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New Museum Highlights Aspects of Montserrat’s Past

by Cathy Buffonge

Earl of Wessex

During their visit to Montserrat in March, the Earl and Duchess of Wessex, Queen Elizabeth’s last son and his wife, opened Montserrat’s new National Museum.  The island had been without a museum for over fifteen (15) years owing to the volcanic crisis which began in July, 1995.

The previous museum, set up in a historic sugar mill and run by the Montserrat National Trust, was located in the danger zone when Plymouth was evacuated due to the volcanic events which escalated in 1996. However, Trust volunteers assisted by several overseas and regional organizations, including the Museum Association of the Caribbean, salvaged many items.

Hon. Premiere Reuben Meade

The new museum has been built at Little Bay in the north, within reach of the planned new town beginning at Carr’s Bay corner, and close to the Little Bay playing field and the proposed tourist development and super yacht marina. Close by, a Volcano Interpretation Centre is planned.

The museum’s opening exhibition is named Crossing Stitches, a play on words which covers several aspects of the exhibits, including the cotton production and export during the first half of the 20thcentury. This exhibit features a series of enlarged historic photographs of cotton production from reaping and transporting (on head or donkey), to cleaning and shipping out to England to be spun and woven. There’s also a videotaped description by Abraham ‘Hammie’ White, of the process and conditions of cotton production in those days, as well as written information.

Duchess of wessex

The sea island cotton produced in Montserrat was highly valued overseas, but like other colonies Montserrat was just a primary producer. Until more recent times all the ‘value added’ was done overseas, so that on low wages the workers in those days could never have afforded  or even seen a garment made from it.

Crossing Stitches also applies to actual cross stitch and other embroidery stitches, the creation of Montserrat’s skilled needle workers of past years: ‘Creative stitches in cotton’. Here Montserrat’s needle workers are honoured for their skilled and imaginative embroidery work, something that has almost died out. Embroidered items, some dating back as far as the 1920’s, are on display, many of them produced by the pupils of Miss Carrie Dyer, and other skilled needle workers — Ellen Sweeney, Manelva Greenaway and many others. Stitches include cross stitch, tatting, stem stitch, chain stitch, feather stitch, satin stitch, crochet, French knots and more.

In this area too, an eye-catching mural painting by Kelvin ‘Tabu’ Duberry covering an entire wall portrays the horrors of the slave trade in all its merciless brutality, with stylized, illustrated maps showing the triangular trade between England, Africa and the Caribbean (another kind of ‘crossing’).

In the other exhibition area are photographs and life histories of some ‘Heroes of the Cotton Generation’, who were crucial to Montserrat’s development in the 1940’s and 1950’s, trade unionists and politicians who made a difference: Robert ‘Marse Bob’ Griffith, William Bramble – Montserrat’s first Chief Minister — and Ellen Peters, all of whom campaigned for the rights of the oppressed working people, better pay and working conditions, and eventually the vote.

Also on display in this area is the centre of the old capital Plymouth, now totally destroyed by the volcano. Replicas of the four buildings at the town centre, ‘Gran’ Stan’, are featured, with a description of their history, as well as replicas and descriptions of well-known, eccentric town ‘characters’ like Miss Gwen, Willie Brimm and Johnny Mac Brown, who helped to give the town its special quality.  This exhibit brings back the atmosphere of the place for those who knew it, and a glimpse of the past for those who did not.

A tremendous amount of work, thought and creativity has gone into this exhibition, and congratulations must go to the Museum Committee, whose dedicated members have laboured tirelessly to put their ideas together and set up the exhibits. The Museum itself was built under the supervision of Government’s Project Implementation Unit, while the building was designed and built by Alford Dyett and Associates.

Staffing the museum is now a major challenge for the Montserrat National Trust, with staff and volunteers now stretched to man both the museum and the Trust headquarters in Salem, with its gift shop, botanic garden and photographic exhibition. Volunteers are greatly appreciated, and the Trust is appealing for additional volunteers to assist with manning the museum.

For those who haven’t been yet, I highly recommend a visit to the museum, which is open from 10am to 2pm on weekdays. Weekend visits can also be arranged with the Trust by special request. It should be a must for school children: it’s very educational, and schools can contact the Trust to arrange the best times.

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by Cathy Buffonge

Earl of Wessex

During their visit to Montserrat in March, the Earl and Duchess of Wessex, Queen Elizabeth’s last son and his wife, opened Montserrat’s new National Museum.  The island had been without a museum for over fifteen (15) years owing to the volcanic crisis which began in July, 1995.

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The previous museum, set up in a historic sugar mill and run by the Montserrat National Trust, was located in the danger zone when Plymouth was evacuated due to the volcanic events which escalated in 1996. However, Trust volunteers assisted by several overseas and regional organizations, including the Museum Association of the Caribbean, salvaged many items.

Hon. Premiere Reuben Meade

The new museum has been built at Little Bay in the north, within reach of the planned new town beginning at Carr’s Bay corner, and close to the Little Bay playing field and the proposed tourist development and super yacht marina. Close by, a Volcano Interpretation Centre is planned.

The museum’s opening exhibition is named Crossing Stitches, a play on words which covers several aspects of the exhibits, including the cotton production and export during the first half of the 20thcentury. This exhibit features a series of enlarged historic photographs of cotton production from reaping and transporting (on head or donkey), to cleaning and shipping out to England to be spun and woven. There’s also a videotaped description by Abraham ‘Hammie’ White, of the process and conditions of cotton production in those days, as well as written information.

Duchess of wessex

The sea island cotton produced in Montserrat was highly valued overseas, but like other colonies Montserrat was just a primary producer. Until more recent times all the ‘value added’ was done overseas, so that on low wages the workers in those days could never have afforded  or even seen a garment made from it.

Crossing Stitches also applies to actual cross stitch and other embroidery stitches, the creation of Montserrat’s skilled needle workers of past years: ‘Creative stitches in cotton’. Here Montserrat’s needle workers are honoured for their skilled and imaginative embroidery work, something that has almost died out. Embroidered items, some dating back as far as the 1920’s, are on display, many of them produced by the pupils of Miss Carrie Dyer, and other skilled needle workers — Ellen Sweeney, Manelva Greenaway and many others. Stitches include cross stitch, tatting, stem stitch, chain stitch, feather stitch, satin stitch, crochet, French knots and more.

In this area too, an eye-catching mural painting by Kelvin ‘Tabu’ Duberry covering an entire wall portrays the horrors of the slave trade in all its merciless brutality, with stylized, illustrated maps showing the triangular trade between England, Africa and the Caribbean (another kind of ‘crossing’).

In the other exhibition area are photographs and life histories of some ‘Heroes of the Cotton Generation’, who were crucial to Montserrat’s development in the 1940’s and 1950’s, trade unionists and politicians who made a difference: Robert ‘Marse Bob’ Griffith, William Bramble – Montserrat’s first Chief Minister — and Ellen Peters, all of whom campaigned for the rights of the oppressed working people, better pay and working conditions, and eventually the vote.

Also on display in this area is the centre of the old capital Plymouth, now totally destroyed by the volcano. Replicas of the four buildings at the town centre, ‘Gran’ Stan’, are featured, with a description of their history, as well as replicas and descriptions of well-known, eccentric town ‘characters’ like Miss Gwen, Willie Brimm and Johnny Mac Brown, who helped to give the town its special quality.  This exhibit brings back the atmosphere of the place for those who knew it, and a glimpse of the past for those who did not.

A tremendous amount of work, thought and creativity has gone into this exhibition, and congratulations must go to the Museum Committee, whose dedicated members have laboured tirelessly to put their ideas together and set up the exhibits. The Museum itself was built under the supervision of Government’s Project Implementation Unit, while the building was designed and built by Alford Dyett and Associates.

Staffing the museum is now a major challenge for the Montserrat National Trust, with staff and volunteers now stretched to man both the museum and the Trust headquarters in Salem, with its gift shop, botanic garden and photographic exhibition. Volunteers are greatly appreciated, and the Trust is appealing for additional volunteers to assist with manning the museum.

For those who haven’t been yet, I highly recommend a visit to the museum, which is open from 10am to 2pm on weekdays. Weekend visits can also be arranged with the Trust by special request. It should be a must for school children: it’s very educational, and schools can contact the Trust to arrange the best times.