

Our lighthouses have huge potential as visitor / recreation sites. South Point’s history and beauty are unique, it has three acres of land for a park around it, and the spacious keeper’s cottage would make a splendid restaurant – the only one in the area, with a captured clientele! Ragged Point is an even more dramatic monument, with even more dramatic scenery across the East Coast, cliffs and our precious dependency, Culpepper Island … These are obvious visitor sites of great potential. It’s a “no brainer” that we’re ignoring. We suggest that the Port immediately act on the offer for their long lease for peppercorn rent, with selection for tenders with the best business plans.

Let’s show that we’re truly guardians of our valuable heritage, and start by relocating that hideous radar tower to the furthest inland site on the one plus acre property, as far away from the lighthouse as possible.

Sir Henry Fraser is past Dean of Medical Sciences, UWI and Professor Emeritus of Medicine. Website:

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