Clifton Mount Estate
Clifton Mount, one of the few remaining Jamaican Great Houses, dates back to 1770. It is picturesquely situated at an elevation of 4300 ft. above sea level, and overlooks the Yallahs Valley with a majestic view of the Grand Ridge of the Blue Mountains and Blue Mountain Peak at 7402 ft., often hiding behind masses of mountain mist.
To watch the sun or moon rise out of the magnificent Blue Mountain range from the house is a breathtaking experience, not likely to be forgotten.
THE HISTORY OF CLIFTON MOUNT ESTATE
A map dated 1773 in the West India Reference Library shows that much of the mountainous area, including what is now known as Catherine’s Peak was patented and surveyed in 1744.
The land which was later to become known as Clifton Mount seems to have been patented by William Jones on August 24th, 1744. The original map shows a track from Cold Spring, leading to a Capt. Smith’s house, on the approximate site of the present Clifton Mount house.
The 1773 map shows a “Smith, William and John Curtin in ejectment” as of the same year. They may have captured the land but not yet paid the quit rent to retain it. Apparently Captain Smith did acquire the land as a later map, in 1804, still shows the home as his.
|George Mifflin Dallas|
Captain Smith was very likely the father of Mrs. Anabella Dallas who returned to Jamaica with her husband Alexander in 1781. The Dallas’ later emigrated to the United States and eventually rose to fame and prominence in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In her autobiography, kept by the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, she states that her father Capt. Smith, was the commanding officer at Fort George, and lived in the hills about twenty miles from Kingston . Alexander J. Dallas became Secretary of the Treasury under President James Madison: but it was his son, George Mifflin Dallas, who rose to political prominence becoming our nation’s eleventh Vice President under James K. Polk, for whom Dallas, Texas was named.
The Hamilton family owned the property for the next 100 years. This information comes from a plan of the estate dated 1810 which describes the land as Clifton Mountain Plantation, property of Robert Hamilton Esq..
It is likely that the Clifton Mount Estate was established during the coffee boom by Hamilton. The plantation covered a total of 882 acres and was divided into two sections. The “top mount” consisted of 80 acres in coffee, and 427 acres in pasture, woodland, provision grounds, and ruinate. The original house and coffee works form a part of this section. Traces of the “old works” have been found in the bushes nearby the house. The “bottom mount” consisted of 111 acres in coffee and a further 264 acres, not described.
An interesting architectural feature at the site of the house is the massive cut stone wall which forms the plateau on which the house is built. This stone is not native to Jamaica, and it is presumed to have been shipped out of England as ballast in a trading ship, and carried by mule from the Kingston docks up to the site. Even in the days of slavery, this would have been an expensive and time consuming operation.
The Almanac of 1833 notes that the owner of Clifton Mount, Cold Spring, and Eufield properties was Archibald Robert Hamilton Esq..
The next owner of Clifton Mount was the eminent Dr. Robert Hamilton. He was born at Cluntagh, County Down, Ireland on 11th November, 1820 . He attended Cambridge University and subsequently received a medical degree in Paris. The doctor was a man of high intellectual attainments and cultivated tastes. He occupied the highest position in Jamaican Masonry, and held the masonic rank in England near to that of Grand Master, The Prince of Wales. In 1861 he was appointed to the Legislative Council of Jamaica and made a speech on 18th December of that year advocating a central administration for road construction and maintenance, foreshadowing the creation in later years of the Public Works Department of Jamaica.
The English painter Marianne North stayed at Clifton Mount in 1872 on the first leg of her world travels and described the property in her autobiography “Recollections of a happy life”. Clifton Lodge is a place where one can enjoy “… a dose of cool air 5,000 feet above the sea, beyond the lovely fern walk and in the midst of the finest and oldest coffee plantation in Jamaica. It was a charming little house surrounded by a garden full of flowers. Opposite was the real Blue Mountain with clouds rolling across it … (and) there was a village just below it, with a great coffee growing establishment and bushes of it for miles on the hillsides.”¹ The North Gallery at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew houses 832 oil paintings recording flora which she saw on her travels.
Clifton Mount has other interesting links.
Cundall’s “Historic Jamaica” states that the window at the East end of the north isle at the Kingston Parish Church was donated by the Hon. Dr. Robert Hamilton, District Grand Master of the Freemasons in Jamaica. The window can be seen today, but there is no indication that it is connected with Dr. Hamilton. One wonders how it survived the earthquake of 1907.
Maurice Lister, who owned the property in the 1970’s heard the following from the locals after his daughter unearthed a hand-blown Dutch gin bottle on the steep slope below the house. “One of the early Hamiltons was in the habit of holding Sunday dinner parties, timed, I gathered, ‘round about four o’clock in the afternoon. When he was so moved he was reputed to summon his nearest neighbour across the valley by megaphone to come on up, and to tell his cronies. Chestervale would tell Clydesdale who would pass the message on to Pleasant Hill, and in due time sundry local gentlemen would arrive on their mules. They gathered on the terrace in front of the house, and as the bottles were emptied they were thrown over the edge, there was a mass of broken glass scattered round the place, but Caroline’s bottle remained intact, which lends veracity to the delightful picture of life at Clifton in days past.”
The estate next came into the possession of Mr. H. C. Shekell sometime in 1920, and in 1943 a substantial acreage was still under coffee cultivation. Mr. Shekell also owned the famous Chestervale great house and plantation. He ultimately sold the property to the Government of Jamaica for use as a youth camp.
During the ensuing years, Clifton Mount Estate changed hands several times passing through Mr. E. Orrett for a short period, and then to Mrs. Mabel Gillespie, a lady noted for entertaining a former Governor of Jamaica, Sir Hugh Foote (Lord Caradon) and Lady Foote.
Mrs. Gillespie next sold the estate to Col. Stephen Ward who set about restoration of the house and property. He abandoned his efforts though
With the demise of the coffee industry and the hurricane of 1950, Clifton Mount like many other Jamaican coffee estates went to ruinate. All but 30 acres around the house was purchased by the Government, managed by the Yallahs Valley Land Authority, and sub-divided into small farmer holdings.
Maurice Lister, in a collection of information on Clifton Mount taken from the Handbook of Jamaica noted that Shekel had 300 acres of coffee growing in 1946. Mr. Lister said that he found it difficult to accept the figures from the Handbook as accurate as when he purchased the property in 1956 there was no sign of coffee save three solitary trees. Incidentally, these trees are still alive and flourishing today!
When the Listers first moved to Clifton Mount, a proper water supply and sanitation was their priority, so they tapped a stream in the nearby gully and built a small dam. A diesel powered water pump was installed, as well as a diesel powered electrical generator. The house was also wired for electricity.
The Listers had local cedars milled on the property, and added a circular room on the East side to take advantage of the magnificent views of the Blue Mountains.
In 1956 they planted coffee, but due to the lack of water the investment was lost, so they grew roses and carnations instead, selling flowers to the one florist in Kingston and to the hotels. The circular pool in the garden was dug as water became an issue as they grew more flowers.
In May of 1977, Trevor Armstrong, a friend of the Sharp family, heard that the property was for sale. Knowing that Laurie Sharp had always wanted a property in the mountains, he invited him on an inspection visit. The group comprised Trevor, Laurie, his wife Barbara, and her father Eustace Bird.
As Mrs. Sharp recalls, the first visit to Clifton Mount bore two resemblances to that of the Listers. Firstly, the walk from Cold Spring up the track to the house, taking one hour “nearly killed them”, and secondly, when they made the last bend and saw the house “it was love at first sight”.
The property was purchased jointly by Laurie Sharp, Eustace Bird, and Trevor Armstrong. The house was gradually refurbished and they continued to grow carnations on a small scale, bringing them down twice weekly by donkey to Clod Spring, then by car to Kingston.
This exercise was time consuming, tiring, and dangerous, as everything had to be transported in this manner. An added concern was an upsurge in crime in the Maryland area requiring Mrs. Sharp to travel accompanied by a faithful employee “Brown Man” and “Duchess”, a beautiful German Shepherd. Plans to further improve the property could never materialize because of these problems and there seemed to be no solution.
In October of 1978, Mr. Armstrong sold his share of the property to Messrs. Sharp and Bird, and they continued as before, spending many glorious weekends. Even the chore of transporting everything by donkey or back-pack was diminished by the improvement of a kerosene powered refrigerator, and a propane gas stove.
In 1979 Messrs. Sharp and Bird decided to start re-planting coffee. They started digging holes, but faced with the continuing problem of transportation by donkey, the project was soon abandoned.
In 1983 Richard, the Sharp’s eldest son, graduated from University of the West Indies with a BSc. In Accounting, and joined the family business. Along with his father, they increased the farming side of the property by increasing the planting of coffee, and flower and vegetable-growing by the addition of carnations, statice, alstermeria, snapdragons, and snow peas.
In 19XX hurricane David did a fair amount of damage to the roof, windows, and interior of the house. Shortly afterwards, Jamintel (Cable & Wireless) built a concrete road from Cold Spring to their transmitting station on Catherine’s Peak.
Mr. Sharp and Mr. Kingsley Rose, in a joint venture to cut a road on the west of Clifton Mount, from the Jamintel road to Clifton Mount house. Mr. Sharp recalls this project as a labour of love. Mr. Rose wanted access to a piece of land east of Clifton Mount house, where he was attempting to train horses, and of course, the Sharp’s were very anxious to have access to the house. Getting building materials up the path and workmen to take that journey was out of the question, so they secured the house as best they could, and it was left in that state for about three years, with the twice-weekly visits to the gardens continuing.
Once the road was finished the Sharp’s were able to renovate the house and gardens. The results are beautiful.
Led by the efforts of Richard, farming was re-established and coffee was replanted. In 2004 the Sharp’s, encouraged by John Martinez, built a pulpery and now Clifton Mount produces some of the finest estate coffee in the world.