Historical snippets

Have you ever looked at a building and wondered what was there before it 50 or 100 years ago?

The Assembly Rooms can be seen to the right, and an establishment called Beckwith’s Hotel to the left. The post-1864 RA&CS building can be glimpsed in the background behind the Assembly Rooms. What was then High Street – now Avenue of the Republic – was much narrower than it is today, and note the footpath (bottom right) leading to what was probably a footbridge across the canal. (circa 1870?)

Today we take you on a little tour into the past to show you how a small area in Georgetown has changed over the decades.

You have probably passed the Bank of Guyana and the Museum a hundred times, and unless you are well into middle age and beyond, you probably think they have been there forever. But they haven’t.

At the very beginning of the 19th century there a colonial hospital and an asylum on the site where the museum now stands. Then the hospital was moved to what is now the Public Hospital, and the old one was left empty and neglected for a time.

The RA&CS building which was constructed after the fire of 1864. As well as its other amenities, the society also made space for a post office, for which the government paid a rent. Depending on the date of this photo, the street lamp at bottom right could have been powered by kerosene or by gas. Kerosene lamps were introduced in 1860, and were placed on iron posts; they began to be replaced by gas lamps in 1873, and then finally by electric lights in 1891. This photograph like the one with Beckwith’s may also date from the 1870s (or arguably the end of the 1860s) since the RA&CS tower has no cupola on it. The picture from 1888 which follows and subsequent photos show a little cupola at the top of the tower.
This is the corner of what was then High Street (now Avenue of the Republic) and Robb Street in 1888. By this time the Hand-in-Hand insurance company had replaced Beckwith’s, and there is a wide bridge across the canal. Note the original horse-drawn hackney carriage in the middle background.
The Hand-in-Hand started as a fire insurance company in 1843, but this building was not put up until 1879 at a cost of $37,000. It has survived the conflagrations which have plagued the area, more especially the 1945 fire. Note the building behind the Hand-in-Hand; this was the original Tower Hotel which became the post office. (circa 1910?)
Note the carriages drawn up outside the Assembly Rooms; clearly the drivers were hoping for some business at the end of a function. (circa 1910?)

In 1844 a group formed an agricultural and commercial society, which received royal patronage after they committed themselves to having no political discussions at their meetings. It then became the Royal Agricultural and Commercial Society, or RA&CS, for short.

The Water Street end of the RA&CS building seems at some point to have been rented out to the Demerara Electric Company. (20th century, pre-1945)

They took over the disused hospital, and set up a library, a reading room, an exchange and news room as well as a laboratory, among other things. The members met regularly and listened to papers on such heavyweight topics as tile drainage, sugar manufacture, plantain diseases and improving cattle breeds.

On the plot where the Bank of Guyana now sits, the society erected the Assembly Rooms in 1857, where the worthies of the era held their parties and other social events. For a few years the society’s Reading Room was on the upper floor of this building.

The Assembly Rooms on fire in 1945.

Disaster struck in 1864 – as it often does in Georgetown – when Water Street went on fire, and burnt down the RA&CS building – but not the Assembly Rooms. The society then had to start from scratch again. They erected a new building which offered members all the services of the old, and eventually added a museum as well. This latter structure was completed in 1867, and the museum opened for two days a week in 1870; the government contributed to its upkeep.

The present museum constructed by the RA&CS after 1945. The area in the foreground where the Assembly Rooms once stood and where the Bank of Guyana now stands were laid out as a garden. To the right is one of the yellow buses which older Georgetowners will remember. (circa 1955)

Disaster struck for the second time when a huge swathe of central Georgetown was razed in the great fire of 1945, which started in Bookers Drug Store. Among the many other buildings destroyed, were the Assembly Rooms and the RA&CS. The current museum is what the society built in the 1950s, and while the building still stands, the RA&CS itself was wound up in the 1970s.

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