The legacy of a running feud between Bermuda’s government and some of its voters is preserved in Southampton’s Piecrust Place, a small cul-de-sac near St. Anne’s Church where the issue of what’s in a name once sparked an amusing rebellion.
The residential lane recalls the old name for St. Anne’s Road which, until rechristened in the 1930s, was titled Piecrust Road. The names, seemingly drawn from the kitchen, are misleading, however. For in Bermudian vernacular, the term ‘piecrust’ has a colourful political meaning, referring to the often-forgotten promises made by electioneering politicians—similar to the common English expression, “pie in the sky.” According to knowledgeable parish residents, the roads were christened by locals fed up that repeated political promises to have the roads paved went unfulfilled. To the chagrin of officials, residents cheekily erected their own, hand-painted street signs proclaiming the popular nickname.
Although Bermuda’s hills, bays, beaches, and lanes often commemorate local families, house names and other landmarks, some derive from events in the Island’s history, and others are, well, just plain funny. Over in Hamilton Parish, Fractious Street was named for a cantankerous horse, Stardust Drive honours a beloved pet dog and Tumkins Lane, in Pembroke, sounds suspiciously like a cat. Meanwhile, Warwick’s Hightime Drive chronicles the dilemma of a young couple, the woman expecting a child, who decided, just before the baby’s birth, that it was “hightime” to get married!
An amusing tale is also responsible for the naming of Addendum Lane which heads east from Pitts Bay Road trailing through an industrial area north of the street with the Island’s longest appellation: the Clarence Hill and Fairyland Serpentine Road. The late Idwal Hughes, Sr., chairman of a government road-naming committee in the late 1960s, apparently overlooked the little track—seemingly lost amid the warehouses and storage lots of a number of local business concerns—and when the oversight was brought to his attention, Hughes quickly proposed the name appropriate to the occasion.
Hughes was also responsible for titling Hesitation Lane, a side street in Devonshire, which had caused him some headaches. Prior to his road-naming work, Hughes was the man in charge of the government’s Island-wide street-pacing scheme and was frustrated by a lingering debate: when asked for several years in succession to approve the paving of their road, the street’s home owners had so prevaricated that a decision on the project could never be finalised. To memorialise the drawn-out affair and, perhaps, to eke a slight revenge, Hughes bestowed the moniker.
Hesitation Lane veers from Montpelier Road, an example of how history has influenced Bermuda’s place names. The street is titled for an old home there, dating from before 1750, which is now the Deputy Governor’s residence. Montpelier belonged originally to the Peniston family and it is said that Richard Jennings Peniston paid for additions to the house with gold which his wife, Rebecca, smuggled from the 1781 sack of the Dutch islands of St. Eustasius by English forces under Admiral Rodney. To evade looters, the lady was said to have sewn the money into the upholstery of her cedar chairs.
But the name predates the resourceful woman, for the original Montpelier, a French Mediterranean town renowned in Renaissance Europe for its superior medical school, was synonymous with health in that age, and a number of 18th-Century spas used the title to attract patients seeking favourable climates. Early in its history, Bermuda gained such a reputation, for as early as 1626 Governor Nathaniel Butler reported the Islands were “of excellent tempter and healthfullnesse” and that “all kindes of seasicke” could be combatted by a stay on the Island.
In time, the colony was called “The Montpelier of the West Indies,” a nickname sometimes credited to Bishop Berkeley who hoped to create a university here (and whose name is recalled in the Berkeley Institute and Berkeley Road). A number of famous, ailing patients travelled to the Island in the hope of conquering what today might be diagnosed as tuberculosis. One such guest in the 18th Century was Lawrence Washington, older half-brother of George Washington, the American patriot and first president of the United States. Lawrence visited Bermuda at his doctor’s suggestion in 1752, but unfortunately his condition did not improve and he returned to Virginia where he died within a few months.
Such are some of the fascinating stories revealed by simply studying Bermudian street names. While delving into rationale for the names of the Island’s roads, topographical features and surrounding reefs and waters does not provide a general history of the Island, it does present brief sketches which hopefully broaden the understanding and appreciation of all things Bermudian.
Our surrounding reefs, rocks and waters, too, have tales to tell. As local schoolchildren know, Bermuda is not one but as many several hundred isles, folklore alleging 365, one for each day of the year. Many are colourfully titled with such topographically descriptive names as Pint, Humpback, and The Stags, while others celebrate such things as previous owners (Burt, Marshall, and Darrell’s Islands are examples) or farmyard animals which were once pastured or housed on them, as in Horse, Sheep, and Rabbit Islands. The last-named has an interesting history, for it is colloquially known as Hairbrush Island—possibly due to its shape—but was first called High Island, probably because it rises so steeply from the waterline. The current name, however, is quite ancient, arising in 1661 when William Righton, Constable of Hamilton Parish, petitioned H.M. Council and gained its assent to “put rabets upon the island in the little sound commonly called High Island.”
Included in the immense circle, known as the Great Bermuda Reef, are the shimmering waters of a large saline lake which sometimes, in old documents, is termed The Lagoon; therein, too are a host of nautical points with eccentric titles, dubbed over time, no doubt by the Island’s stouthearted fishermen with monikers only they could understand: Chops of the Cut, Eye of the Needle, The Rocky Partners, Pilchard Dicks and The Snake Pit. The latter title’s origin is known, however, and refers to a unique species of eels which inhabit the seafloor there, undulating eerily in the flickering, turquoise waters.
Birds and boars were about the only living creatures on Bermuda’s main island when the survivors of the Sea Venture wreck, about 150 English men and women struggled onto shore in 1609. The shipwrecked Britons initially named their temporary home Virginiola in tribute to their beloved Queen Elizabeth I, then in her grave just six years. The quaint derivative of the late monarch’s nickname, ‘The Virgin Queen,’ was soon abandoned, however, probably to avoid antagonising James Stuart, Elizabeth’s successor and son of the late Queen’s rival, Mary of Scotland.
A less troublesome choice for the Island’s name honored the castaways’ heroic leader, by whose calm and firm command the Sea Venture had remained afloat, although buffeted by horrific winds, swamped by crashing waves and hammered by a fierce tempest for three full days. The man of the hour was Bermuda’s founder, Sir George Somers, Admiral of the Seas, who grounded the sinking vessel on one of Bermuda’s offshore reefs. To recall his spirited leadership and devotion to duty, there appeared a new name for Bermuda on English maps, the Somers Islands, sometimes spelled Summers Isles in a canny reference to the colony’s balmy weather.
Although busily engaged in building a small sailing vessel, Somers found the time to make a map; thus, the process of naming Bermuda’s topographical features earnestly began. Most of the inscriptions on the chart memorialise the episodes and the people associated with the Sea Venture wreck, including the most ancient place name of all, Gate’s Bay, titled for Sir Thomas Gates, Lieutenant Governor of Virginia. Gates was the first person from the Sea Venture to step ashore in Bermuda; as he did so, he is said to have shouted, rather egotistically, “This is Gates, his baye!”
Other names derived from these first, albeit temporary, residents of Bermuda include Bailey’s Bay, Boaz Island, Carter’s Bay, Frobisher’s Building Bay, Ravens’ Sound, Watford Island and Walsingham Bay. The latter has a romantic origin for the name was inscribed on the Somers chart and is, thus, one of the oldest place names in Bermuda. The Admiral titled it for the coxswain of his flagship, a young man named Robert Walsingham, who became so enchanted with the placid bay on the west side of Castle Harbour that he spent many hours there, wandering through its mangrove-shaded paths, exploring its mystical caverns and lolly-gagging on the banks of its myriad pools. The youth left Bermuda in 1610, traveling on to Virginia and never returning to what Somers had called, “Walsingham, his baye.”
The favourable reports of Bermuda’s climate and topography inspired the founding of a new commercial enterprise, an association of ‘Gentlemen Adventurers,’ known as the Bermuda or Somers Islands Company. Essentially a join-stock corporation, the company was a spin-off of its parent, the Virginia Company. Surprisingly, a number of place names derived from the company shareholders are still in use today, including eight of the nine parishes of Bermuda, as well as Abbott’s Bay, Agar’s Island, Cavendish Heights, Chamberlain Bay, Cooper’s Island, Delbridge’s Bay, Ferrars Lane, Heydon Bay, Johnson’s Bay, My Lord’s Bay, Scott’s Hill, and Westenholme’s Bay.
Also commemorated is the company’s sole female investor, Lucy Harrington, Countess of Bedford. Hamilton Parish was originally called Bedford Parish to honour the highbred lady; in a letter to Sir Nathaniel Rich in 1617, the area was referred to as “the Countess of Bedford’s tribe.” Labelled by her admiring contemporaries as the “patroness of poets,” Lucy was a spirited and fascinating character. Intensely interested in the literary arts, the countess befriended—and financially supported—such notable men of letters as Ben Jonson and John Donne and it was to help celebrate her wedding in 1594 that William Shakespeare first produced A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Most of the countess’ shares in the colony ranged round the Island’s huge inland bay, originally called Little Sound, and all her land in Bermuda passed at her death in 1627 to her kinsman, the Marquess of Hamilton. The devise resulted in a change to the parish name but—fortunately—the countess is not completely forgotten, for her maiden name still graces Harrington Sound.
The superstitious colonists of early Bermuda trod warily when thoughts of ghosts or goblins crossed their minds and some place names like Devil’s Hole and Devil’s Kitchen on Ireland Island are relics of their apprehensions. Respectively situated above and below the curtain wall which divides H.M. Dockyard down its middle, the coves’ names may originate in the stories of fire-drakes and witches which the first settlers believed haunted Ireland Island. The tales persisted throughout the first century of the Island’s history and derived from a mysterious cross and pile of stones found there by the Sea Venture castaways.
To the credulous 17th-Century mind, the talismans raised the possibility that supernatural beings inhabited the Island for the purpose of guarding a vast treasure rumoured to be on it. A panel was convened in London in 1692 to investigate that probability and resulted in a fairly accurate map of Ireland Island, on which the sites are clearly labelled; also dating from the time is the name of little Cross Island, now part of The Chamber, where the hand-hewn cross was found.
A major witch scare in the mid-17th Century, following a similar outbreak in New England, led to a number of incidents which are chillingly recalled in a few of today’s place names. The Killing Ground, near Abbott’s Cliff in Hamilton Parish, may take its name from a bizarre incident which occurred in the neighborhood in 1684; in that year, Edward Mallory accused William Abbott of witchcraft following a bout of illness suffered by Mallory’s daughter, Jane. Adding to the Abbott family’s woes, William’s daughter, Gillian, was also accused of being a witch by sheriff John Hubbard who simultaneously leveled the charge at another unfortunate woman, Elizabeth Ward.
Gillian and Ward were to be tried together, but before the Abbott girl could be brought to court, she was murdered at The Killing Ground. Jane Mallory’s brother, John, shot her as she was being led along the road from her family home to her trial in St. George’s. His musket was subsequently seized as evidence and, in 1686, a government inventory listed, “a gunne formerly of John Mallory wherewith he shot Gillian Abbet (being a prisoner) in the legg whereof ye sd. Gillian died soon after.”
Many early Bermudians were involved with the maritime trades, in some form or another, and not always legally. In 1701, John Bowen, a grandson of the 17th-Century surveyor, Richard Norwood, purchased a ship at the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius and sailed to Madagascar where he and his crew established a notorious piratical community. Bowen and his rogues led debauched lives and terrorised the sea-lanes in that part of the world, raiding villages up and down the African coast. Some years hence, Bowen died of a “dry colic,” his corpse was shunned by local priests and was finally buried underneath a public highway—knowing of his degenerate ways, the clergymen refused to admit Bowen’s body to Holy ground. Bowen’s Point, located on the northeast side of Shelly Bay, recalls the old Bermudian family whose other members were respectable ships’ carpenters, not pirates.
A number of the colony’s governors have been honoured through the bestowal of place names; the earliest, Richard Moore, is commemorated by two islands near St. George’s, Moore’s and Governor’s, while some subsequent chief executives are recalled through Bernard Park, Elliot Street, the City of Hamilton, Laffan Street, Lefroy Island, Ord Road, Popple Point, Reid Street, Sayle Road, and Seymour’s Pond. The most gregarious and controversial Governor ever, Daniel Tucker, the colony’s second, was immortalised locally by a plethora of titles; these include Daniel’s Head, Daniel’s Flat, Daniel’s Island, Daniel’s Bay, Tucker’s Island, and Captain Tucker’s Island.
Probably the best-known of Tucker’s namesakes the one he dubbed himself, however, in a self-appointed bid to create a new town in Bermuda, to be called (naturally enough) Tucker’s Town. Arriving in Bermuda in 1616 aboard the sailing ship George, Tucker fruitlessly proposed a site on the southern coast to be developed to replace St. George’s as the colony’s capital and principal port. He argued the new town would be better for trade, for Castle Roads was, in those days, the primary ship channel through the Island’s treacherous reefs. The governor doggedly laid down a roadway and drew up a town plan, but the idea never captured anyone’s imagination but his own.
The old road, now known as Tucker’s Town Road, forks off South Road, skirts Tucker’s Town Bay and finally dead-ends at Frick’s Point, the latter named for a 20th-Century American industrialist who build a lavish house on it. In the 1630s, a causeway was extended from the point, connecting The Main with Castle Island, and allowing the easy transit of both troops and supplies to the all-important King’s Castle—an ancient bastion which, incidentally, gave its name to Castle Harbour.
Flamboyant and unforgettable, Daniel Tucker is also associated with the name of that curious tract of land, stretching between Southampton and Sandys parishes, which is known as The Overplus. At the governor’s behest in 1616, Richard Norwood interrupted his survey of Bermuda, which he had started in St. George’s and, at Tucker’s insistence, switched the direction of his work. Instead of surveying the island from east to west, as originally planned, Norwood began to work from west to east.
The reversal resulted in a tract of un-owned acreage located between Sandys and Southampton Parishes—exactly where Governor Tucker desired an estate of his own. Tucker then brazenly claimed this ‘overplus,’ touching off a raucous feud with the directors of the Bermuda Company. The governor’s most evident personality traits—indomitable will and untiring persistence—characterised his campaign to wear down the directors’ resistance, and he even constructed a large house on the property, The Mansion, before the exasperated and weary company bosses finally awarded him three shares – 75 acres – of the coveted parcel.
Many hills, bays and streets chronicle distinguished surnames of Bermuda; examples, both historical and modern, are: Adams Lane, Albouy’s Point, Astwood Cove, Basset’s Dick, Cann Drive, Darrell’s Island, Dill’s Rocks, Doe Bay, Evans’ Bay, Eve’s Pond, Fowle’s Point, Frith’s Point, Gibbons’ Bay, Gilbert Hill, Godet’s Rocks, hall Island, Harvey Road, Jennings Land, Ingham’s Vale, Joell’s Alley, Jones’ Island, King’s Point, Lightbourne Point, Lusher Hill, Musson’s Point, Pearman Hill, Perot’s Island, Riddell’s Bay, Saltus Island, Seon Lane, Skinner’s Hill, Spurling Hill, Stovell’s Bay, Tatem’s Hill, Trott’s Bay, Vesey Street, Watlington Road, White’s Island, Wilkinson Avenue, Williams’ Point, Wingwood Way and Zuill’s Park.
Not all the Island’s place names extol lofty families and officeholders, however; indeed, many record former enslaved persons and indentured servants, as well as the Island’s diverse modern population. Portuguese Bermudians, who began immigrating here from the Azores as early as 1849, are honoured by such street names as Amaral Lane, Benevides Lane, DeSilva Close, Riviera Road and Sousa Estate, while the Island’s black and West Indian heritage is preserved in sites like Bean’s Dale, Braithwaite Lane, Jeffrey’s Hole, Toby’s Lane, Sauco’s Hill, Silk Alley, Simons Drive, Tankard Lane, Peggy’s Island, Ratteray Lane, Swan’s Bay, Talbot Lane and Woolridge Way.
Each encapsulates interesting bits of family lore and local history, but perhaps the most joyous and uplifting names associated with the colony’s former enslaved people, however, are Amen Corner and Hallelujah Lane, both located near the intersection of Middle and Cobb’s Hill Roads. The colourful titles are drawn from an old Methodist Chapel there, built between 1825 and 1827, and now known as Cobb’s Hill Methodist Church. Representing the determination and spirit of slaves and free black citizens of Bermuda, the chapel was erected in the group’s spare hours—precious moments, those, in the days before Emancipation—under the inspired leadership of a young slave, Edward Frazer. Although burdened by the back-breaking labour of constructing the limestone sanctuary, the congregation’s melodious songs of praise could be heard throughout the night, inspiring the appellations.
Thus, historically, did Bermuda’s place names arise, yet the titling of the Island’s byways, hills, dales, points and bays, seems to go on. Each succeeding generation gets the chance to preserve some, change a few, or add new ones, drawing inspiration from newly-established surnames, from events, historic and commonplace, and from its own inventiveness, as in the names of subdivisions and hotel/condo projects like Dolphin Ridge, Grotto Bay, and the rrenaming of the former U.S. Naval Operating base in Sandys, Morgan’s Point. The resulting legacy is an ongoing cultural chronicle, preserving the comedies and tragedies of everyday life, the folklore and tales of our Island people, the tenancies and ownership of the land, and the marriages, deaths and even murders of those who call Bermuda home.
Bermuda’s Oldest Marker
Point Finger Road commemorates Bermuda’s oldest surviving highway marker, The Finger Post, a piece of marble embedded in a wall where the street end at South Road. The tablet faithfully copied an older, wooden sign said to have been erected in the 1790s when the City of Hamilton was first being established. In those days, the old Military Road, as South Road was then known, gave the new town a wide berth. To enhance trade the City Fathers placed the sign to point the way to an old rutted track which then and for many years served as the main road to the new town. The trail was one of the old Tribe Roads, so narrow at points that the Devonshire Militia was once impeded from rushing to a feared Spanish invasion because it had to pass down Point Finger Road in single file! The road remained the primary route to Hamilton until about 40 years ago when two roundabouts and a new road over Trimingham Hill supplanted it.
While author Dan Blagg has uncovered the histories of myriad Bermuda place names, a few remain mysteries.
They include: Kitty’s Bottom and Major’s Bay in Hamilton Parish; Bridle Hill and Wolliske Drive in Smith’s; Kent Avenue in Devonshire; Factory Lane, King’s Gate Lane, and Tumkins Lane in St. George’s; Constance Crescent, Ravello Garden Lane and Tearoom Hill in Warwick; Frolic Lane and Luke’s Pond in Southampton; and Robert Lane, Hartle Drive, Malva Lane, Pinkhouse Lane and Spring Benny’s Bay in Sandys.