1787 to the Present - A Restoration in Progress
The Historic Past
by David Carty
It is almost as if time has stood still for the old
Wallblake Estate House standing serenely apart from this latter
half of the 20th century amidst its stolid guardians of old stone
walls and tall Spanish bayonet trees.
Indeed the old mansion does
have a mystic characteristic about it that exudes a quality of permanence
and calm and an indestructible link with the past which only the sensitive
who walk through it, can feel, and very few of us who are caught up in the
hustle of making a living ever stop to ponder the historic symbol that
is Wallblake House and the importance it played in the Anguilla of the
19th century and especially the early 20th century.
It is not altogether clear who exactly built
Wallblake House or whether or not the present architecture is exactly
the same as the original, but we can make some likely historical
deductions which will give us a clue to its beginnings. Part of the
difficulty in ascertaining the past of this old house lies simply in
the fact that it changed ownership many times, due to the economic
depressions of the 19th century, the famines, and the resultant
emigration of planter and peasant alike. Because of all this,
very few family records were ever kept and even if there were any,
they would most likely have been removed with the various families
who quit or sold the house for one reason or another.
Be that as it may, we know that the old house was built in
1787 because of a brick placed in the northern side of the old kitchen
and bakery on which the date was carved and is still faintly visible.
We do not know, however, how long it took to build and how much expertise
it required or how much labour, but here again, we do know that
it must have taken at least eighteen months to build (possibly much longer)
because of the cut stone involved, some of which may have come from
East End or even Scrub Island and the lime used to hold the stone
together which had to be made from burnt coral and shells,
and then mixed with molasses and marl.
The woodwork in the superstructure must have taken long and
careful labour with the beading of each board used in the
double panelling of each partition and especially in the
intricate carving involved in decorating the edges of the
tray ceiling with ‘roping’ (tray ceiling are so called because
they look like inverted trays suspended from the roof, and
roping because they look like rope tacked onto the edges to
hide the irregularities). So at least we know that the
construction of this old house must have taken a large
number of skilled stone-masons (especially when one looks
at the cistern) and skilled carpenters among which there may
have been shipwrights as well as gangs of unskilled labour.
Last but not least there had to be a great deal of money behind the project.
Who built Wallblake House? Here again we do not know for sure,
but the name does suggest clues. If one looks at the Deed Poll of
the last Governor William Richardson who died around 1829 and in which
he disposes of his share of Waterloo Money, you will see that one of
the witnesses to that Will was a William Blake J.P. William Blake,
commonly known as Will or Bill Blake, was a sugar planter who lived
at the turn of the 18th century, when sugar was still supreme in Anguilla.
Although as far as we know he did not sit on the Council,
we do know that he held a position of trust, being called
upon to execute duties and of course being expected to
fulfil the duties of a Justice of the Peace. It is significant
to note that he was sometimes referred to as “Will” and it is more
than likely that it was this planter who built the old mansion
in question and from whom the name ‘Wallblake’ is derived.
In an oral society such as Anguilla, names usually undergo
an idiomatic change which after many years becomes
the universally accepted pronunciation and which
in turn is consequently transmitted back into the literal tradition.
For example, the original settlers called ‘Blowing Point’- ‘Blown Point’, and
the Governor’s residence at ‘Old Ta’s’ is so called because on that site
long ago lived an old man called Thomas. While he lived people commonly
referred orally to that area as ‘Old Ta’s’. That brief example helps us to
understand the origins of the name Wallblake.
It is more than probable that during the decades after
Will Blake’s death, his Christian name underwent an oral
change - from ‘Will’ to ‘Wall’, which as explained was,
and still is, common in societies like Anguilla.
Nine years after this stately home was built, the Anguillian
society came crashing down in death and destruction with the
French invasion of 1796. Few realise how vicious and brutal that
invasion was and how Victor Hughes, the instigator of that attack,
ordered the French to burn and kill everything on Anguilla.
Were it not for the sheer guts of the Anguillian defenders
and the timely arrival of HMS Lapwing, the French may well
have succeeded in their purpose, for they burned, killed,
and raped all hapless victims they could find who were not
fortunate enough to retreat east of Sandy Hill, where the
last defence was fought. Wallblake House featured prominently
in that attack for a crippled man called Hodge, who was unable
to run East from the French, sought refuge in the cellars of
the old house. There, unfortunately, the French found him,
and true to their orders, brutally murdered him and then
set fire to the house. In the mopup operations after
the battle the discovery of Hodges body apparently further
incensed the already enraged Anguillians who proceeded to
Crocus Hill Jail where the French prisoners of war were
being held and began to discharge their muskets through
the bars at the defenceless French. Needless to say, more blood was shed.
William Blake must have been hard pressed to
rebuild his stately home, but apparently the
fire was not all that disastrous for the stone work did not have
to be levelled. For the rest of the century Wallblake stood
untouched, unblemished, undisturbed and beautiful as ever.
It is unclear whether or not William Blake’s family inherited
the old house or if it was sold, but around the end of the 19th
century a man with the surname ‘Hodge’ possessed the building.
During this time, the magistrate on the island was a man by the
name of James Lewis Lake who became a great friend of the Hodges
and held a position of great trust with the family.
Unfortunately, however, Hodge’s trust was much misplaced,
for Lake used his position as magistrate to deal his friend
a most unpleasant ‘stab in the back’.
What happened was that drought had once again laid its ugly
but familiar fingers across the island and once again the cotton
crops had failed disastrously. Hodge was so hard pressed as a farmer
that he was forced to abandon his estates and seek temporary refuge
in emigrating in search of employment. Before leaving, however,
Hodge left Wallblake House in the care of his friend, the magistrate,
in the hope that conditions at home would improve quickly enough
so that his absence from the island would be brief.
Unfortunately, his absence from the island was not brief
and in the interim his property taxes had fallen into arrears.
Since Hodge was abroad, and in no position financially to pay arrears,
his bosom friend the magistrate seized the house on behalf of the state
set up an auction to sell it and reclaim the few pounds of tax arrears,
and then promptly bought it himself. So for a fraction of its
real value Wallblake House changed owners once again,
demonstrating in no uncertain terms how man is always true to his brother.
Rule of The Reys
In the meantime, the early years of this 20th century
saw the beginnings of the powerful Rey family who through the
person of Carter Rey, practically ruled the island economically and
socially, although he held no public office. Carter Rey’s father,
Wager Rey, was a native of French St.Martin who owned large
estates in that island, the most important being that of Mount Vernon.
He married Susan Carter of Anguilla around 1861 who was very
wealthy in her own right, having inherited estates in the
Spring Division, and in The Valley. Together they lived at Landsome,
that lovely old mansion that was the seat of political power
until 1967 when it was unfortunately destroyed by fire.
It was there at Landsome that Carter Rey was born in 1865.
As a young man Carter Rey was born in Guyana,
seeking for gold in the interior and after a few
years he returned to Anguilla to manage the estates both here
and in St. Martin. Being a confirmed bachelor and a man who
apparently preferred his own company, Carter Rey left his family
at Landsome House and rented Wallblake and the estate as well from
Miss Marie Lake, daughter of the infamous magistrate. Carter Rey
reigned supreme in Anguilla for nearly half a century,
providing employment in the cotton fields of Wallblake and
Landsome estates, and in the Salt Pond at Sandy Ground.
C.Rey & Company also ran the only general store on the island
which provided everything that the population needed, from flour
and molasses to pocket knives and pins. This store was housed
under the same roof as the cotton ginnery and that building
is still known as the factory. Although Carter Rey lived
at Wallblake, the social centre for the elite of that
era remained at Landsome. Indeed Wallblake House was more
like a spartan business headquarters of this stern
tycoon who ate his meals under a huge mosquito net in
by far the largest room in the house, much bigger in fact
than the drawing room. Rey was not a very active Anglican
although he gave a lot to the church and helped the poor and destitute in times of hardship.
During the famine of 1937 when many poor families were on the verge of starvation, the report sent by Dr. Thompson to the Governor of St. Kitts was full of praises and blessings for Carter Rey heaped on him by the very poor who in desperation flocked to him for help. Rey died Wallblake of heart disease on the 25th of October 1943 at the age of 78. The whole island went into mourning, although more out of respect than love, and true to his last wishes his coffin was not ‘churched’ but borne straight from the old house to Blowing point where it was put on board the Warspite and carried to St. Martin for burial at the Mount Vernon Estate. The Warspite’s crew, like old seamen, were not too pleased over the task, being properly educated in the superstitions of the sea, where transport of the dead was taboo. They may have had reason to fear, for on the return trip a freak gale struck the vessel in the mid channel breaking her boom. Exit Carter Rey.
Charles Frank Rey
His younger brother Charles Frank Rey promptly moved into Wallblake House with his young wife whom he had married in Chicago. A few moths prior to Carter Rey’s death, Frank had preceded his wife to Anguilla, and was living in Wallblake with his brother. Apparently, however, he had not informed his brother Carter on arrival, of his American marriage, and when he eventually did so, his stern bachelor brother promptly banished him from the house and sent him to live in the ‘Anguillian’, where he stayed until Carter’s death.
Frank Rey did not receive much from Carter Rey’s Last Will and Testament, which is an indicator to the type of relationship that existed between the two brothers. He did not get any part of the Landsome or St.Martin estates or of the factory in Anguilla. In fact, all he got was two hundred pounds in sterling. But for the rest of his life he managed the Road Salt Company for his three sisters and apparently did very well for himself, by pocketing a substantial share of the profits. This reputation was further impaired through amorous escapades which resulted at times in violent reactions from his wife, and a vehement adherence to the principles of atheism. This was the way Charles Frank Rey lived until his death on the 8th of August 1959.
Burial At Sea
Strangely enough the second Rey to die in Wallblake House was also 78 years old, like his brother, and because of his atheism he refused to be churched or buried in hallowed ground. Instead, he insisted on being buried at sea, and so the reluctant Warspite again had to perform the task of carrying the corpse. The body was sown in canvas and weighted, carried on board at Sandy Ground from where the Warspite sailed to Arthur’s Deep and then slipped overboard. Exit Frank Rey. Anguillians would not eat fish for months afterward.
The Catholic Church
Miss Marie, the owner of Wallblake House, had in the meantime settled in Antigua where she underwent a religious change of heart, left the Anglican Church and became a Roman Catholic. When she died in 1976 the house and surrounding property were willed to the Catholic Church.
Since 1959, apart from very brief visits by Catholic priests, and temporary use as a place of worship, Wallblake House had remained largely idle and empty. In 1978 it was leased by the Government of Anguilla to house the Department of Tourism, which was largely responsible for extensive renovations of the old house and an almost complete renovation of the kitchen with its unique chimney.
Since the lease was terminated Wallblake House has reverted to being rectory of the Roman Catholic Church. In an island where hurricanes and economic change have removed so much of Anguilla’s structural historical heritage Wallblake remains an intact symbol what once was. It is the responsibility of all Anguillians to ensure that this beautiful mansion continues to grace the present with memories of the past.
Originally published by David Carty
in the REVIEW 1981-1985 of the
Anguilla Archaeological & Historical Society.
Drawings by Iain Smith.
Wallblake is part of Anguilla History Heritage Trail
More on Anguilla history
Web site of Wallblake House Trust, Anguilla. Home page.