One of the newest museums in Barbados is the Exchange Interactive Center also known as Exchange Museum Barbados. It is housed in a beautifully restored 18th century building that previously housed Harrison College (1745 to 1871) and a Masonic Temple (1871 to 2005).
Directly opposite the Cathedral Church of St. Michael and All Angels on S. Michael’s Row, the Exchange Museum Barbados, which began operations in January 2018, is located in historic Bridgetown and its now listed Garrison. a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Exchange Museum Barbados on Spry Street in Bridgetown. Photo credit: © Ursula Petula Barzey.
Visitors to the Exchange Museum Barbados can explore interactive exhibits over two floors around three main themes:
The Currency Exhibit, which occupies the first floor of the Exchange Museum Barbados, provides insight into the development of trade in Bridgetown and contributions to the world from the 1700s. There are mentions of black business owners such as the hotelier Rachel Pringle Polgreen who owned the Royal Naval Hotel. This section of the museum also educates visitors on the history of coinage in Barbados, the Caribbean, and around the world. Finally, there is an important section on the development of the Central Bank of Barbados, which was established by an Act of the Parliament of Barbados on May 2, 1972.
Barbados’ Bridgetown Financial Hub at the Exchange Museum Barbados. Photo credit: © Ursula Petula Barzey.
Barbados banknotes at the Exchange Museum Barbados. Photo credit: © Ursula Petula Barzey.
The Freemasonry exhibit, on the second floor of the Exchange Museum Barbados, provides insight into the history of Freemasonry and its emergence in Barbados. Members of the secret society included prominent Barbadian politicians like Sir Grantley Herbert Admas (first Prime Minister of Barbados and first and only Prime Minister of the West Indies) and Errol Walton Barrow (first Prime Minister of Barbados). The Freemasonry section also highlights other famous members around the world, including George Washington, Sir Winston Churchill, Nat King Cole and Edward Buzz Aldrin.
Exhibition on Freemasonry at the Exchange Museum Barbados. Photo credit: © Ursula Petula Barzey.
The Craftsmanship of Freemasonry at the Exchange Museum Barbados. Photo credit: © Ursula Petula Barzey.
The School Exhibit, on the second floor of the Exchange Museum Barbados, provides an overview of the development of schooling and education in Barbados in the 18th century, focusing on Harrison College (also known as Harrison’s Free School ). It was founded in 1733 by the wealthy Bridgetown merchant, Thomas Harrison, and moved into the current museum building in 1745. No more than 24 pupils attended the school at any one time, and these were white islanders who could not afford to send their children back to England for school.
Other schools mentioned include a seminary for young ladies opened in 1815 by Eliza Fenwick and her daughter Eliza Ann Rutherford. Also, the first school for black boys, St Mary’s Elementary School, which opened in 1818 in the Masonic Temple on Mason Hall Street. Other schools were also established in 1819 by the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, but they were reserved for white children.
School exhibition at the Exchange Museum Barbados. Photo credit: © Ursula Petula Barzey.
Puzzle of Harrison College at the Exchange Museum Barbados. Photo credit: © Ursula Petula Barzey.
History of Barbados Commerce and Trade 1625-1938
One of my favorite interactive pieces from the Exchange Museum Barbados is a timeline highlighting over thirty major trading events in Barbados over 300 years. As you spin each ball on the timeline, you learn about the history of Barbados and learn how it became the crown jewel of the British colonial empire.
History of Barbados trade and commerce from 1925 to 1938. Photo credit: © Ursula Petula Barzey.
1625: A British ship, the Olive Blossom, encounters Barbados.
1627: First British settlement of Barbados at Hometown.
1628: On July 5, Bridgetown was founded by Charles Wolverstone, who brought 64 settlers with him.
1633: Imperial Post Office has opened a parcel agency in Barbados.
1639: Creation of the Barbados House of Assembly.
1640: Introduction of sugar cane processing technology.
1706: The bank was created to address the shortage of gold and silver coins with paper money currency.
1745: Harrison College opened in this building (where the Barbados Exchange Interactive Center is located) with 24 boys and quarters for masters.
1788: Sir Philip Gibbes introduced the “pineapple penny” to provide coins for small local transactions.
1791: Rachel Pringle Polgreen, who ran the Royal Naval Hotel, has died and left a considerable fortune in her will.
A life-size caricature of Rachel Pringle Polgreen at the Exchange Museum Barbados. Photo credit: © Ursula Petula Barzey.
1807: On March 25, the slave trade was abolished in the British Empire after a vigorous campaign by abolitionists.
1816: The slaves, led by Bussa, rebelled across the island. Severe reprisals followed.
1824: The Saint-Michel church has become a cathedral.
1830s: Friendly Societies, encouraged by the Anglican Church, were first established in Barbados.
1831: A severe hurricane devastated Barbados and damaged many buildings and business premises in Bridgetown.
1834: Emancipation of enslaved people across the British Empire; The British government introduced colonial banking regulations.
1836: Colonial Bank, later Barclays’ Bank DCO, received its charter.
1837: London Bourne owned three stores in Bridgetown and had a net worth of between twenty and thirty thousand dollars.
1838: The end of the apprenticeship system, which was introduced after emancipation.
1840: The Barbados Mutual Life Assurance Company, founded in 1840, is the oldest English-speaking mutual life insurance company in the Western Hemisphere.
Barbados Mutual Life Insurance Building. Photo credit: © Ursula Petula Barzey.
1846: The West Indian sugar industry lost the protection of the British government.
1851: The Barbados House of Assembly passed the Post Office Act.
1852: On April 15, the first issue of Barbados stamps went on sale.
1854: The Imperial Packet Agency and the Inland Post Office merged.
1886: Barbados Post has launched an international parcel service with England.
1872: The Parliament Buildings in Bridgetown became the headquarters of the Barbados Postal Service for 112 years, until 1984.
1873: The Bridgetown Club opened at Hoad’s House on Broad Street with 100 members.
1887: International Parcel Service with the United States inaugurated.
1895: The Bridgetown Club moved to the top floor of the Barbados Mutual Life Assurance Company building on Broad Street.
1904 – 1910: Thousands of Barbadians left the island to work on the construction of the Panama Canal, and many sent remittances home.
The Bridgetown Club at the Exchange Museum Barbados. Photo credit: © Ursula Petula Barzey.
1929: On March 29, Captain William Lancaster made the first international flight to Barbados in a single-engine Avro Avian.
1933: Over 60 land vessels across Barbados joined together in a “fleet” and were named the Barbados Land Ship Association.
1936: Unique Progressive Friendly Society was formed in August.
1937: Riots break out in Bridgetown after the deportation of Clement Payne.
1938: October 19, first scheduled flight to Barbados, a KLM Royal Dutch postal shuttle from Trinidad.
When to visit the Exchange Barbados Museum
The Exchange Barbados Museum is located on Spry Street in Bridgetown. It is open Monday through Saturday, 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Visitors can explore the museum to discover the island’s history for themselves or book a one-hour guided tour. This can also be combined with a general history tour of Bridgetown with stops at the Errol Barrow Statue, Independence Arch and the Spirit Bond.
General admission to the Exchange Barbados Museum is BDS$15 per adult, BDS$10 for group adults and BDS$5 for children under 12. Combined with a visit to Bridgetown, the price is BDS$45 per adult and BDS$20 per child.