I Love Chattel Houses!

Chattel houses in Barbados caught my attention on the very first day of our vacation this year (2022).  They are 1-3 rooms, tiny houses, with distinct A-framed roofs (four sides, triangular in shape). Their unique roofs grabbed me first because it appeared each room of the tiny house has a separate and distinct tin, A-framed roof.  I was told this design was intentional to prevent tropical storms and hurricanes from damaging and removing roofs.

Today in Barbados they are mostly old and barely standing structures with chipped paint, bowed boards, and rusted falling roofs, but they are still mysteriously beautiful and all over Barbados. Some chattel houses across the island have been well-maintained, restored, painted with lively colors, and people call them home. Quite a few have been repurposed for shops.  I wondered where they came from. Who designed them and why?

My research began in pictures and video…here’s what I found.

In 1840, the Barbados Labors Act allowed former slaves to build on land provided for rent by the plantation owners. [Note:  Slavery was abolished in British Caribbean colonies/islands, 1834. Barbados gained its independence from Great Britain in November 1966.]  The term chattel is French rooted. Chattel actually means movable property, so the name is actually appropriate.

 Chattel houses go back to plantation days in Barbados where they first appeared, when tenant farmers, aka sharecroppers, would buy chattel houses to move from one property to another especially when a disagreement with a plantation owner occurred – discontent usually stemmed from money owed and fair-share cropping.  Back then, it was important that houses be easily taken apart, loaded onto carts for transport to another plantation, usually miles away.

I would later learn the A-framed roofs do in fact offer protection from high winds, but they also allowed the owners to purchase additional rooms to add to an existing house, as their families expanded.  Later, England began shipping pre-cut “Chattel houses in a Box” to be assembled all over the Caribbean/West Indies by its freed occupants.  Chattel houses can be found in Trinidad, Jamaica, St. Kitts and of course, Barbados, which boost the most across the Caribbean.  I saw chattel houses with up to 3 rooms/roofs and a shed in the back, used as kitchens. 

Chattel houses may be the first mobile homes, ever! 

Categories African History, Barbados, black history, Tena's Travels

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