Old DGS gone
An old school building is demolished
In a few hours three floors of concrete and steel were leveled and then trucked away. The old building that housed the Dominica Grammar School (DGS) for fifty seven years (from 1963) was demolished a few days ago, because the building to be dangerous.
Much has been written about the homes of the DGS; the most interesting was an article written by the late Kenneth Richards in the DGS Centenarian Commemorative magazine that we publish below:
The Three Homes of the Dominica Grammar School
By K.A. R.
As we embark upon the celebration of the Hundredth Anniversary of our Alma Mater, the Dominica Grammar School, it is opportune to record a few facts concerning her three different homes.
The birthplace of the Dominica Grammar School was in "Lagon", Roseau. It was in the building known as No.66 Queen Mary Street, now occupied by Mr. Ashton Piper, Barrister-at-Law and Solicitor. Up to 1877, the plot of land measuring just over 5,000 square feet, at the corner of what was then Marlborough Street and Grandby Street, was vacant. It was purchased at public auction by a merchant named Henry Hamilton on behalf of his friend Alexander Robinson. The latter started to build on the plot of land in 1878.
The story goes that Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence, and his younger brother, Prince George, who later became King George V of Great Britain visited Dominica in 1879 as naval cadets on the HMS Bacchante and were entertained at the Robinson house which was afterwards named "Clarence Hall", in honour of the royal visitor. The name, however, appears to have fallen into disuse with the passage of time. Robinson probably occupied the building as a dwelling but when Government decided to open the Dominica Grammar School on January 16, 1893, the spacious stone building on Grandby Street was rented for school purposes. The property has been in the possession of the Piper family since 1924 when it was purchased by public auction by Mr. Augustus Piper. The building is said to have been extensively damaged by fire before it passed on to Mr. Augustus Piper. Less than two years after the opening of the Grammar School, the wealthy Mr. Edward Sheriff Dawbiney, a Jamaican who had married a Dominican lady and established business in Roseau, dictated his last will and testament. Mr. Dawbiney, philanthropic gentleman that he was, besides devising his library and books to the school, bequeathed the sum of eight hundred pounds sterling (roughly four thousand dollars at today's rate of exchange) "for the purpose of purchasing a suitable school house or residence for the Headmaster of the Grammar School.
"This gift", Mr. Dawbiney stated in his will, "is made particularly in aid of the education of the coloured youth of Dominica."
Mr. Dawbiney died the following year and his trustees ("three good, true, respectable and influential residents of this island") purchased from Mr. William Stedman, a local merchant, a property then known as "Hillsborough House", bounded on three sides by Hillsborough Street, Great George Street and Upper Lane. Sited as it was on 19,939 square feet of land, a more suitable purchase could hardly have been made at the time. The school moved in 1897.
In its initial years, the DGS grew very slowly. In fact, by 1902, the original enrollment of 34 boys had dripped to only 14, so the first Headmaster, Mr. William B Skinner, and his successors found ample living accommodation on the top floor of the building while classes were conducted on the ground floor, until the departure of Mr. Jullion in 1943. Additional classrooms were now needed and the upstairs rooms were appropriated for this purpose. The school continued to grow and with 149 boys on the roll, the Headmaster, Mr. Victor Archer, in 1951 declared that the school was now "suffering from the curse of bigness." In January, 1954, a new wing costing $24,000 was formally opened on the expanded school grounds, adjacent to River Street, on property originally part of "Hillsborough House" which formerly housed the "Alexander Cottage Home", forerunner of the Dominica Infirmary. (That's why old patois-speaking people sometimes still refer to Great George Street as "La Rue les Pauvres"). The new wing, probably as spacious as the old building, provided accommodation for a laboratory on the ground floor and classrooms at the top. By the time Mr. Archer left Dominica in 1956, school enrolment had virtually reached its limit of 250; something had to be done. By what form of persuasion, is still unclear to the writer, but in 1960, L. Rose and Company, a British firm with extensive land holdings in Dominica, generously donated to Government 3.36 acres of land, part of Bath Estate, adjoining the Roseau River and Windsor Park, for purposes of erecting a Grammar School. It must be said in passing that as late as 1945, the Roseau River flowed through a section of the land which now forms part of the school's playing field and at a later date it harboured a squatter settlement popularly known as "Cow Town".
The construction of the new Dominica Grammar School building, at a cost of $379,000, was a major ac accomplishment for the Public Works Department; it was the first government building erected with three floors. In 1963, in its seventy-third year of existence, the school moved to its new, spacious premises on Valley Road. The formal opening ceremony took place on September 19, 1963. The present building, unlike its predecessors, has never been associated with royalty, neither has the benefactor, L. Rose & Co., been commemorated, except for a bronze plaque installed on a wall on the ground floor. But what has become the old "Dawbiney" building? Of it, the former student, Errol Walker, had written:-
"0 stone building,
dull and yellow cease to pine!
Your service noble to this isle will for a long time shine,
Though we depart from you, yet think it not a shame,
For you will ever keep your honour and celebrated name".
On February 12, 1971, in broad daylight, the partly wooden structure which was at that time occupied by the Roseau Boys' School was gutted by a fire of unknown origin. Nothing was saved. The new wing, though, remained intact. Anew, all-concrete school building was erected on the burnt-out site. It looked like a prison. For some time, after the devastation of Hurricane David of 1979, the Dominica Infirmary was temporarily housed there. Today, after some structural modification, the entire complex serves as the Roseau Health Centre.
As for the "new" building on Valley Road, the school that is to say, the students and staff, past and present - cherish a dream about it, the construction of a much-needed auditorium. Whether that dream comes true will depend to a large extent on our loyalty and generosity to our venerable Alma Mater.
(From the "Dominica Grammar School Centenary 1893-1993" Commemorative Magazine)