Faded beauty: The historically significant Wantley House on Princess Street, built by a Berkeley Institute founder Samuel David Robinson, has been left in disrepair. *Photos by Nicola Muirhead
Faded beauty: The historically significant Wantley House on Princess Street, built by a Berkeley Institute founder Samuel David Robinson, has been left in disrepair. *Photos by Nicola Muirhead
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The future of a historic but vacant home on Princess Street is uncertain, as local residents are questioning what will become of Wantley House.

The building is historically significant. It was built between 1875 and 1879 by Samuel David Robinson, one of the founders of the Berkeley Institute. Robinson’s daughter, Wenona Grace Robinson was a founding member of the Sunshine League, the island’s first social service organization.

Now, the home sits boarded up and fenced off, to prevent vagrants from sleeping in it. The Housing Corporation owns the property. Henry Ming, an architect who walks by the home on his way to his
Ewing Street office every day, thinks the building should be restored to its former glory.

“In my mind, Wantley is still one of the better examples of its era,” said Mr Ming. “On the upper level, you can still see the hand-carved balustrades below the handrail. The shutters are different from today. The blades are longer, permitting more ventilation and shade. And it still has the same style of double hung windows.”

The building has fallen into disrepair. Some of the shutters are broken. The front screen door is busted up. The front entrance is cracked. Paint is peeling on the upper veranda.

Mr Ming admits that restoration would be costly. The Department of Planning has not received any modifications or upgrades to the building, according to a department spokeswoman. The Historic Buildings’ Advisory Committee last surveyed Wantley in 2010.

The department, said the spokeswoman, acknowledges the building as “one of the most recognized buildings in Bermuda, steeped in history.”

“True restoration is like for like,” said Mr Ming. “Buildings like that need a person who can afford to do that.” He added, “I’m in the construction business and I don’t dwell on the preservation of buildings for preservation sake, but here’s an example of an excellent building in a historic area and yes, it should be preserved and yes, it should be restored.”

 The Housing Corporation, said Ming, also owns a lot that is adjacent to the building, which leads him to speculate about the razing of the structure. The Department of Planning said there are no plans to demolish the building.

Mr Ming is not alone in praising the historical significance of the structure. Margaret Lloyd, a Bermuda National Trust researcher, said: “There are only a few buildings in the back of Hamilton that are still surviving that have anything like that quality.”

She added: “It’s very important to black history.”

Hilton Smith, a 59-year-old construction worker who is among the crew doing work to Princess Street currently, grew up across the street from Wantley. He says there used to be vagrants living in there, but there are none now. The Housing Corporation boarded it up and built fencing around it to prevent that from happening, he said.

“I’d love to see it restored back to its original state,” he said. “You never want to see something like that just sitting there, forgotten.”