Shadowed by the mist-shrouded Nevis Peak, stretch the sprawling lands and ruins of Fothergills Estate, once a busy Sugar Plantation and Cotton Ginning Station. Sloping gently towards the southeast, Fothergills captures the majesty and mystery of the highest point on the island. This vantage point offers a panoramic view of the surrounding countryside, the Atlantic Ocean, and the neighbouring islands of Antigua, Barbuda, Montserrat and Redonda. One cannot help but bask in the tranquility of such a natural environment, breathe fresh air, spiced with the fragrance of wild herbs and be transported back in time.
During the eighteenth century when sugar and cotton were the king and queen of the Caribbean islands, this three hundred and twenty-acre plantation created much wealth for its owners. Having the distinction of being the only estate where sugar cane and cotton were cultivated and produced simultaneously. Fothergills was the most popular estate on the island.
With its Old World ambience evoking vivid memories of the past, it is no wonder that Fothergills Estate has been selected as the site of a Heritage Village, which will recapture and preserve the cultural traditions of Nevis. With phase one and two completed, the Village was opened in 2000, symbolizing the linking of a new era to an unforgettable past.
Fothergills Heritage Village will recapture the essence of life in a tradition village as it unfolded over the past one hundred and twenty-five years. It will reflect the evolution of Nevisian social and economic history from post emancipation to the nineteen fifties, when the property was purchased by the government. Journeying through history, visitors to the village can expect to see houses dating back to the earliest thatch roofed huts and little wooden houses with ‘gingerbread’ decorations, to the more modern concrete structure. See colourful tropical flowers spilling over miniature front gardens and fruit trees hanging over bamboo fences in back yards. Much attention is being paid to the exterior furnishings, ensuring that historical accuracy is maintained.
While the focus is on recreating the past traditions through the erection of a Heritage Village, preserving the environment at Fothergills and maintaining the ecological harmony of the site are equally important. The grown trees on the estate, some over a century old, are being preserved. Trees are being labelled, their origins highlighted and their histories studied and documented. Although the ruins may never be restored to a former glory, the thrust here is to save what exists from further degradation, to build around it and achieve the double advantage of making it into one of the foremost tourist attractions on Nevis.
As the shadows lengthen on the old estate, it stands as a testimony to years long past, it have been the best and the worst of times. Fothergills Heritage Village represent that moment in time when the past meets the present in jubilant celebration.
(The Visitor Magazine 1999-2000, By Prudence France)
Saddle Hill is an ancient, wealthered, volcanic cone 1,250 feet high at the southern tip of Nevis. Viewing it from the sea, it does have the appearance of a saddle.
From the earliest time of settlement of Nevis, the hill had strategic military importance. Sailing ships would almost always approach Nevis from the south because of the direction of the trade winds, and it was natural lookout point. The sides are quite steep, so if troops were in a firmly fortified location it would be very hard to dislodge them. In 1629, when the Spanish attacked Nevis, the commander of Nevis militia tried to reach the hill with troops to establish a defensive position, but the island was surrendered before they reached their objective.
As early as the 17th century, “alarm guns” were mounted at the top of Saddle Hill. These were old cannon which couldn’t be used in battle, and were placed at high points on the island. Militiamen were stationed nearby during wartime and were charged with firing the guns if unidentified ships were sighted. Upon hearing the guns, the island militia would dress out and report to designated defense points to await the enemy.
In the mid-17th century, a strong point surrounded by earthworks, called a “deodand,” had been constructed on Mount Nevis, roughly above Golden Rock Hotel. It was designed to be a spot where the civilian population of the island, as well as the militia, could take refuge and withstand a siege if an enemy attacked. By 1700, the Nevis Council believed that the top of Saddle Hill was a safer position that the deodand and allocated funds for construction of a new fortress in that location.
Sadly for Nevis, construction was delayed. On Good Friday, 1706, the Saddle Hill alarm guns sounded at midday, and the French subsequently invaded and completely sacked the island. After four days of fighting the militia was driven back to the deodand, and surrendered on Easter day without firing a shot. Had they been in a stronger position on Saddle Hill, the battle might well have taken a different course. In this 1706 attack, 3,200 slaves were kidnapped by the French, but 1,000 more retreated to Mt. Nevis and with great bravery held off the French Army for two weeks, “…shaming what some of their masters did.”
In 1734, the Governor of the Leeward Islands Colony noted that funds had been allocated for the construction of Saddle Hill Battery years earlier, “… but the money has been spent and the hill remains as it was .” He believed that in the 1706 French attack, had the fortress been completed, Nevis would have lost only one-quarter of the slaves which it lost. The economy was so devastated after that attack that the construction of Saddle Hill Battery could not be started until 1740.
Designed by the Royal Engineers, building began that year using slave labour. The stone walls facing the sea extend 1,600 feet in length and up to 40 feet in height from one of the three high spots of the hill to a second, which is its highest point. This second point is known as “Nelson Lookout.”
The stone walls, once heavily overgrown and covered in many places by patches of wild orchids, are now visible since the land has been cleared. It is interesting to note that there are two definite layers of stone. The lower portion is of better quality
construction, and we believe the second layer might have been hastily added in 1778 when France entered the American Revolution against Britain and it was feared (correctly, as it turned out) that the British Caribbean Islands were in danger.
On September 12, 1778, John Huggins, gunner of Saddle Hill, was given orders to remain at his post day and night without fail, and “…upon observing five vessels from a ship down to a sloop standing for this island shall fire two guns at the distance of time of two minutes between each gun…” On February 2, 1782, gunner Huggins did his duty when he sighted a column of nearly 50 sailing ships, a French attack force headed by Admiral Count Francois de Grasse in the 130 gun Ville de Paris, the largest warship in the world. Nevis was surrendered to de Grasse on board that ship the next day.
In 1787, Captain Horatio Nelson of HMS Boreas, a 28-gun frigate, was posted to Nevis. The American Revolution had ended only four years earlier, and many of the planters of Nevis and other islands had supported the American side. Part of the reason for this support were the hated British Navigation Acts, which theorectically prevented trade with any other country and the use of any ships other than British for transport of goods except in emergencies. It was honoured more in the breach than the observance in the West Indies, and Nelson was charged with the unpleasant duty of enforcing it.
Nelson acted with vigor and seized, in Charlestown harbour, four American vessels sailing under false British colours and impounded the ships and cargoes. He was immediately sued by the cargo owners, Nevis merchants, for £40,000 damages. The Honourable John Herbert, president of the Nevis Council, believed Nelson acted properly and came to his assistance.
Nelson could only come ashore on Sundays when he could not be served with summons. During his enforced stay here, Nelson met Herbert’s 23-year-old widowed niece, Frances Woolward Nisbet. They fell in love and, after a whirlwind courtship, were married in a lavish ceremony at Herbert’s Montpelier Plantation Mach 11,1787, with the future King William IV as best-man. The Parish Register of St. John’s Anglican Church recording the marriage still exists.
Nelson was reputed to have talked the stone walls of Saddle Hill Battery and climbed to the top of the hill, looking for French ships approaching Nevis. That is possible, but not too likely, as France and England were then at peace, but it is not all out of the question that, when Nelson and Fanny Nisbet wanted to be alone, they took a picnic lunch to the Battery and admired the spectacular view of the seven islands which can be seen on a clear day from Nelson’s Lookout.
It is now possible to drive to the site, explore the ruins of the battery, and admire the same view Nelson himself enjoyed.
(Vincent K. Hubbard The Traveller November 1990)
Hermitage Plantation Inn
At 800 feet above sea level, The Hermitage slumbers on several acres of stone terraces. Its pastel guest cottages are scattered among fruit trees fringed with tropical flowers swaying quietly to the sounds of songbirds and doves in the daytime and a chorus of tiny bellfrogs and crickets in the soft evenings.
At this elevation the temperature rarely moves below 75 degrees or above 85 degrees Fahrenheit, year round, day or night. It is this astonishing micro-climate that makes The Hermitage location so special.
The beautiful, uncrowded beaches of Nevis are less than 15 minutes drive away with all the heat and sun one expects of this perfect Caribbean island. In the afternoon and evenings it is blissful to enjoy the cool highland breezes in your own West Indian cottage.
The individual guest cottages circle the 340 year old Great House which is the social center of the plantation. The intimate Great Room (as with all the rooms and guest cottages) is furnished with antiques and period furnishings from old family collections. It is the setting for hours of conversation or quiet reflection with books from the adjacent well stocked library (formerly the Planters Office). More contemporary touches are the opera and movie musical videos which are available in the sitting room.
The bar, dining rooms and dining verandah, at the Great House offer service from early morning 'til late evening, manned by helpful, friendly staff. One feels as a house guest, not a hotel guest.
There is a crystal clear freshwater pool and spacious sun terrace set in the landscaped gardens extending to more than eight acres. Astonishing views of the scenery and area are available from every aspect of the property.
The Bath Hotel, Nevis
It’s hard to imagine Nevis without tourists, but many years ago that was the case. Then along came the Bath Hotel. The imposing building perched on a hillside at the south end of Charlestown was the focus of the fashionable life of the English landowners on Nevis who grew cane and manufactured sugar, molasses, and rum, primarily for export. They would gather in the dining and ball rooms for grand affairs, dressed in their imported finery. British and European guests would arrive by ship to partake of the social whirl and benefit from the restorative powers of the Bath’s mineral springs which were purported to cure gout, rheumatism and other debilitating conditions.
Built about 1787 by local Nevis merchant John Huggins, the grand hotel is believed to be the first tourist hotel in the Caribbean. Clerk of the local assembly, Huggins took care of the springs, and determined that it would make sense to build a hotel nearby. His grave maker, located in the floor of the nave of St. Paul’s Anglican Church in Charlestown, reads: “Not many years before his death he became proprietor of the neighbouring hot springs over which out of good will towards hi fellow creatures and not for any advantage of his own he erected convenient baths and at a short distance a large and expensive stone edifice for the accommodation of invalids.”
Visitors would sail Europe, taking a month or more to reach the island; others would travel from other Caribbean ports. The well-known guests included writer Henry Nelson Coleridge; physician Sir Frederick Treves, author of The Elephant Man, who wrote a Victorian travelogue of the island; Prince William Henry, the Duke of Clarence; and poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge. British Naval Admiral, Lord Horatio Nelson and his bride, Fanny Nisbet of Nevis, celebrated their marriage at the hotel entertaining 100 guests for a wedding dinner.
Treves, in his book “The Cradle of the Deep”, compared it to Royal Tunbridge Wells, an elegant Georgian spa-town set in the heart of the beautiful Kent countryside in southern England. The hotel, he wrote, attracted “all the fashionable of the West Indies-the rich merchants with their wives and daughters, the planters, the majors and captains who were invalided or on leave, and the officers of any ship of war that could make and excuse to anchor within sight of Body Island (a tiny, uninhabited isle just off Nevis).”
He said “the great people arrived in schooners, with heaps of luggage and a tribe of black servants. From early to late they whirled round in one unending circle of gaiety.” He describes “dinners where heated men loosened cravats proposed the toast of succeeding beauties, and dancers were kept up until sunrise, and indeed until the ponies were brought round to the door again.”
Henry Nelson Coleridge wrote, after a visit to Nevis in 1825, “… an invalid with a good servant might take up his quarters here with more comfort than in any other house of public reception in the West Indies.” Now a staid government building, the early years of The Bath Hotel were quite grand and its exterior plantings were compared to the Gardens of Jericho or Babylon. British author Gertrude Atherton, wrote in “The Gorgeous Isle,” a novel set in Nevis, that the hotel, which could hold 50 guests in its bedrooms, “was surrounded by wide gardens of tropical trees, ferns and flowers… its several terraces flamed with color, as well as its numerous little balconies and galleries, and the flat surfaces of the roof: the whole effect being that of an Eastern palace with hanging gardens, a vast pleasure house, designed for some extravagant and voluptuous potentate.” Atherton said the hotel had a ballroom and dining hall furnished with mahogany furniture, rich brocade hangings, and thick rugs on polished floors.
An important Caribbean Georgian-style structure, with simple, straight lines and symmetry of design, the hotel was built of the local grey volcanic stone, cut into square blocks. In those days, construction cost 40,000 pounds sterling, about US$200,000 in today’s currency. The structure is 130 feet long and 60 feet wide, built using a system of arched buttresses strong enough to withstand major earthquakes. In the 1600s, sailors in search of fruit and water discovered the springs and used them to soothe their arching muscles. Captain John Smith enroute to Virginia stopped in Nevis for six days in 1607 and wrote about using the springs to clear up skin irritations. He wrote that the water had “an unpleasant taste and was unsuitable for drinking,” presumably because of its high sulfur content. Christopher Columbus first noticed Nevis during his second voyage to the new world in 1493, but the English did not settle it until 1628 via St. Kitts. Sugar was the dominant crop for many years, but began to wane in mid-19th century. Modern day tourism featuring hotels, villas and private homes built for expatriates did not begin until 1950s, although visitors came to Nevis as early as the late 1700s. The thermal springs, which are found in several locations around the island, helped Nevis survive those sparse years between the end of the sugar days and the advent of modern/day tourism. The springs are produced by groundwater that comes in contact with hot volcanic rock along subsurface fault lines. The result is water temperatures ranging from 105 to 109.5 degrees Fahrenheit. But with the downfall of sugar and the emancipation of slaves in 1834, the hotel’s business began to fall off and the building fell into disrepair. By 1883, Nevis’ economy had totally collapsed and the independent government was abolished and joined its neighbor St. Kitts. It remained that way until 1983, when St. Kitts and Nevis declared their independence from Britain. By 1890 the hotel was in a deplorable condition. Not only were the gardens neglected, but the wooden trim had been torn off to use as firewood, the roof had collapsed, and weeds and moss helped cracks form in the stonework. The hotel was restored for the first time in 1909/1912. Lady Catherine Janet Burdon writing in Handbook of St. Kitts/Nevis (1920) cities recent renovation on an extensive scale. The steel framed balconies (52 feet by 10 feet) were added at this time and the communal pool was divided into five individual baths of varying degrees from hot to hottest. Coffee, cigars and cigarettes were offeredyearsa cemetery straight ahead. Turn right up that road, pass the Government House and follow the road to the Bath Hotel on right.
The Treasury Building
In 1671, Nevis was designated the administration centre of the British Leeward Islands.
This role established a need for a treasury serving the islands and a customs house to monitor goods and levy import and export duties. Within the site of the port, the location of the existing Treasury building was ideal for this purpose, and the most likely was the site of he original Treasury and Customs.
The present building bears a keystone dated 1837, which is the year in which many buildings in Charlestown were destroyed by fire. The building's construction, with a stone ceiling over the ground floor, suggested that it was designed to hold large quantities of money in a secure fashion. The upper floor may have been used initially for residential purposes, and a separate entrance and stone steps at the rear of the building. For many years, it was the home of the Treasurer of Nevis. Later it was used for the government offices. Until recently, the ground floor has been used for processing government accounts, and the payment of customs taxes and fees.
In 2001, the treasury was fully restored to serve as a visitor center, taking advantage of the building's strategic location: on axis with the public pier, and the center of Charlestown.