One of the more iconic images of Bermuda, along with businessmen dressed in "formal" Bermuda shorts and pink buses, is the "Birdcage". The Bird Cage actually resembles an open birdcage-like structure painted in blue & white colors, resting on a slightly raised platform; this unique structure is the place of work for a Bermudian policeman who directs traffic at the important junction of Front Street, its extension of Front Street West which becomes Pitts Bay Road and Queen Street.
Unfortunately, there was no policeman in it when we walked by that day. I had hoped to see him in his Bermuda shorts uniform and distinctive cap. The "Bird Cage" has been deemed a place of historical and cultural importance by Bermudians. Ironically, the Bird Cage was designed by a gentleman named Dickie Bird, who died just this year, in 2011.
The image of this rather famous & distinctive "Bird Cage" can be found on postcards, posters, artwork, etc. I found such a terrific poster with the image of the "Bird Cage" in the style of vintage travel posters (from the golden age of travel ) that I couldn't resist buying it! It will always remind me of our trip to Bermuda.
One of the most charming, historic buildings we saw while visiting Hamilton was the Perot Post Office located on Queen Street, just near Par-la-Ville Park. This 2-story British Colonial building easily stands out on the street because it is painted a brilliant white, with 8 over 8 pane windows on the ground level and 6 over 6 pane windows on the 2nd level, all framed by black shutters. It also has a beautiful transom over the front door.
This still-working post office is a real gem. The inside is even better than the outside with period furnishings and customer accommodations very much as they were when William Bennet Perot was named Hamilton’s postmaster and ran the establishment from 1818 to 1862.
Perot issued the first stamps in Bermuda, although the idea is thought to have originated with his close friend, James Bell Heyl. Can you imagine that the original cost of a stamp during this period of time was only a penny? As Perot spent more time in his garden, now Par-la-Ville Park, than in his post office he provided a box where customers could drop their mail and pennies. It is said that Perot delivered all mail by hand himself.
When I entered to mail some postcards, the one postal clerk was preoccupied with another task so she advised me just to leave the cards I had to be mailed at one of the antique counters. I would have liked to stay longer just to absorb the historic surroundings of the post office, but of course, that might not have been appreciated.
The post office is open Monday - Friday 9am to 5pm. It also sells transport passes and tokens as well as stamps! Rather than rather reading about the Perot Post Office on some less than friendly websites, see this place for yourself.
Among the several churches located on appropriately named "Church Street," is the neo-Gothic "The Cathedral of the Most Holy Trinity" is the only one we visited. Its solid stone structure with soaring tower, and multitude of stained glass windows leaves no question that it is a cathedral.
However, this church is not the original building. The original structure was begun in 1844, completed in 1883, and only 1 year later destroyed by fire at the hand of an arsonist in 1884. The present-day Cathedral, designed by William Hay, had its foundation stone laid on May 1, 1886, and a first phase was completed in 1894. The church was designated as a Cathedral that year, finally completed in 1905, and consecrated in 1911.
The church floor plan is designed as a traditional Roman Cross, and the architecture is, as mentioned above, Neo-Gothic as opposed to Bermudian; but, most of it is built of Bermuda limestone from the Par-La-Ville quarry. However, to be noted, the slightly different stone color around the windows, doors, and the rings of the arches, cornices and gables, is because they are made from Caen stone which was imported from Normandy, France.
I was impressed that unlike many large cathedrals which inside are quite dark and somewhat intimidating, Most Holy Trinity Cathedral is filled with warm light, and the interior woodwork is light and warm also giving the Cathedral a very welcoming atmosphere. The kind lady at the Cathedral's entrance was happy to point out special features, answer questions, and direct you to informational pamphlets and the gift shop. Two of the things that made this Cathedral distinctive for me were the Coats of Arms of the 9 original shareholder families of Bermuda hanging beneath the soaring pipe organs (and these coats of arms were not needlepoint or tapestry but were made from dried seeds, beans, corn kernels, and other natural fiber materials); and the very personalized, needlepoint kneeling cushions in the pews where longtime parishioners sit & kneel every Sunday!
Entrance to the Cathedral is free but donations are gratefully accepted. For a small admission fee, you are welcomed to climb the 157 steps to the top of the tower for a panoramic view of the City of Hamilton and the harbor. Audio tours are also available for a small fee.
Hours are 9 am to 4 pm Monday - Friday. Sunday Services at 8 am & 10 am.
On your walk exploring Front Street, notice the somber monument facing the street which is the "Cenotaph". Built in 1920 of (local?) limestone, the Cenotaph is a memorial for those who died for Bermuda in the first two world wars. Apparently, the Bermuda cenotaph is a replica of the one that you will see in Whitehall, London. Befitting its purpose, listed on the monument are the names of "those who died while safeguarding Bermuda's freedom."
The three flags on front of the cenotaph are from the The Royal Navy, Royal Air Force and British Army and salute the sacrifice of the brave soldiers from those military units. Hamilton tradition celebrates the sacrifice made by these brave soldiers every year on 11th of November with a Remembrance Day Parade, in which Bermuda's surviving veterans participate, as well as Bermuda's Premier, Governor and other officials. The parade concludes at the Cenotaph where wreaths are then laid, and gun fire salute is given by the Bermuda regiment.
The Cabinet Building
Located on a large plot of land behind the iron fence and the Cenotaphy is "Cabinet Building" where the Bermuda Cabinet of ministers and top officials conduct business every Wednesday.
The cabinet sessions are held concurrently with the House of Assembly sessions which are also ongoing between November and June.
Although it looks much newer, this two-story building is actually 170 years old, being constructed in 1841. In 1968, it became the office of Bermuda's Premier who runs the Bermuda Government. What's to see inside? Large portraits of past Premiers and Senate Presidents. Important to local folks is the large oil painting of William Herbert, the third Earl of Pembroke---Pembroke parish where the City of Hamilton is located was named after him.
A period cedar chair that was built for Governor Josias Forster in 1642 is also on show. The parliament sessions were held in St. George, the former capitol, during that time period.
The Cabinet building is open to visitors from Monday through Friday (except Tuesday) from 9a.m to 5p.m. And for budget travelers, please note there is no admission fee. Security is enforced.
Though Par-la-Ville Park is prominently featured on any good map of Bermuda, we did not make it a priority to see when we visited Hamilton. Rather it was just good luck that we had the opportunity to visit it when we stopped at the Perot Post Office as it is virtually next door.
There are actually two entrances to the park: enter through the one on Par-la-Ville Road and you’ll pass through Bermuda’s oldest moongate -- be sure to pass through the moongate for good luck; the beautiful, wrought-iron gates leading from Queen Street usher you into the park's peaceful setting with its shade trees, lovely gardens, benches and brick walkways.
The gentle rise and fall of the natural landscape added to the visual appeal of the park and the flowering oleander's light fragrance in the warm air was delightful.
Though only a very short distance from the somewhat hectic Front Street in Hamilton, Par-la-Ville Park is great for those looking for a quick retreat from their normal workday or tourist routine. For those on a budget, bringing a lunch or picnic to this lovely spot is a great idea.
Par-la-Ville Park was once the garden of William Perot, Bermuda’s first postmaster. It's said that Perot’s postal duties though were just a sideline. Gardening was his primary passion. His five-acre garden at Par-la-Ville on Queen Street, Hamilton, where he lived for most of his life, was a horticultural showpiece. Historian Henry C. Wilkinson described it as “the best in the colony.”
~ A Little More History ~
This garden was planned by William B. Perot who was the first Post Master of Bermuda. On entering the park you will notice the large rubber trees [a giant rubber tree can be seen just near the entrance] which were transported from British Guyana and planted here in 1847! [Son Adolphus sent him the seedling for the Par-la-Ville rubber tree from British Guyana, where he and his brother James had established themselves in business.] In the 1800's, Par-la-Ville Park was an orange-producing orchard. A huge number of crates of oranges happened to be exported to Boston. Over 50 fruit tree specimens were planted here.
I have tried to research whether the garden today was originally the site of a quarry as the history concerning the building of the Most Holy Trinity Cathedral mentions its building block limestone as coming from Par-la-ville Quarry. [This would be a history similar to Butchart Gardens on Vancouver Island, BC Canada if it was indeed the case.]
While you're visiting City Hall's art galleries --- the Bermuda Society of Arts Gallery and Bermuda National Gallery --- notice that the building itself has several points of interest --- notice the magnificent staircase, chandeliers and paintings. You will enter through magnificent, tall Bermuda cedar doors into the main lobby. Inside and to the left, you can see a large portrait of Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, by Curtis Hooper. Someone told us that the painting of the Queen is thought to be so unflattering that it is removed from City Hall whenever the Queen visits! Though I do not believe it is the best portrait of the Queen I have seen, still I liked it.
The beautiful, solid cedar staircase which leads to the West Exhibition Room where art collections of the Bermuda National Gallery and Bermuda Society of Arts are displayed, reminded me of one you might see in Switzerland or Germany. The very large chandeliers added a formal but warm feeling to the lobby and they are quite unique; I could not find specific information about who designed or created them.
Revolving exhibitions make their way to City Hall, for example: philatelic collections on Bermuda, Bermuda currency, and a display of ships crests from every Royal Navy warship that served on the Bermuda and West Indies Station and visited Bermuda.
Although you can't quite see in the accompanying picture the weather vane and wind direction indicator on the clock tower, it is a bronze replica of the 17th century vessel, "Sea Venture", the vessel which brought Sir George Somers and the first settlers to Bermuda in 1609.
Other nice pieces of public art include the fountains on City Hall's front lawn: curving, reflective lily pools stocked with goldfish, and several very nice bronze sculptures of children and families all of which are a nice counterpoint to the umebellished lines of City Hall.
I found City Hall quite worth the time and effort to see.
The beautiful, and striking bright white building with clean lines and tall clock tower is Hamilton's City Hall and is home to offices, operations for the (Corporation) City of Hamilton, the City Hall Theater, two art galleries and other public rooms, including a beautiful lobby.
Modeled after the City Hall of Stockholm, Sweden, Hamilton's City Hall was made possible due to a major gift by the late Miss Catherine Browne Tucker in memory of her father, George Somers Tucker, a former Alderman of the town and Speaker of the House of Assembly. Opened by Governor Sir Julian Alvery Gascoigne, KCMG, on 11 February 1960, City Hall occupies the site of the former Hamilton Hotel, Bermuda's first major hostelry (it burnt down many decades ago and was never rebuilt). It was designed by Bermudian architect, Will Onions.
Other Important Facts:
"Distinguished visitors to the City Hall have included Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and His Royal Highness Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh (both in1975, plus he has visited it in April 1969 during construction); His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales; Her Royal Highness the late Princess Margaret, Countess of Snowdon; The Right Hon. The Earl of Snowdon; Her Royal Highness Princess Alice; Her Royal Highness Princess Alexandria; His Royal Highness The Duke of Gloucester; former President of the USA Harry S. Truman (in 1961, when he signed the Visitors Book as a "Retired Farmer"); former British Prime Minister The Right Hon. Margaret Thatcher; and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Michael Ramsey."
Further Notable History of Hamilton's City Hall:
"Outside City Hall is a statue, eight feet tall, cast in New York City, put there in 2008 to honor Bermudians who took a stand against the social segregation that existed in the island with the Theatre Boycott, the watershed event that forever changed Bermuda and ended the institutionalized segregation which existed here at that time. The boycott, organized by the Progressive Group and its leader Dr. Stanley Ratteray, began on June 15, 1959 and lasted two weeks until July 2 when theatre, hotel and restaurant owners capitulated. They announced that black people could sit wherever they wanted in cinemas and that people would no longer be turned away from restaurants or hotels because of the colour of their skin. The Progressive Group had been meeting in secret in a Flatts home owned by Rosalind and Edouard Williams in the weeks leading up to the boycott. They planned the action taken and publicized it by dispersing flyers around the island, advising people to stay away from the theatres. They wanted a total transformation of Bermuda society and to end the social injustices of the time. The statue was commissioned from Bermudian sculptor Chesley Trott."
No cars were allowed into Bermuda until 1948, now, for a population of 65,000 on an island of 21 square miles, there are more than 40,000 cars. Before cars there were horse and buggies, bicycles and for a short time a railroad. The horse and buggies have survived for the last sixty years as a novelty ride for tourists. Under large trees, on the main shopping thoroughfare, Front Street, they wait for the tourists to disembark from the cruise ships.
The buggies are living antiques. The drivers dressed in their white shirts and ties take tourists on a half hour tour of Hamilton. They clip clop through the city at a leisurely place. People smile when they see these charming vehicles from another time. The big white buggy's can easily hold a whole family. The tourists enjoy the ride.
They are especially nostalgic to me because when I got married in Bermuda, carriages took the wedding party from Hamilton to the Elbow Beach Surf club. Riding through the street you were the center of attention. You felt like the Queen of England riding through London in her carriage acknowledging the waves and cheers from people in the street
The reason I say their days are numbered is that twice in the last year, frightened horses have run wild on Front Street. People's lives were endangered. Their nostalgic appeal is being weighed against their danger to tourists. Why risk bad publicity that could hurt tourism? There are also plans to no longer dock the cruise ships along Front Street but to dock them many miles away at Dockyard in Somerset. In a few years they will probably disappear.
Hamilton, Bermuda is 1,200 miles from the Caribbean. This is not a lazy, impoverished, West Indian back water. This is a city of rich lawyers, accountants, investment analysts, bankers and underwriters. Horses don't fit in with traffic congestion and rush hours.
If you have ever wanted to feel like royalty, you had better grab a ride on a horse and buggy in Bermuda while you can.