We drove into the estate and paid our £2.50 to the lady, Ward was our guide for a fascinating look at an estate, working plantation and so much more.
The oldest living thing at Belmont is an ancient Tamarind tree, hurricane damaged with a split trunk, it still thrives and fruits. From one of its branches hangs the Belmont Bell brought in by one of the earliest Scottish owners. It was rung at the start and end of the day calling the slaves - workers in from the fields. It is said that if an innocent slave was ever hung from the tree, from then on you will see his or her face in the fruits.
Bear ringing the bell
Belmont Estate dates back to the late 1600's, during the colonial area, when plantations were first established under the system of land allocation under French rule. First owned by the Bernago family of France, it became the property of Mr. John Aitcheson Jr. of Rochsolloch, Airdie, Scotland, following the cession of the island by the French to the British in 1763. Mr. Aitcheson appeared to have taken an active role in affairs of the island as in 1764 he signed a petition to the King protesting instructions to Governor Melville that would deprive the privileges of the representatives of the people. He was also a signatory to several other petitions throughout the 1760's. Upon his death Belmont Estate became the property of his father, Mr. John Aitcheson Sr. Mr. Aitcheson was mostly an absentee landlord who in 1770 leased the estate to Mr. Alexander Campbell Esq., owner of the then adjoining estate, Tivoli. The lease was for a period 13 years at a price of £2,520 a year.
Mr. Campbell was a colonist of high standing, a former colonial agent for the island and speaker of the Grenada Assembly, the hero of the "Campbell V Hall" case of 1764 - 1774. He was also a close friend of planter Ninian Home who later became the island's governor. On the night of the 2nd of March 1795, the beginning of Fedon's Rebellion, Campbell and Home were at Home's estate in Paraclete, they were captured the following morning. In Fedon's Declaration of the 4th of March 1795, only two names - Home and Campbell - were cited among the forty prisoners captured at that time. Campbell and Home were executed on the 8th of April 1795.
The present mistress of the estate is very fond of Chico a mona monkey. Bear sucking a cocoa seed. Us sipping the delicious estate spiced hot chocolate
In 1779, the French regained control of Grenada and the island was not returned to British rule until 1783. It is not certain what effect this change of ownership of the island had on Belmont but in 1780, Mr. Aitcheson Sr. left Scotland for Grenada and died at Belmont Estate on the 31st of May 1780 at the age of 75. He was buried in the estate's cemetery and his tombstone can still be viewed.
In his will, Aitcheson bequeathed Belmont Estate to his eldest daughter Bethia, stipulating that she was to sell it in the event of his death, after paying all his debts and to share the proceeds among herself and her two sisters, Margaret and Isabella, also his nephew Gilbert Hamilton, a merchant in Glasgow. At the time of Aitcheson's death, the total value of the estate's assets - including the slaves, animals, sugar mill, coppers, stews, ladles, skimmers, sugar pots, stills, furnaces, still heads, tools, implements, chattels, lands and buildings - was £21,183.00 about £1.5 million by today's standards.
Following Aitcheson's death Belmont was sold to Robert Alexander Houston of Clerkington East Lothian, Scotland. Following his death Belmont was bequeathed to a family member, Major James Flower Houston and his son Lieutenant Alexander Houston of Her Majesty's Royal Artillery, both of whom were from Montepelier Square, London. The estate remained in the hands of the Houston Family for more than 170 years and in 1944 Norbert and Lyris Nyack of Hermitage, St. Patrick purchased it from the trustees of the Houston Family.
Lyris and Norbert marry. Norbert. Lyris.
The Nyacks were the first Grenadians of Indian decent to own an estate on the island. Though simple people with only a basic education from the River Sallee Government School, they were both entrepreneuring, diligent and savvy. They made Belmont Estate their home and the base of their new business - operating the plantation. At one time they owned six of the most productive estates on the island - Waltham & Diamond in St. Mark; Plains, Mount Horne in St. Andrew, Le Tage and Belmont - and employed more than a thousand people. They also purchased the Hankeys business in Grenville and commenced the business of a supermarket, hardware store and lumberyard.
Norbert, Lyris, Lydia, Jolly Miller and Jockey Nuban St Clair and winning in Guyana
Mr. and Mrs. Nyack were also horse lovers. They owned several horses over the years, racing and winning in Grenada, Barbados, Trinidad and Guyana. They established the Telescope Race track, just outside Grenville, a popular sporting and social destination in Grenada in the fifties and sixties. They were a socially vibrant couple - entertaining and being entertained. They both had strong social and civil consciences. Quiet philanthropists, they gave of their time, talent, love or means. Without fanfare or pronouncement, they shared benevolently with Grenada's Homes for children, the elderly, hospitals, churches and schools, also to individuals or causes of need. Mr. Nyack was actively involved in politics, he was appointed Senator by Premier Eric M. Gairy, a post he held until his death in 1969. His wife Lyris continued to reside at and manage the affairs of Belmont Estate up until her death on the 19th of December 2001, aged 94. She was laid to rest close to her residence on the estate. Belmont continues to be owned by the Nyack family. Though they had no natural born children, they were blessed to raise several nieces and nephews as their very own children including: Tommy, Jean, Leah and Norbert's sister Lydia.
Lyris and Norbert with Lydia, Morris and Osbert. Tommy and Wilberforce Nyack. Leah Nyack.
Throughout its history, Belmont has played a major role in Grenada's agricultural economy. In the late 1600's and early 1700's, it was one of the 81 plantations established on the island with coffee being its major produce. Sugarcane was introduced as the main crop later in the 1700's; the ruins of the water mill remain as testament to that part of its history. Cotton was also a major crop of the estate, being later replaced with cocoa, nutmeg in the 1800's and bananas coming later. The estate is still a major producer of cocoa and nutmeg.
As with most businesses, Belmont Estate has faced several challenges through the years, and has gone through peaks and troughs. Grenada has seen the disintegration of the plantation system, the partitioning of land, and today very few plantations have survived. The transformation of Belmont Estate to this agri-tourism product is the brainchild of Shadel Nyack Compton, grand niece of Lyris Nyack. The estate first opened its doors to tourists in April 2002, offering plantation tours, a museum and a charming twenty seat restaurant. The product was well-received by locals and foreign guests, and within a year, the restaurant had grown to one hundred and ten seats.
Unfortunately Belmont was devastated by Hurricane Ivan in September 2004, resulting in total destruction of the restaurant, museum and significant damage to the cocoa drying facilities. The fields also received significant damage, resulting significant loss of tree crops, particularly nutmeg, and to a lesser extent cocoa, other fruits and vegetables. The tourism component of the business reopened in 2007 after being closed for almost three years.
Through all of the challenges, and in particular the recovery since Hurricane Ivan, the team of committed staff has worked ardently to restore, re-build and preserve Belmont Estate. A unique experience to tour and witness a traditional historic plantation at work. The fusion of agriculture, tourism, food, history and cultural traditions, crowned with outstanding warmth and friendliness of the people made us feel this was a destination so far unparalleled in Grenada.
In the museum we saw how Norbert's office would have looked, the dressing table and the washing machine
Quite a special invitation to Norbert and Lyris seen in one of the presentation boxes
A ledger from the sixties that we were allowed to look through, I was particularly taken with the earnings of Dodoo Charles
Cocoa, Chocolate and Spices
Grenada has earned its name as the Isle of Spice and The Spice of the Caribbean because of the extensive selection of spices grown on the island. Being the world's second largest producer of nutmeg, this precious spice naturally tops the list of fragrant spices produced here. The exotic spice array includes cinnamon, pimento, cloves, bay leaves, turmeric, ginger and mace all are grown at Belmont. Nutmegs and mace are exported and are used extensively for culinary and pharmaceutical purposes. Locally they are both used as food flavourings, and seasonings, while the pericarp (fruit ) is used for making jams, jellies, syrups, juices and candy. A local company, Noelville Ltd. uses nutmeg oils to manufacture the now world famous Nut-MedT, a proven formula for joint and muscle pain relief.
Prior to Hurricane Ivan, nutmeg and mace were the number one agricultural products grown on the estate. Nutmeg production has decreased by about 75 percent since then. Cocoa has now replaced nutmeg as the number one agricultural product. The cocoa adventure at Belmont begins with a visit to the cocoa fields where the captivating story of the transformation of raw cocoa beans into a delicate product that is used for making chocolate unfolds.
Ward took us across a little stream in search of a ripe cocoa pod, he cracked it open and gave us seeds to suck. They go into the mouth a bit slimy but you soon taste the mild flavour of chocolate. Bear and pod.
Cocoa is harvested by snipping the colourful oval shaped pods off the trees using mitten-shaped knives called cocoa knives. The pods are heaped into piles, then cracked with a machete and the white beans (seeds) are removed and placed into buckets or bags for transportation to the fermentation point. There the beans are placed into a sifter where excess water is drained and debris (leaves, stones, broken pods etc.) are removed. The beans are then weighed and placed in large wooden bins - fermenting boxes, covered with banana leaves and jute bags. The beans remain in boxes for 7-8 days during which time fermentation takes place. During fermentation the white substance covering the beans disappears; the beans turn a rich shade of brown and the flavour develops. The beans are turned from one box into another every two days to allow an even distribution of the heat that is produced during fermentation at about forty five degrees centigrade.
The drying trays all on runners - an idea taken from the original roof at Wimbledon
Ward talking me through the walking / turning / drying process. I was quite pleased with my straight drills
Once fermented the beans are placed outside to dry in the sun on big wooden trays for six to seven days. During that period workers walk through the beans every half an hour to allow air to flow evenly through the beans, to aid with the drying.
The beans then go through a cosmetic process called polishing. Traditionally, beans were polished by dancing on them in large copper pots. Polishing removes any dried pulp residue on the seed and gives the bean a smooth, polished look.
Polishing is done by commercial polishers. Belmont Estate has forged a strategic alliance with The Grenada Chocolate Company, to make the world's finest dark organic chocolate. The Grenada Chocolate Company and Belmont Estate are members of the Grenada Organic Cocoa Farmers Co-operative Society Ltd that grow organic cocoa to make the product. The co-operative consists of about twelve farmers that have received organic certification through the German certifying company Ceres.
Because of their superior quality, many of their beans are shipped to Lindt and Cadburys. They are shipped whole to preserve the flavour.
The sorting tray. The "composting bins" and Bear was very taken with the numbering system for the farmers.
Belmont Estate is also an agent for the Grenada Cocoa Association (GCA) the local farmers association. The GCA manages the cocoa industry, buys cocoa from the local farmers and markets and sells internationally. Belmont Estate purchases wet cocoa from the farmers in the community every Wednesday, ferments and dries the beans, then sells to the Association. On buying days at Belmont, visitors can see the actual purchase of the beans from farmers using a number system on bits of cardboard.
On any day of the week you can see beans being fermented and dried.
The story of the cocoa is brought to life at the fermentary with the display of several pieces of machinery that are used in the semi-processing and by the demonstration of the traditional method of polishing the bean, by dancing in old copper pots.
Visitors are shown a video entitled "Cocoa - Food of the Gods, From the Field to Chocolate " and can sample Belmont's "cocoa tea" (local hot chocolate) as they allow the fine bouquet of fermenting cocoa beans and the aroma of nutmeg, cloves, bay, pimento and other local spices to permeate the senses.
For small people there is a talking parrot, an unfriendly macaw, tortoises, rabbits and goats. Goats cheese in a variety of flavours is made at Belmont and is on sale. There is also a souvenir shop.
A huge thank you to Ward for making our visit so interesting.
The modest estate house that was terribly damaged in Hurricane Ivan. Lyris now looks over the Blue Garden she so loved. The ruins of the sugar factory that is now a popular backdrop to weddings.
ALL IN ALL AN AMAZING PLACE TO VISIT.