Farley Hill Park is situated 900 feet above sea level on approximately 17 acres of land in the parish of St. Peter. Due to the high altitude and its extensive tree cover, the park is cool even during the hot summer months. One of the main attractions of the park is the Farley Hill GreatHouse, situated just below and to the west of the ridge that forms the watershed of the island.
The great house at Farley Hill, now an outline of ruined stone, belongs to an age much nearer to our own that that of the great plantation house of the seventeenth century but it nevertheless offers a glimpse of a much grander style than that of the present day. It did not achieve its final form until after the middle of the nineteenth century. The earliest part of the house, know originally as Grenade Hall, is thought to have been built in 1818, which is the date incised over the doorway on the inside of the inside of the parapet facing the roof. This house extended from the hallway on the west of the present house and comprised the reception rooms of the later house together with the top storey of bedrooms. It came into the possession of Joseph Lyder Briggs about 1850. He never lived in the house, and at the end of 1856, he gave it to his son, Thomas Graham Briggs. When the latter married in 1856, he added the south wing, the library and the dining room, with bedrooms and the billiard room above. And he named the house “Farley Hill.”
For the next twenty years, Farley Hill was the most imposing mansion in Barbados, described as the most splendid of the old Barbadian merchant palaces. Situated in spacious grounds almost 900 feet above the level of the sea, it was cool even at the hottest time of the year, but as the house itself was just below and to the west of the ridge that forms the watershed of the island at this point, it was protected from the full force of the trade winds. On the summit of the ridge stood a summers-house, from which point one can still obtain a breath-taking view of the Scotland district and the Atlantic coast beyond.
From 1857 until 1876, Briggs spent large sums on developing Farley Hill into one of the finest country residence in the West Indies and on entertaining his friends there. A large number of trees were planted, including many imported from aboard. Among these were Norfolk Island opines (Araucaria excelsa) which the English historian Anthony Froude saw on his visit in 1887 and referred to as Wellingtonias, Spathodias, Olives, Spiced Guavas and Travellers’ Palms. The flower garden was to the west of the house, opposite the front door and there were also two tennis courts, a kitchen garden and a large orchard. The Farleyense fern was first discovered here and the storey goes that Sir Graham was responsible for the introduction of the whistling frog among his imported plants
One of the earliest of the many distinguished visitors was Prince Alfred, the second son of Queen Victoria, later to become Duke of the German Duchy of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. He arrived at Bridgetown in HMS. St. George in February 1861 and from there travelled by sea to Speightown, where great preparations had been made to welcome him. A diorama of the scene is on view in the Barbados Museum. From Speightstown the party drove in carriages to Farley Hill, where at two o’clock sixty ladies and gentlemen sat down to luncheon. After luncheon, His Royal Highness planted a casuarinas tree in the grounds. The Casuarina been introduced from Australia and this tree at Farley Hill was among the earliest to be planted here.
Christmas 1879 saw the arrival in Barbados of Prince Alfred’s nephew, Prince Alfred Victor (Eddy) and Prince George (Later George V) in H M S Bacchante. Briggs was not in the island but the two princes drove out to Farley Hill with the Governor and picnic lunch was sent from Government House. Trees were planted, but the afternoon was wet and, after spending a short time in the library and billiard room, the party returned to Government House.
Prince George visited the island twice more in the course of his naval career and on one of these visits (in 1883) once again went to Farley Hill where he spent the with Sir Graham.
Probably the last of the distinguished visitors from abroad who made their way to Farley Hill was the English historian James Anthony Froude whose book “The English in the West Indies” has excited much comment among West Indians. Froude cannot be accused of being excessively complimentary to the West Indies or West Indians”. Roses do not grow on thorns, he wrote, nor figs on thistles. A healthy human civilization was not perhaps to be looked for in a country, which has been alternately the prey of avarice, ambition and sentimentalism. To the man of science the West Indies may be a delightful and instructive. Rocks and trees remain as they always were and Nature is consistent to herself, but the traveler whose heart is with his kind, and who care only to see his brother mortals making their corner of this planet into an orderly and rational home had better choose some other objects for his pilgrimage…
Sir Graham’s widow left Barbados after his death, and she offered Farley Hill to her brother, Benjamin Courbank Howell. For almost half a century the Howell family lived there.
After the Howell family moved from Farley Hill, the property was rented for a few years at $25 per month and then it remained empty. It was too far from Bridgetown for use as anything but a country residence and the cost of restoring it and maintaining it deterred potential purchasers. About 1940, it was sold to Mr. W. W. Bradshaw but it was in such state of decay that it could serve only as a week-end resort. During the years of World War Two many of the fine trees were cut down for firewood.
In 1956, Farley Hill was partly, albeit temporarily restored to its former splendor for some of the sequences of the film “Island in the Sun” but this brief Indian summer had a tragic sequel. Large quantities of wood and other inflammable material were used for the restoration and a few years later fire destroyed everything but the walls.
It seems for a long time that Farley Hill would remain only as a memory of a dim and receding past, but in 1965, the Government of Barbados led by the Rt. Hon. E. W. Barrow, Prime Minister of the day, recognized the importance of preserving features of historical interest and purchased the property and declared it a national Park. In 1966, 105 years after her great-great uncle, Queen Elizabeth 11 visited Farley Hill and unveiled a plaque commemorating the occasion. Four years later two Australian trees were planted, the Illawarra Flame Tree (Branchychiton acerifolium) by her son, the Prince of Wales and the Queensland Lacebark or White Kurrajong (Brachychiton discolor) by the Hon. Philip Greaves, the then Minister of Home Affairs.
Farley Hill National Park, came under the care of the Parks and Beaches Commission, and was restored to take its place once more as a natural treasury of the island.
The Commission’s first task was to cut and clear away the jungle of bush, which clustered the lovely trees that were growing in the area. So thick was ‘the jungle’ that it took some months before any state of order and tardiness could be brought to the Park. Meanwhile, the burnt and broken wood that was yet inside the ruin of the Farley Hill House had to be removed, for these charred beams posed a real hazard to anyone going inside the ruin. On clearing the bush, the original carriageways were discovered and these were repaired so as to facilitate the movement of vehicles out of the Park. With the area cleared of undergrowth, zoysia grass and savannah grass were planted to carpet the area between the noble trees many of which had been planted by Sir. Graham Briggs between 1957 and 1876. Some additional trees were planted by the Commission to replace some, which had died or had been felled in ignorance of their value to the aesthetic beauty of the place. Motor vehicles in which they arrived could not be accommodated on the relatively narrow driveways. It became necessary to construct a special car park and the collection of a fee for using the car park necessitated the erection of a gate hose, which would fit sympathetically into its historic surroundings. The Commission is grateful to the late Mr. Oliver Messel for designing this gatehouse free of charge.
Today the National Conservation Commission maintains the 17-acre park in pristine condition and it is a popular picnic venue utilized by residents and visitors. Some of the attributes and unique features of the park include a breathtaking beauty, lush vegetation, cool & shady surroundings, extensiveness of the property, the majestic ruins of Farley Hill Great House and opportunities for excellent photographs.
A Souvenir Shop
A newly renovated Play Park
Tents for rent
A Ranger/Warden Service
A Secured Car Park
The ambience of the ruins, arresting view of the sloping hills and the general environment has prompted the Commission to consider “Another Side of Farley Hill”. The preceding provides the right mix, creating the perfect setting for a variety of functions such as:
Public Entertainment (Barbados Jazz Festival, Soca on the Hill, Gospel Fest & Reggae on the Hill)
Currently there is a demand for quality locations for various events that offers a certain measure of sophistication, while still remaining in sync with the awesome grandeur of the natural environment. The Commission is confident that Farley Hill can effectively fill this vacuum.
It is anticipated that this venture will create additional business opportunities therefore the Commission is seeking partnerships with companies and individuals including but not limited to Promoters, Event Planners, Photographers, Entertainers and Caterers that provide various ancillary services.