The Dry Dock in Bridgetown is the only surviving one of its kind in the world with a screw-lifting
facility. The first dry dock, or ship lift, was built in New York in 1827, and two more followed
shortly thereafter in Baltimore and Philadelphia.
It was built by Scottish engineer, John Blackwood following an Act of Parliament passed in 1887
for harbour improvements. The project took four years to complete on lands leased from
government and was formally opened on March 10, 1893.
It is located at the Pierhead, Bridgetown. The area is a focal point within the World Heritage
property of Historic Bridgetown and its Garrison, which was inscribed as a UNESCO World
Heritage Site on June 25, 2011.
The dimensions of the Dry Dock, also referred to locally as the Screw Dock, were 240 ft. length,
46 ft. width, with a depth of 10 ft at high tide. It is fitted with a screw lifting mechanism of 31
individual moveable sections of greenheart beams of 7 ft width. Each side had two long shafts
with 1 screw driving them, to facilitate ships being raised or lowered at high tide. The lifting
capacity was 1,200 tons.
The Dry Dock was originally operated through a series of gears powered by a steam engine,
which obtained steam from a coal burning electric motor. It was later powered by 130 H.P.
electric motor and gear box. Each ship had to provide its depth, length and tonnage in order to
have blocks built. Once an individual vessel was raised and cleared the water, repairs could be
carried out. Each section worked independently, to enable repairs and painting of the ships in
sections. Divers went down to check that the ship touched the sections evenly when lowered,
in order to ensure breakage of beams did not occur due to uneven weight.
This area became a centre of ship repair. By 1897, about 1,500 foreign vessels anchored in
Carlisle Bay annually, and benefited from the Dry Dock facility. The Dock also assisted the Royal
Navy vessels that visited, as well as ships of the government of Venezuela. By 1900, the Dock
was lifting over 10,000 tons of ships a year (Hutson, 1973).
Managed by the Central Foundry from early 1920, the Dock’s operations ceased in 1984
following three devasting fires. The last manager of the Dock was Mr. Joseph Weekes who was
employed there for 46 years. Longstanding National Trust member, Mrs. Elsa Weekes was also
employed at the Central Foundry during the years 1965-1984, having retired as Administrative
Currently, the property is under the aegis of the Barbados Tourism Investment Inc. After
almost 100 years, this ‘place of memory’ is a significant cultural heritage site and remains an
outstanding example of Victorian engineering worthy of preservation and protection.
1 UNESCO World Heritage Convention: https://whc.unesco.org/en/about/
2 Hutson, F.C. 1973. The Bridgetown Dry Dock. Journal of the Barbados Museum and Historical Society, March
1973, 34: 104-107.