The first floor of the house is beautifully furnished with antiques and collectibles of Mrs Leacock, including classic Barbadian mahogany pieces and other Barbadiana. Upstairs provides offices and council room for the Trust, replacing the former headquarters at Ronald Tree House in Belleville. purchased by the Trust in 1983.
Wildey Great House
Wildey, St. Michael Barbados 13°16’00’N 59°34’22W
Barbados National Trust Headquarters
Wildey Great House became the headquarters of the Barbados National Trust as a result of the bequest of its owner, the late Edna Leacock, widow of the Hon Dick Leacock (who bought the house in 1941) and mother of Christopher Leacock, businessman, horticulturist and Council Member of the Trust. It was restored to its original state in 1994 – 1995 partly through the proceeds of a long lease of one acre of land to its neighbors,
Carter and Company. The restoration included the coral/lime plaster, prepared in the traditional way, and the pink wash that research showed was the most constant colour of the house through the ages.
The property occupies 4 acres, 2 roods and 6 perches. The house was the great house of Wildey plantation in St. Michael, and it sits on the edge of a cliff which forms part of the Wildey-Kent-South Ridge escarpment, and beneath which the old Highway 6 runs. Like most plantation great houses, including its neighbours Upton and Kent, it was built for the best views of the property and it takes advantage of the view over the south coast.
Parts of the grounds are wooded, but there are walled driveways and garden, typical of the late nineteenth century.
The house appears to be from the late seventeenth century. Its architectural importance lies in the fact that it is a typical English, Georgian design adapted to the risks of tropical hurricanes, with very thick walls, a high parapet and very low roof line, and formidable hurricane shutters. It has a central hallway, spacious rooms and modest plaster decorations on the ceilings, including whimsical masks and angels. There are large triple-hung sash windows, seen only at three of the grandest houses of the period, including Government House. It antedates the more typical Barbadian plantation great house of the post-1831 era, but shows some similarities to its neighbours, Upton House and Highgate House.
The early history is interesting. It was owned by Daniel Wildey St, who was a merchant, ship-owner and Surveyor of Highways.
Local historian Peter Campbell has suggested that Wildey’s son, who disappeared, probably to the US, after mortgaging the property in 1760, may have got into debt building the great house. Henry Crichlow, the owner at the turn of that century (1777-1805), also owned the elegant Highgate House (whose plaster decorations rival SAM LORD’S CASTLE). As he was clearly wealthy, he may have been responsible for the construction of the present house, which cannot be more accurately dated than somewhere in the eighteenth century. Subsequent owners included a John Packer, who built a racecourse to the east of the house, a reputedly wealthy but penny pinching J R Hinkson, and Jason Jones the merchant.
WILES, Sir Donald (1913-2000) taught at his alma mater, Harrison College, for several years before taking up a scholarship in librarianship at the University of Toronto. He served as Public Librarian until 1950, then was appointed Assistant Colonial Secretary and in 1954 Permanent Secretary to the Premier, (later Sir) Grantley Adams.
Walkthrough of the House
You enter under the big porte cochère, and in through the central front door with its charming dolphin knocker.
The gracious and high ceilinged central reception hall features a gilded and carved marble-topped console and mirror from the 1880’s. The two side chairs have Gothic style backs and Trust fabric on the seats. The oak English settee on the right is easily the oldest piece in the house, a heavily restored treasure from the 1720’s. What stories it could tell!
The small mahogany wall bench opposite has an interesting carved back and arms. The Persian carpets on the floor arc part of the collection of Persians seen throughout the house. The carved torchère is actually a Barbadian mahogany bedpost cut down, and there are several examples of these stands in the various rooms.
On the right, you enter into the elegant Long Room, the most imposing room of the house, with its spacious proportions, many windows and plaster ceiling rosettes. The alabaster art deco ceiling lights were brought back from a trip to italy by the Leacocks. The furniture is, without exception, of great interest. Some pieces not to miss: the mid-19th century mahogany drum table on a pedestal, with reeded legs and brass casters, sporting a Chinese motif in the porcelain bowl, the plates on the wall, and the unusual ceramic bowl with Chinese figures clinging to the edge. Two lovely examples of caned single-ended couches, one with tulip legs, the other c. 1820’s with a scroll back, brass insets and casters. By one window is a low Victorian “priedieu” chair on casters, and a delicate music stand, by the other is an 1835 William IV upholstered armchair. Across from it is an important 1830 carved and caned Bergere chair. The two console tables flanking the inner doors are William IV, with lovely carved acanthus leaves on the legs and paw feet. The veneer is in the process of being restored. On one of these tables are a splendid pair of Rockingham Works jars and English bone china plates, on the other are Minton plates and pieces in the Sevres style
The bookcases are imposing, one an early 19th century piece cut down from a much larger piece, the other in the far left comer with Gothic tracery on the glass doors, filled with lovely Meissen figurines, and other French and English treasures. On the far wall is a splendid Barbadian mahogany sideboard with a carved back, featuring a collection of green glass. Above it is a 1930s oil painting of Morgan Lewis Windmill, a Trust property, done by J. Bailey, on loan from the Bannister family. In the north corner is a rare and lovely due – an oval backed Victorian chair still with its original 1860s fabric hidden under the slip cover, and a carved card table in Georgian style. The piano is a turn of the century German Bechstein, one of the great pianos.
From the Long Room you can now explore the rear of the house. This section, above the old kitchen, was once the large kitchen now divided into kitchen, library and hall. The office reception area was created out of the old cloakroom and pantry, with a separate office entrance and portico added on. Most of the furniture in these rooms is from the Trust’s original collection, once housed in our former Victorian headquarters “Govan” (Ronald Tree House) in Belleville.
You will find a photo of our English founder Ronald Tree in reception, standing in front of his Barbadian home Heron Bay. On the walls are displayed part of the Trust’s extensive historic photo collection and other Trust memorabilia. There is a full basement, which once housed the old kitchen, but this is not open to the public today.
The art deco table and leather chairs in the Library are from the Leacock collection with silver gilt decoration, made by Bath Furniture in England. Note also the wallpaper, part of the Plantation collection of The Barbados National Trust, designed and sold by Schumacher in the U.S.
The sample books are on the table for viewing.
“The library walls are papered in Codrington Garden pattern.
Do proceed upstairs to the working offices of the Trust, entered from a spacious stair hall. The Barbadian glass-fronted cabinet on the right has a collection of China donated by Trust members. On the right was the master bedroom, now divided into two Executive Offices. On the left is Christopher Leacock’s former bedroom, now the Board Room, with its fine old Bajan mahogany table. The other offices were created from guest bedrooms and dressing rooms. The architectural photographs on the walls are part of the extensive Trust collection.
Retrace your steps back downstairs and enter the dining room on the right, with very English antique pieces The round dining table easily seats 10, and is surrounded by six Regency chairs from the 1820s. The English sideboard on the right has a brass back rail and interesting brass lion head handles. On it is some of the superb Leacock silver collection, also displayed in the semi-circular glass fronted cabinet, and the tall slender cabinet with the silver and glass tankards. Note the 1790s English brass and mahogany octagonal cellarette (for holding wine and liqueurs), with the lion’s head and brass casters. Other English antiques are the three shield back chairs with the wheat-sheaf design and medallion carving, the large corner cabinet filled with splendid crystal glass including Lalique, and the bow front English corner cabinets (not yet hung). The Chinese screen is rosewood with ivory and mother of pearl inlays. Hanging on the walls are an interesting collection of old maps and prints. The rug on the floor between the rooms is a valuable Sarouk.
The Drawing Room retains the Leacock’s 1950s brocaded sofa and matching armchairs. Some notable pieces are the late 19th century sofa table below the alcove with Leacock family photos, the Chinese miniatures of ceramic, ivory and jade in the alcove, and the round mahogany table with a lovely collection of old paperweights on it. Above this is a 1920s painting of Belleville by Barbadian Kathleen Hawkins. In the window is a charming
“birdcage” piecrust table, that revolves and also tilts up. The curved glass china cabinet contains another wonderful collection of Derby, Meissen, Minton China, and Lalique glass. Note the Berbice chair in the corner by the bookcase. This design originated in the Berbice area of Guyana, and is a planter’s armchair with pull out pieces for putting up your legs. The woman’s version had lower pull-outs for modesty
You can exit the house through the west verandah. Do pause to admire the lawn, with its Italian style lily pond and coralstone Greek columned Pergola. Here you can sample refreshments, browse in our shop and satisfy your sweet tooth at the confectionery table. Enjoy a stroll through the lawn to the east, which will bring you back round to the front of the house. The semi-circular garden here is of a more formal style, whilst there is also an extensive wooded area all around and behind the drive, sporting a variety of ornamental trees.
History of Wildey Great House
Wildey house is one of the finest of the plantation great houses built in the latter part of the eighteenth century It’s full history is fascinating, because it reveals so much of the life of the 18th century. Briefly, the Wildey plantation was one of the larger land holdings in the vestry of St. Michael, around 101 acres as recorded in a sale in 1777. Once owned by Daniel Wildey Sr., it was inherited by his son Daniel Wildey Jr. in 1739. Later, Wildey mortgaged his property and it is believed that the mortgage may have been to build the present Wildey House, sometime between 1760 and 1780.
The property changed hands several times, the name changed to Sion Hill by then owner Henry Crichlow around 1790, then reverted to “Wildey” when it ceased to belong to the Crichlow family. It has given its name to the whole area that now surrounds the house, an area transformed in the last 100 years from waving acres of sugar cane and country views to densely populated residential and commercial sectors intersected by busy roads.
In 1941 Dick Leacock bought the property and lived there with his English wife Edna, for over 40 years. Their son Christopher eventually married Susan Milne, who is still resident in Barbados. Dick Leacock died in 1976 and his wife lived on alone in the house until her passing in October 1993
Built on a ridge overlooking the south coast, the house has sweeping views down the cliff and across to the sea, views which are only fully seen today from the top floor. In Caribbean Georgian style, it has little external decoration apart from a wide “stringline” on the second storey, and unusual plaster mouldings around the parapet roof. This parapet was probably added later, after one of the major hurricanes The windows are full length all around the main floor rooms, sash windows with three panels – one of the few examples of this style still standing on Barbados. All the doors and windows also have full length hurricane shutters, with very unusual bolting bars built into the walls for easy storage. A very secure house in a hurricane!
The house was in very bad condition by 1995 when restoration began – much of the wood throughout was termite infested, the entire main floor and the long wooden sleepers supporting it had to be replaced with greenheart wood, as was much of the woodwork in the lintels and ceiling supports. The ceilings were all rebuilt as well as the staircases. We have put before photos in each area for you to see the work in progress.
The exterior walls of cut coral stone were in good condition, revealed when the various layers of covering were peeled away. The exterior walls were then repaired and plastered using the traditional pre-cement method of lime mortar. Architect Bruce Jardine and Master Builder Charles Leslie spend countless hours experimenting and discovering how to produce and apply limestone mortar and teaching the craft to the masons. Then we painstakingly produced lime wash coloured with traditional powdered pigments brought from England as the colour for the walls – a nice traditional effect, but almost impossible to match for future touch ups!
Much of the information taken is sourced from the Open House flyer from March 10, 1999, seen below!