Stabroek Market holds firm as a stark reminder of Guyana’s rich social heritage
It is no surprise that from the very earliest days of civilisation, markets have been in existence. They are and have always been repeatedly controlled by numerous economic factors and in modern times, throughout the Caribbean, they are rapidly being replaced by malls and supermarkets.
The Stabroek market however, is Guyana’s oldest market and decades later, it stands as a testimony to show that it is irreplaceable.
This historical place which supports economic activity on a daily basis was named by the Dutch in honour of the Director of the Dutch West India Company, Nicholas Van Gleenisnk Lord of Castricum, Bahim and Stabroek. This formidable structure not only stands as an eloquent reminder of the nation’s culture but more so of its social heritage.
The current market is actually the third market and the second structure that was erected. Historians have given several accounts of the presence of a market in the year 1792 where the then enslaved Africans sold their products, primarily plantains and other staple foods, on Sundays. Although this was one of the earliest references to the market, it was also commonly believed that indigenous Indians and enslaved Africans may have had minute markets along the banks of the Brandwaght, which was erected by the Dutch to secure the activities of the river.
The proof of this existence was possibly found in the Essequibo Ordinance of 1765, which prohibited the interaction between the sailors and the indigenous Indians and the enslaved Africans. This was clear indication that trading of goods was practised.
The first market was located slightly west of the present site of the St. Andrews Church, opposite the present site of the Parliament building, which housed the Court of Policy and church on Sundays. However, the market was removed in 1793 to the present site of Smith Church, and then to several other areas along the banks of the river. It is possible that this was done to prevent the disturbances of church services by vendors selling their produce at the market. The attempt to relocate the market appears to have been unsuccessful, as the market was soon returned to its original location.
As Georgetown developed and extended, it was soon realised that there was need for the construction of a proper market, as the area was said to have been congested and unsightly. In the circumstance, the office of the Mayor and Town Council soon passed regulations on 23 April 1843, to erect a proper building for the operation of a market.
Constructed of local hardwoods, the market was described as “the best in the West Indies”. A visitor in 1851 described the new market “as a sight which a European might walk some distance to see”, noting the mingling of sailors, merchants, clerks, porters and butchers.
By 1870, the market appeared to have outlived its usefulness, as the area was described as one, which was inadequate, unable to accommodate the growing number of vendors. Mr. Francis Conjers, a councillor, recommended that a new market be built. His proposal was endorsed by the council and in 1879, a committee, consisting of His Worship Mayor G. A. Forshaw, B.S. Bayley, J.C. Whitehead, H.S. Sprotson Innis, Mr Conjers and Luke M. Hill, the Town Superintendent, was appointed to examine and approve the plans submitted by the prospective construction agencies for the erection of a market house.
On 29 July 1879, the committee submitted their report to the Mayor and Town Council. It noted that a total of six plans had been submitted. Attached to each plan were the estimates.
Despite the considerably high cost of construction, the committee recommended to the Council Plan A by the Edge Moor Iron Company.
The plan was modified at the request of the committee and was favoured on “account of its foundation and ornamental appearance and very perfect system of ventilation in the roof the latter being especially suited for the tropical climate.”
The market was completed and declared open on 1 November 1880 by the then Governor.