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Bettys Hope was the largest sugar plantation in Antigua. It was established by Govenor Keynel in 1650. His wife inherited the estate in 1663 after his death but abandoned it in 1666 when the French occupied the island. The British recaptured the island and awarded the estate to the Codrington family who at the time were currently resident in Barbados. The Codrington family distinguished themselves by ensuring that Bettys Hope was developed and functioned as the most efficient large-scale sugar estate in Antigua. Two of their family members also had the distinction of holding posts of the Governor General of the Leeward Islands during 1689 to 1704.
The estate was managed by a few Europeans but the basic hard skilled and unskilled labour force was provided by the African slaves, which brought accolades to the estate (later known as the “flagship estate of Antigua”). In 1680, there were 393 slaves working on the estate. The slaves were emancipated in 1834 but they continued to serve the estate as freed labour. The Codringtons had 150 sugar mills in Antigua of which Bettys Hope was the first one where they had introduced technology innovations and ideas to carry out large scale cultivation, extraction and manufacture of sugar. However, from 1921, sugarcane was extracted at the Central Sugar Factory, even though the sugar mills at Bettys Hope were still functional.
After, the Codrington family returned to England, the estate was managed by attorneys, until the early 1900s. In 1944, Bettys Hope was sold by the Codringtons to the Antigua Sugar Estates Ltd.
The twin windmills on the estate worked together to crush the large volume of sugar cane grown.
The windmills of the early eighteenth century, used three vertical iron rollers; an inefficient system that required two men to feed the machine. Each cane stalk had to be crushed twice to extract as much juice as possible. At best, this system extracted only 60% of the juice.
By the early 1800s, a new system that employed three horizontally positioned rollers was introduced. This mechanism was more efficient, required only one cane feeder, and extracted about 80% of the juice from the cane. The machine installed in this mill dates to the mid-1850s and is similar to the earlier models.With a steady wind, working from sunrise until well into the night, each mill could crush 60—70 cartloads of cane, or about 2 acres per day. The juice dripped into a tank beneath the mill and was later then piped through an underground conduit to the boiling house. The pressed stalks, called “bagasse” were tossed out into the mill yard to dry before being used as fuel in the boiling and distilling furnaces.
The tall, narrow opening, or “exchange slit” on the north side of the mill was needed for changing the central drive shaft. A lantern was kept in the small fireplace for use when milling at night. The Restored Mill bears the original date of 1737 on a plaque above the main entrance. It also denotes that the mill was built by Richard Buckley.
With an average trade wind, such a mill could grind about 200 tons of cane to produce 5,500 gallons of syrup in a week. This would have given about 12 tons of sugar crystals. The sails would have revolved four times a minute or six to seven in a stiff breeze while driving the crushing rollers.
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A program of restoration of the Bettys Hope estate, as a major West Indian heritage monument, was initially started by “The Friends of Bettys Hope” between 1987 and 1990, which eventually was institutionalized as a trust called the “Bettys Hope Trust” in 1990. The objective was to develop it as an open air museum and also an interpretative center to show the profound influence that the estate had in Antigua and Barbuda’s history and influence it had on the lives of many generations of Antiguans.”
On completion, in 1998, the mill was turned into the wind and after a few adjustments, ran successfully. However, due to the fragile nature and age of the stone mill walls, it was not intended for the windmill to operate on a regular basis.
Today it serves as a popular attraction for tourists and Antiguans reflecting on the painful years when sugar was king.
During our visit the clouds raced across the sky driven by the trade winds which in the past provided the power to fuel the mill. In the first image I have left the sky and clouds as they were on the day. In the second I have used Photo Effects 3 to produce a more ominous sky to produce an interesting backdrop to the sun-lit windmill.
Click here to learn more about life on a Caribbean Sugar Plantation