PARADISE ESTATE IN SAN FERNANDO
Not long after Governor José María Chacón declared San Fernando a town in 1792, the former “Village of Naparima,” which was on the northern fringe of a rambling estate known as “Paradise,” began to encroach on the Paradise lands in a bid for the expansion of the town.
So the relationship between the San Fernando officials and the estate owners could not have been very cordial. But it happened that every dry season San Fernando was harassed by the lack of water, and when it established a Town Council in 1846 the councilors made an agreement with the then estate owner, William Eccles, to allow the townsfolk to get water from the estate wells in the dry season.
However from Saturday, July 3, 1852 Paradise Estate was not just to be a watering hole for San Fernando. Governor Lord Harris had held the first horse-race meeting in Trinidad at Christmas 1851, and it was a big affair which drew much attention to Port-of-Spain. William Eccles reacted to this because the Queen’s Park was formerly an estate also known as “Paradise,” and the rivalry between Port-of-Spain and San Fernando being as sharp as it remained later, William Eccles decided that he was going to have an even better horse-race meeting, in an even better paradise!
Horse-owners in the Naparimas were as determined as was William Eccles to have the Naparimas “get their own back” on Port-of-Spain, and even The San Fernando Gazette got involved. In an effort to bring the venue to wide attention the newspaper wrote: “Everyone who has visited Naparima knows the beautiful park-like savannah of Paradise Estate with its undulating eminences and beautiful trees of perpetual verdure. The well-kept lawns, the neatly-trimmed fences and the carefully cultivated cane-fields by which it is surrounded have nothing of the wildness which we generally associate with tropical climates.”
The “perpetual verdure” itself took up a goodly part of what today is southwestern San Fernando. From the area of the present hospital facing Harris Promenade, which was a strip of land just donated to San Fernando by Lord Harris, it went south to the area where Rushworth Street was cut in 1864, and as far easterly as the track that was Cipero Street, a western boundary of San Fernando at that time. Then it came close to the San Fernando Hill, finding its way to what is now Court Street, a street named after the first Court House (still standing) built in 1865, and the final stretch of the race course ended where it started, in the area of the present San Fernando hospital, near to the western end of Harris Promenade. The course somewhat followed the boundaries of the estate.
The article, while suggesting that the neat fences and the fields of sugarcane were not the only attractions, added: “The abrupt hill of San Fernando, with its double summit forms a prominent object in front.”
That “front” would have been in the area of Prince of Wales Street, a street that was made following a visit to Trinidad by the Prince of Wales and his brother in 1880.
Many of the races in this San Fernando race-meeting of 1852 seem to have started in front of the estate house which appears to have been where today’s Irving Park can be found.
(Irving Park, which lies between Irving Street and Freeling Street, became a “park” in the 1960s. It was named for Governor Sir Henry Turner Irving who served here from 1874 to 1880. Irving was followed by Sir Sanford Freeling, who served from 1880 to 1883).
The course was a winding circuit of about a mile long, making sudden turns to the right and to the left and sudden dips and rises. That day of the races it rained heavily, making the track slippery and dangerous, and causing a lot of hilarity because of horses and riders falling, with, fortunately, no injury, and also a number of close races, which had people screaming with excitement. The day ended up brightly with the sun and was enjoyable beyond any telling of it, and who can say that William Eccles and the race-horse owners, and spectators too — who can say they could not assure Lord Harris that their horse-races were more thrilling than his effort of 1851?
Oddly enough, those Naparima races of Saturday, July 3, 1852 hastened San Fernando’s development and also hastened the end of Paradise Estate. Eccles, who had meticulously prepared his ground for the races, had visitors among the racing crowd who were looking far beyond the races. Chief among them were those making up the municipal body of San Fernando. For the next year when Ordinance 10 of 1853 came into force, giving San Fernando a Borough Council, the first mayor, Dr. Robert Johnstone, thought how splendid it would be to have houses on those race-course lands bringing in a hefty sum in house rates for the coffers of the Borough Council. To him and his councilors this would serve many purposes, among them: improve the town itself, improve the appearance of the place, and also give the Borough Council the wherewithal to introduce useful amenities.
In good time the estate could hardly resist mayoral offers and the Borough Council bought a huge section of the Paradise Lands to establish what it called “Paradise Village.” Between 1852 and 1872, for example, a lot took place to make Paradise Estate dwindle radically. In that period quite a number of the Paradise streets were constructed, such as Broadway, Lewis, Harris, Gordon, Sutton, Irving and Freeling — all named for governors who did something special for San Fernando. At this time the Borough Council, which was wrestling with the problem of a proper cemetery for San Fernando, set aside a few acres of land and established Paradise Cemetery in January 1868.
In 1878 a Convent was built by the Sisters of St Joseph de Cluny near the northern gate of the cemetery. Continued development of Paradise Village, especially in the section enclosed by Sutton Street, Broadway, Rushworth Street, and Cipero Street, brought the situation to a point where in 1897 the Borough Council just had to maintain the streets, introduce sanitary measures like garbage collection, and declare Paradise Village to be in the Town of San Fernando.
By the end of the 19th century there was not much remaining of the old Paradise Estate, and what remained was so little that it attracted little or no interest, and it remained virtually unchanged throughout the whole of the 20th century. This area was the last section of the great, sprawling pasture and was left with the name: Paradise Pasture.
Nearing the end of the 19th century Paradise Pasture persisted as a pasture for cattle, and its pond, known as “Paradise Pond,” was one of the main sources of the town’s drinking water. That is until San Fernando got its first waterworks in 1899, with water flowing in pipes for the first time. But Paradise Pasture was also the main home for cricket in San Fernando, and at least one great batsman, Olivierre of St. Vincent, hit a six that sailed over many samaan trees and sent the ball into the pond.
In the new century — the 20th — Paradise Pasture became known for Naparima College, which was erected on its southwestern fringes in 1900, and later on an elementary school was built, namely San Fernando E.C. The First World War, which broke out in 1914, helped Paradise Pasture by accounting for a Drill Hall towards its northern end.
As early as 1942 the modern San Fernando hospital began construction on the northwestern fringes of the pasture, and this hospital was completed and opened in 1955.
In 1959 the “pasture” saw men knocking hammer on iron, pushing saw against timber, and shovel into cement, and discovered it was the start of construction of a concert hall. This concert hall, called The Naparima Bowl, was opened on 27th August 1962 — just four days before the Independence of Trinidad and Tobago.
So we reflect on Paradise Estate, which has come a long way, and which has survived in the little remnant, Paradise Pasture. The area is nothing like it was on that special day of the Naparima races: Saturday July 3, 1852.
Copyright NALIS, 2008