The colourful history of Trinidad and Tobago’s Red House


THE historical resume of Trinidad and Tobago’s seat of Parliament, the Red House, grows more colourful even as the building itself continues to crumble, 23 years after its last most memorable battle, the attempted coup of July 27th, 1990—as Kim Broodram reports in this article for T&T’s Express.

Today, beleaguered efforts to restore this Greek-revival style landmark have been further slowed by the discovery in March this year of human bones beneath its floors. The remains have been acknowledged as belonging to First Nation (indigenous) citizens. The bones have been dated between 430 AD and 1390 AD.

For the more superstitious, the Red House is a well-loved source of speculation.

Talk about the moods of the ‘spirits’ of the place was plumped up in 1992, when the People’s National Movement (PNM), having been just re-elected to office, removed the original sea-serpent weather vane and replaced it with a Ken Morris-designed dove, bearing an olive branch in its beak.

The ‘spirits’ were again in the news with the discovery of the bones and a ceremonial ‘smoke-out’ two weeks ago by descendents of Trinidad and Tobago’s First Nation community to bring peace to what they believe may have been a sacred burial site or the scene of a massacre.

The ceremony was conducted by members of the Santa Rosa First People’s Indigenous Community, led by Chief Ricardo Bharath Hernandez.

At the ceremony, he explained that indigenous peoples believe that when bones are disturbed, a special ritual has to be performed “to give peace to the spirit of those killed there”.

As news of  discovery of the bones became public, regulars at the “University of” Woodford Square, which sits East of the Red House, were re-animated by the belief that the beloved building was indeed home to many restless spirits.

In 1990, the Red House was for six days besieged be members of the religious group, the Jamaat-al-Muslimeen, when they attempted to overthrow the then National Alliance for Reconstruction (NAR) government.

Over 20 people died during that time, including citizens, soldiers and then member of Parliament for Diego Martin Central, Leo Des Vignes, who was shot in the Parliament and later died due to gangrenous complications from his wound.

The building is now a gloomy and moody-looking representation of its former self, as if the saddest parts of history have manifested in its outer shell. It sits heavily in the capital city, its ongoing decay apparent.

Restoration works started well over a decade ago and a protective roof placed over  South Chamber and the South Link back then has become a permanent fixture in the minds of citizens.

From 2005, when the Urban Development Company of Trinidad and Tobago (UDeCOTT) took control of the restoration, to present, over $200 million has been spent, the People’s Partnership Government announced in 2011.

The initial works were being conducted by the National Insurance Property Development Company (Nipdec) and according to that company’s website, the full restoration had been expected to cost around $100 million.

In October 2011, the Parliament moved to the International Waterfront Centre on Wrightson Road, Port-of-Spain, to clear the way for restoration work, which will now be conducted with caution and under the supervision of a special team, which will include archaeologists and members of the First Nation.

Initial declarations that the work would have been completed by 2016 are now shaky, given the pace at which it may continue as respect is shown to the dead beneath its foundation.

Some of the preliminary work had included the construction of an underground plant room at the western side of the compound, dilapidation surveys, demolition of modern-era construction elements and asbestos removal.

For the original report go to

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