THE STORY OF A GEORGETOWN HOUSE
Woodbine House, now home to Cara Lodge, was built in the 1840s. Unlike many of Georgetown’s stately buildings, Woodbine House began life as two separate dwellings. The main house in front was the home of the Meservey family; the back house was where the Meservey servants lived.
In the last decade of the nineteenth century, the house was acquired by Mr. G. B. Forshaw who was a relation of the Meservey family. Forshaw, who was to become the Mayor of Georgetown, decided to transform the house into a Residence that would be worthy of the Chief Citizen of Georgetown. The two buildings were joined and Woodbine House took shape: the railing and the gates which still carry the crest of Woodbine House, were imported from a foundry in England. The wrought-iron motif of the railings continues through to the drawing-room of the house and has a unifying function. (The old ornate drawing room was to become the Ballet Room of the Taitt era. The wooden doors for the drawing-room were hand-painted in India at this time and shipped to Guyana, especially for the house.
In the years of the Forshaw era, the house was the center of high society events, with the pinnacle being the visit of HRH Edward, Prince of Wales in 1923.
The European hostesses from the big plantation houses had been in a social frenzy for months. Elaborate plans were in place to ensure introductions to the future Edward VIII at a party in the House. At the event, the Prince's roving eye landed not on a sugar heiress but on a local Guyanese beauty. Not only was Phyllis Woolford of Creole origins but the Prince opened the dancing with her. The hostesses returned to their mansions, the Prince moved on to more balls in more South American capitals, and Miss Woolford, who never married, became a local celebrity and was known forevermore as 'The Duchess'.
The Prince, as we know, went on years later to abdicate the British crown in order to marry the love of his life, the American, Wallis Simpson.
It was during this visit in 1926 that the Prince planted a sapodilla tree in the garden to mark the occasion. The royal sapodilla tree, a Georgetown landmark, lived until the 1990s when it fell victim to a wasting disease.
In the years that followed the Prince’s visit, the fortunes of the Forshaw family declined and the house passed into the ownership of Rev. and Mrs. Henderson who in turn sold it to Dorothy and Dr. Jabez Taitt, a Barbadian physician who had made British Guiana his home. With the Taitts in residence, Woodbine House became a home to artists, musicians, dancers, athletes, poets, political activists.
Dorothy went on to found the Georgetown Philharmonic Orchestra and the Woodbine Club, while her internationally acclaimed daughter Helen formed the Guyana School of Ballet. Her son Lawrence became a champion Commonwealth hurdler. Another son, Dr. Horace Taitt, the respected Guyanese psychiatrist, was an accomplished ballet dancer, theatre producer, and art collector.
Woodbine House became a favorite haunt of many of Guyana’s and the Caribbean’s most distinguished artists and writers, among them Philip Moore, Ron Savory, Stanley Greaves, Ken Corsbie, Michael Gilkes and Derek Walcott. The Taitt family provided accommodation and food to many of the young artists so that they could be free to develop their particular craft, without having to worry about daily survival. Many of them left priceless pieces to the Taitts in return for their support and encouragement. In the political unrest of 1979 that rocked the city, Woodbine House was a refuge for activists embroiled in the political struggles of the day. On the night of the assassination of Dr. Walter Rodney, Woodbine House provided safety and medical care for his brother Donald, who was severely injured in the fatal explosion.
Cara Lodge opened its doors in February 1996 under the management of Cara Hotels, a Guyanese company run by two Irish Guyanese, Paul Stephenson and Shaun Mc Grath. Since opening, Cara Lodge has set the standard against which all other Georgetown hotels are measured. Offering first-class services in a traditional setting, the hotel quickly became a firm favorite with the visitor to Guyana.
The building has maintained its association with the rich and famous and has played host to Princes Charles, Andrew and Edward, President Carter and rock star Mick Jagger.
The Bottle Restaurant with its columns of English ballast brick and stunning collection of Dutch bottles rapidly became renowned as the best in Guyana, a reputation it still holds today.
When the hotel first opened it offered only 14 rooms. With its reputation for excellence spreading far and wide, the escalating client base made it necessary to expand the hotel by a further 20 rooms. In order to ensure the architectural integrity of the building, the extension was designed to maintain the traditional style with its open verandas and hardwood floors. The new wing added 20 rooms and a conference room (the Woodbine Room) to respond to the needs of the business community and to cater for formal family functions.
The plaque on the southern wall marks the formal opening of The Woodbine Room by Phillip Moore, Guyana’s renowned artist, and elder. Among the most pleasing features of the expansion was the creation of the Patio. With its open-air to the Georgetown sky and hardwood furniture set among lush foliage, the Patio has fast become a favorite corner of the hotel. The stirring of its leaves serves as a gentle background to the sounds of laughter and chatter of customers, while attentive staff caters to their needs.
Cara Lodge now boasts 34 rooms including two suites. The Quamina Suite is named after one of the leaders of the 1763 slave rebellion. Extending the entire width of the hotel and over half the length, it is impressive in its grandeur and size. Ceilings of varying heights and polished hardwood floors add to the charm of the suite. Decorated in African motifs, this suite is bright and airy. One of its highlights is the hand-carved pillar by Philip Moore.
The Raleigh Suite is – quite literally – the pinnacle offering at Cara Lodge, nestled in the vaulted upper story of this historic Georgetown building. With its sloped ceiling, exposed beams, a unique pedestal bed, and quaint lounge area, the Walter Raleigh Suite underscores the hotel’s colonial history.
To be a guest at Cara Lodge is to become part of its illustrious history. To savour the ambiance of its cultural wealth and diversity is to be in touch with the very soul of Guyana.