Movable Structures — Chattel Houses on Barbados
On Barbados, when slaves were freed in 1834, plantation owners still required the freed slaves to work on the plantations and they, in turn, required work. So, unproductive land was set aside by the plantation owners on which the workers could live. These settlements were known as tenantries. The workers never owned the land so moving their homes to another plantation had to be easy, should the need arise. These moveable homes were called ‘chattel houses’, ‘chattel’ referring to moveable belongings — from the expression ‘taking up one’s goods and chattels’.
Chattel houses, at first one unit with two rooms, were built on a loose foundation of coral stones from the fields. The four wooden external walls, the floor and the corrugated iron roof could be dismantled in whole sections, loaded onto a horse and cart — later a flatbed truck — and reassembled in a new location, all in one day.
The dimensions were determined by the imported pre-cut pitch pine lumber available at that time, in 12 to 20 foot lengths. A typical size house was 16 x 12 feet. At first the houses had had a gable roof with a steep 45° pitch, the perfect pitch to avoid the roof being lifted off in strong winds.
As the owners became more prosperous, so chattel houses began to show the signs of this prosperity. Skilled craftsmen began to incorporate many of the details of the grander plantation houses — delicate entrance porches, galleries, double entrance staircases, sash windows and decorative fretwork — over the years the Barbadians began to buy a ‘piece of the rock’ and build on permanent foundations.
As the size, or the fortunes, of the family increased, so extensions were added to the rear of the original unit; normally up to three gable roof sections and a shed. The first extension was usually built a few feet wider than the original house so that a louvred window could be installed to let in the breeze.
— words taken from “Chattel Houses” by Jill Walker
An idea for Denman Island Affordable housing? A variation on the theme? A movable home, not a ‘mobile/trailer’ home! The challenge is to design a prototype west coast moveable home which could be easily assembled and disassembled, with the potential of eventually expanding it into a permanent dwelling down the road.