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St. Nicholas Abbey

St. Nicholas Abbey is not a religious abbey but one of a few surviving Jacobean-style houses in the Western Hemisphere.

It is said that St Nicholas Abbey was built by Lieutenant Colonel Benjamin Berringer in 1650 and went into sugar production. He came to Barbados around 1624 from Iver, Buckinghamshire, England and is thought to be one of the early sugar planters.

The story goes that to this day, Colonel Benjamin Berringer supposedly still haunts St Nicholas Abbey.

Sir John Yeamans, Berringer's neighbour, friend and business partner, 'acquired' the plantation after Berringer died. Its believed that the two men competed for the affections of Berringer's wife so Yeamans arranged to have Berringer poisoned, and thus he became the sole owner of St Nicholas Abbey as well as taking the widowed Mrs Berringer for his wife in 1661 and renamed the Plantation 'Yeamans' Plantation.

When Susan Berringer, Lieutenant Colonel Benjamin Berringer's granddaughter became the owner of St Nicholas, which she inherited through her father John Berringer who outlived his mother by one month, she was already married to George Nicholas whom, as her husband and by law, automatically became the owner of the plantation. The name of the plantation was then changed from Yeamans Plantation to Nicholas Plantation in honour of Susan's husband.

Susan was determined that she would not keep the name of the person who murdered her grandfather. The Nicholas' lived at St Nicholas Abbey until the 1720's when it became impossible for them to operate the plantation, as a result of sugar prices falling. Eventually they were forced to sell.

St Nicholas Abbey was purchased by the Dottin family in the 1720's. A prominent family in Barbados, they owned several plantations. Joseph Dottin, Deputy Governor of Barbados, lived with his wife Ann Dottin and family in Black Rock. It was the custom for Joseph Dottin, to present each of his several daughters with a plantation as a wedding gift. And thus, St Nicholas Abbey was again passed by marriage, as a wedding present, to the Alleynes through the union of Christian Dottin and John Gay Alleyne on October 19, 1746.

Sir John Alleyne, as he later became, was a very close friend of John Sober. John Sober inherited Mount Gilboa Plantation/Distillery from his father William Sandiford in 1747, and upon doing so he appointed Sir John Gay Alleyne as the manager. Sir John did such a good job at managing the plantation that it was renamed Mount Gay in his honour after his passing in 1801.

Mahogany trees were introduced into Barbados after the Treaty of Paris in 1763 and Sir John is said to have been instrumental in the planting of the avenue of mahogany trees leading up the famous Cherry Tree Hill which was originally lined with cherry trees (hence the name). Cherry Tree Hill, part of the St Nicholas Abbey estate - another tourist favourite - approximately 850 feet above sea level, presents one with a most breath taking view of the Scotland District which basically covers the parish of St Andrew.

Sir John Alleyne, born in 1724, lived at St. Nicholas, was also the Speaker of the House of Assembly and a very prominent man in Barbados. He held this office between 1767 and 1797. He was created 1st Baronet Alleyne, of Four Hills, in St Thomas on 6 April 1769. Sir John was also a keen supporter of the abolition of slavery in Barbados.

When Sir John died in December 1801, the estate reverted to the Dottin family, but unfortunately, it took some time in locating any of the remaining family members as they were all scattered abroad and during this time the plantation had racked up a considerable amount of debt, over £20,500, so it was subsequently taken over by the Chancery Court of Bridgetown in 1811.

Laurence Trent Cumberbatch and Edward Cumberbatch Snr, brothers, purchased the plantation through the courts.  The Cumberbatch brothers had agreed that the property would not be passed to Edward Cumberbatch Jnr if he married Mary Gertrude Ashe, a musician's daughter from Bath because she had nothing to bring to the marriage in support of the lifestyle they would wish once in possession of such wealth. Edward Jnr was a spendthrift and the brothers did not think him capable of managing the plantation and at worst they felt he would lose the property.

They decided to leave St Nicholas Abbey, nearby Ebworth Plantation, as well as two other houses in Speightstown, where they kept their mistresses, to Edward Jnr's sister Sarah. Sarah was by this time married to Charles Cave, a banker of London from a very wealthy family. Charles was seen as 'a bit of a miser' and they felt confident the plantation would be well taken care of, and of course he would look after Edward Jnr and his wife as well.

And so it was, St Nicholas was passed to the Caves, once again by marriage.
Though Charles Cave and Susan Cumberbatch had already been married since May 1818, the Cumberbatch Brother's wealth was only passed on to Charles Cave in 1834 after the passing of Laurence Trent Cumberbatch in 1833. It is believed that this is when they renamed the plantation St Nicholas Abbey. It seems they put the names 'Nicholas Plantation', 'St Nicholas Parish', where the Cumberbatch family lived in Bristol, England and 'Bath Abbey,' in England where they were married, together and called the plantation house St Nicholas Abbey.

The property was then passed to Laurence Trent Cave when Charles Cave died in 1887. Laurence Cave's Regiment, 'Dorsetshire' was sent to Barbados and Saint Lucia around 1850, he visited St Nicholas Abbey where he painted a watercolour of the house. Laurence was married twice. His first wife was Emily Rossiler Holme, whom he married in1851 and his second wife was Lucy Greenwood whom he in 1860 in Knightsbridge, London. He died in 1899.

St Nicholas Abbey then passed to Charles John Phillip Cave who, though he never worked a day in his life, was never idle for a moment.In 1939, after the Second World War, Charles John Phillip Cave sold Ebworth Plantation and the two houses in Speightstown for around 5,000 pounds and gave the money to Hugh Cave to purchase a plantation in New Zealand where he settled.

Laurence Charles Henry Cave took over St Nicholas Abbey from his father and he in turn passed it over to his son Stephen Francis Cave.

The Caves continued the production of sugar and syrup at the plantation's mill, firstly powered by the windmill and, then switching to the use of steam engines. This method of production ceased in 1947 and St Nicholas' cane crops have since been processed elsewhere on the island. However, the sugar mill and bases of two windmills still exist today. The plantation currently produces 200 acres in cane annually through the Barbados Agricultural Management Corporation (BAMC)

Lieutenant Colonel Stephen Cave, great, great grandson of Charles Cave, and eldest son of Laurence Charles Henry Cave, inherited St Nicholas Abbey in 1964. He was delighted to share the history of the plantation.  He showed visitors a series of home movie films of life on the estate in the 1930's. These he discovered upon inheritance of the estate. Col Cave lived on the plantation from 1978 until his passing on November 1, 2003, at which time James Joseph Petri, his nephew, inherited St Nicholas Abbey.

The Plantation was passed to James Joseph Petri, youngest of two sons born to Susan Mary Dorothy Petri (nee Cave, oldest child of Lawrence Charles Henry Cave) and Arthur David Petri. Lieutenant Colonel Cave felt that because Arthur Charles David was married with three children, it would be difficult for him to run the Plantation from England and so the decision was made to pass ownership on to James, his younger brother, who, being single would be better equipped to manage and maintain the Plantation.

St Nicholas Abbey was then sold to Larry and Anna Warren early 2006. They have restored the house and its steam-drive and bottles rum and other sugar cane products.

You can tour the Abbey - visit the St. Nicholas Abbey website.



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