The capital, Kingstown, stands on a sheltered bay where scores of craft laden with fruit and vegetables add their touch of colour and noisy gaiety to the town. However, much land has been reclaimed and continuing dock works shield the small craft from sight, except at the north end of the bay. Looking inland from the bay, the city is surrounded on all sides by steep, green hills, with houses perched all the way up.
The Market Square in front of the Court House is the hub of activity. Market day is Friday and Saturday and very colourful with all the produce spread out on sacks or on makeshift tables. A new covered market has been built to replace the outdoor affair and make it more hygienic, extending from Upper Bay to Halifax Street. The shopping and business area is no more than two blocks wide, running between Upper Bay Street and Halifax Street/ Lower Bay Street and Grenville Street. There are quite a lot of new buildings, none of them tall. The government financial services building in front of the police station is large, modern, concrete and not particularly pretty. A Fish Market, built with Japanese aid, was opened in 1990 near the Police Headquarters. This complex, known as Little Tokyo, has car parking facilities and is the point of departure for minibuses to all parts of the island. It has a strange little turret which looks like a guard tower. The War Memorial, flanked by two small cannon, is being preserved. On Halifax Street at the junction with South River Road is the Old Public Library, an old stone building with a pillared portico. It is being renovated with French aid and will be the Museum of St Vincent. Alliance Française is in the basement. There are public toilets to the rear.
At the jetty where the boats for the Grenadines berth, you can see island schooners loading and unloading, all of which is done by hand. The men throw crates from one to the other in a human chain; the whole business is accompanied by much shouting and laughter. When the banana boat is in dock, the farmers queue in their pick-ups to unload their boxes of bananas, and the food and drink stalls on the road to the Reception Depot do good business.
Kingstown has two cathedrals, St George’s (Anglican) and St Mary’s (Catholic). St George’s, parts of which date from 1820, has an airy nave and a pale blue gallery running around the north, west and south sides. There is an interesting floor plaque in the nave, now covered by carpet, commemorating a general who died fighting the Caribs. Other interesting features include a memorial to Sir Charles Brisbane (1772-1829) who captured Curaçao and a miniature of the action. Plaques to the rich and the good line the walls, nearly all of which were carved in London. A lovely stained glass window in the south transept was reputedly commissioned by Queen Victoria on the death of her grandson. She took exception to angels in red rather than the traditional white and it was put into storage in St Paul’s Cathedral. It was brought to St Vincent in the 1930s. St Mary’s is of far less sober construction, with different styles, Flemish, Moorish, Byzantine and Romanesque, all in dark grey stone, crowded together on the church, presbytery and school. Building was carried out throughout the 19th century, with renovation in the 1940s. The exterior of the church is highly decorated but the interior is dull in comparison. There are pleasant, shaded courtyards outside with fish ponds in them. The Methodist church, dating from 1841, also has a fine interior, with a circular balcony. Its construction was financed largely through the efforts of freed slaves. There is a little bell tower at the south end, erected in 1907.
In Kingstown the Botanical Gardens just below Government House and the Prime Minister’s residence are well worth a visit (for a description see Flora & Fauna). Established in 1765, they are the oldest in the Western Hemisphere. In the Gardens, there is a very interesting Archaeological Museum of Amerindian artefacts, some of which date from about 4,000 BC. The most spectacular exhibit is the bat effigy. Outside is a collection of shrubs which may have been planted in a Carib garden. Anyone interested in St Vincent history, flora or fauna should talk to the curator, Dr Earle Kirby (Doc); he is very knowledgeable and friendly. Unfortunately, the museum is badly neglected and only open Wednesday morning 0900-1200 and Saturday afternoon 1500-1800. Dr Kirby is elderly and not always at the museum. Occasionally he will open the museum and give a personal tour for especially interested visitors. The Nicholas Wildlife Complex has parrots, agouti, Barbados Green Monkey and St Vincent Parrot, but not very well housed. The Gardens themselves are open 0600-1800 daily. They are about a 20-minute walk from the market square: go along Grenville Street, past the cathedrals, turn right into Bentinck Square, right again and continue uphill to the gate. Or take a bus, EC$1 from the terminal. You will be approached by guides who can explain which plant is which, very useful, otherwise you may miss some important plants and trees. There are notices specifying the official tour rates, so make sure you agree a price beforehand.
The views of Kingstown & surroundings are spectacular. On a clear day the Grenadines & even Grenada are visible. Fort Charlotte (completed 1805) is on the promontory on the north side of Kingstown Bay, 636 ft above sea level, 15 minutes’ drive out of town (EC$1.50 from bus terminal to village below, if you ask the driver he might take you into the fort for EC$1-2, worth it if it is hot). Although the fort was designed to fend off attacks from the sea, the main threat was the Black Caribs and many of its 34 guns (some of which are still in place) therefore faced inland. The gatehouse, 1806, was where Major Champion of the Royal Scots Fusiliers was killed on 13 October 1824 (see plaque in St George’s Cathedral) by Private Ballasty. The murderer was executed at the scene of the crime. In the old barrack rooms, a series of paintings shows the early history of St Vincent. Painted by William Linzest Prescott in 1972, they suffer from poor lighting and their condition is deteriorating. There is also a coast guard lookout which controls the comings and goings of ships entering the port. Ask the guard to point out landmarks to you. Below, the ruins of a military hospital can be seen, as well as a bathing pool at sea level on the end of the point, used when the fort housed people suffering from yaws. The National Trust and the Caribbean Conservation Association (CCA) are proposing to develop Fort Charlotte as part of an Eastern Caribbean plan for historic military sites, with an Interpretive Centre, gift shop and museum. The National Trust of St Vincent and the Grenadines, PO Box 752, T4562591, has further information.