Tyrol Cot Heritage Village

Tyrol Cot celebrates the unique architectural design of freed slaves.

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Barbados' Disappearing Landmarks

No one on Barbados had ever heard of a "modular mobile home." The term hadn't been invented yet.

Still, Bajans went ahead and built thousands of the structures anyway in the 1800s and early 1900s, creating one of the Caribbean's most distinctive folk architecture designs.

The local name for them was chattel houses, as distinctively Bajan as flying fish sandwiches.

They sprang up out of necessity after Emancipation. Former slaves were allowed to rent land and build houses on plantations, but they could be evicted on short notice.

So their homes had to be chattel, "moveable possessions," that could be taken down quickly, placed in an oxcart and reassembled. All in one day. These were truly mobile homes.

Their size tended to be similar, determined by the materials that could be imported. In this case, precut, cheap pine of 12- to 20-foot lengths (only in even sizes) shipped in from North America.

Chattel houses all looked amazingly alike, too, normally with a door in the center and a window flanking each side of it.

A chattel house often began as a single unit under one v-shaped roof. Whenever family circumstances dictated or income allowed, it was expanded sequentially to the rear or side, depending on property boundaries, one roof at a time.

Eventually, porches or verandas might be added and perhaps even a stone foundation if land could be purchased.

The zenith of chattel house design occurred in the 1920s and early 1930s. Many of the most elegant ones still remaining come from that period. But there are far fewer every year as modern homes replace them.


Bajan chattel houses are considered models of Georgian symmetry and harmony. In the past, every traveler to Barbados undoubtedly has stopped to photograph one or more of the brilliantly painted buildings.

From an architectural standpoint, it's sad that so many of these--and I use a phrase I abhor--have disappeared, to be replaced by more modern brick/cinderblock and mortar with absolutely no charm.

Yet this change is good, necessary. It says that Bajan land owners no longer need fear of being forced off their land. Moreover, it makes clear how much more the average Bajan is prospering.

Why would anyone want to live in the past if they can enjoy modern conveniences.

Ironically, the Tyrol Cot attractHeritage Village has become more timely to preserve a part of Bajan heritage than probably was imagined when the heritage village was founded on the grounds of a famous 1800's estate--also part of the attraction.

When it comes to viewing chattel houses, most visitors likely have viewed these distinctive homes only from the outside.

The opportunity to see a variety of styles as well as investigate them inside out is available at Tyrol Cot Heritage Village at Codrington Hill, St. Michael, a creation of the Barbados National Trust.

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