Jamaican Family Search Genealogy Research Library

History of Kingston, Jamaica


Part 4

In 1937, Kingston and St. Andrew entered a period of unprecedented growth (See Graph below). People poured into Kingston, creating a slum problem on a scale different from anything the government had ever seen. St. Andrew. for the first time in history outstripped Kingston in rate of growth, and by 1943, in actual numbers. The population of St. Andrew rocketed from 60,051 in 1933 (compared to Kingston's 73,354), to 126,146 in 1943, more than doubling in six years. This increase did not generally represent overcrowding into existing slums, as it did in Kingston, but new, spacious spread-out development. As Premier Norman Manley was to point out in 1957, before the House of Representatives: "Kingston was once a most carefully planned place, planned with almost geometrical precision... it exploded over its boundaries and proliferated itself over the Liguanea plains ... we have allowed development to take place as if the whole Corporate Area should be treated as one large suburb"[20].

Concurrently with this increase came the first recognition that the city's rising population might create housing problems. In 1937, limited loan funds were made available for 'housing improvements'. and were spent, predictably, mostly in the Corporate Area [21]. By 1939 a more extensive scheme was born in the Slum Clearance and Housing Law. This established a Central Housing Authority (called C.H.A. hereafter), with power to carry out housing projects, slum clearance, and improvement schemes, for the benefit of a rather ill-defined group called the "working classes" [21]. Some of the funds to get this program started came from the British Colonial Development and Welfare fund [21].

The Town Planning Department started as the design and layout branch of the C.H.A. In 1947 the department produced Kingston's first Development Plan [21]. The wide acclaim given the department for this accomplishment helped to secure for it permanent and independent status in 1950 [23].

From 1950 onwards, a real attempt was made by this department to meet the housing needs of the expanding population. It was concerned in the years between 1950 and 1959 almost exclusively with urban housing ( to a lesser extent with rural homes), this being the most pressing need of the city. Commercial and industrial development tended to move along independent lines until 1962, when independence from the British made necessary a closer rein on industrial resources.

The work of the C.H.A. and the Town Planning Dept. was hindered by the hurricane of 1944, which leveled much of Kingston. A separate scheme was instituted to deal with relocation and rebuilding problems created by the disaster [24]. Squatters in Western Kingston were another big problem. By 1950 the squatter situation in Kingston Pen, Trench Town and Dung Hill (exactly what it sounds like) had "assumed alarming proportions" [23]. Two separate schemes were undertaken to rehouse the cardboard-and-tin garbage dump dwellers in small concrete tenements. A popular song of the time laments that "Them a bruk down Shanty Town". One of the rehousing schemes, Majesty Pen, was completed in 1950, "providing accommodation for approximately 1,720 persons" [ 23]. When one considers that between 1943 and 1955 Kingston's population would move from 109,079 to 151,812, one can see that Majesty Pen was a drop in the bucket. In time it became a slum too, as its better conditions attracted in more people from the country.

By 1955, 57 housing schemes had been financed under the ten-year plan from Colonial Development and Welfare Funds, at a total cost of £708,822. At about this time, the C.H.A.

began including the "middle income group" [25] as beneficiaries of its housing schemes. Until this time, the middle and upper classes had always housed themselves very comfortably, using private developers and private financing. Private Building Societies had existed since 1844, and had made relatively easy financing within reach of the entire middle class. The C.H.A. now tried to bring in private enterprise financing to participate in their housing schemes, by opening up such schemes to the middle class as well. Arrangements were made such as those with the Insurance Co. of Jamaica in 1955, whereby a pilot scheme of 38 dwellings would be financed at a cost of £60,000. The terms permitted an 85% mortgage loan for a period of 20 years, with interest at 6% per annum. Three estates were completed in the Corporate Area in 1955, and 780 building lots were made available "for persons of Lower and Middle income groups" [25].

In 1955, an exhibition was held at the Institute of Jamaica in Kingston to review the progress made under the first Development Plan [26]. The exhibition noted "extensive subdivision of the Liguanea Plain area" and of the "adjoining hill areas". The extension of commercial uses into Cross Roads, and even into the Half-Way-Tree area was changing the character of Lower St. Andrew. and creating alternate shopping areas. King St., shopping hub of downtown Kingston was suffering somewhat. Along the Spanish Town and Foreshore Roads a new industrial estate was developing.

In 1959, Kingston's population peaked at 179,542. Decline was to follow as people moved out to St. Andrew. The first large middle-class housing scheme was built at Mona in St. Andrew between 1958 and 1959. Mona was still 'farflung' relative to Kingston. It was miles up the Hope Road. The houses were little square, flatroofed, concrete boxes - 'ticky-tacky' at its worst. Everyone said the scheme would be a failure. No respectable, middle-class person, of course, would be caught dead living in a house exactly like a hundred others. Mona scheme boomed despite these gloomy predictions. It was close to the growing University Campus at Mona. The University bought some of the houses for their transient faculty. Groups of students rented others from rent speculators. Small families moved in. Old people moved in, liking the quiet location, and the nearness to the Hope Botanical Gardens across Hope Road. Soon the houses began to look charming, as vegetation grew up to hide their stark lines. Mona's success ensured the continuation of middle-class schemes. In 1959, the Town Planning Dept. planned the "largest single Housing Scheme ever undertaken by an organisation in the West Indies" [27], at Harbour View. It was to consist of 1,875 dwelling units.

Private enterprise was quick to jump on the housing scheme bandwagon. In its report for 1959, the Town Planning Dept. says, "Such schemes have obviously come to stay. Indeed it is to them that Jamaica now looks for the main solution of the housing problem [28].

Development in the 1950's had been primarily residential so far. The commercial area of the city remained quite sharply focused in the lower grid of Kingston until the middle fifties. All major retailing was done on King Street itself, where all the big department stores were. Duke Street, to

the East, had developed a life and character all its own. A survey of businesses with Duke St. addresses (made from a Servicindex of the middle fifties), reveals that fully 50% of the Solicitors in Kingston had offices there. Duke St. also had half the total number of accountants and auditors offices, and nearly half the Insurance Companies. The quiet, essential-service, non-retail character of Duke St. persists to the present day, and has exhibited far more life and survival value than the more bustling King St., which is now more or less dead. On the West of Barry St., in a more inclement district of downtown Kingston, a cheaper, less fashionable shopping area had grown up. It consisted almost exclusively of Chinese hardware , dry-goods, and haberdashery markets, where English was minimal, and haggling a must. Fully 25 out of 58 Chinese merchants in Kingston had shops on Barry St. in the 50's [29]. Here again, this street has retained its vitality up to the present, despite its consistent lack of 'class'.


20. Norman Washington Manley. Manley and the New Jamaica (Longmans, Caribbean. 1971)p. 232234.

21. Colonial Report on Jamaica- 1950. p. 65.

22. Colonial Report on Jamaica - 1955 p. 249.

23. Colonial Report on Jamaica - 1950 p. 67.

24. Ibid. p. 66.

25. Colonial Report on Jamaica - 1955 p. 243.

26. Colonial Report on Jamaica -1955 p. 249.

27. Colonial Report on Jamaica -1959 p. 176.

28. Ibid. p. 193.

29. Williams Street Guide and Servicindex of Greater Kingston.

For the illustrated History of Kingston by Michelle Gadpaille, go to:
History of Kingston Part 1
History of Kingston Part 2
History of Kingston Part 3
History of Kingston Part 4

© 2013. Jamaican Family Search hereby grants you a limited license to copy and use the materials provided on this site solely for your personal, non-commercial use. No other use of the site or materials is authorized. You agree that any copy of the materials (or any portion of the materials) that you make shall retain all copyright and other proprietary notices contained therein. Posting of materials on other Web Sites is strictly prohibited.


Search for



Plan of this website

Help - Frequently Asked Questions

Jamaica Almanacs Slave-owners, Civil & Military officers, Magistrates etc.

Items in the Samples Directory

Items in the Members Directory

Transcriptions from Registers and Wills (Church of England, Dissenters, Civil Registration)

Jamaican Roman Catholic Church Registers - transcriptions

Jamaican Methodist Baptisms - transcriptions

Jewish births marriages deaths - transcriptions

Slaves and slavery in Jamaica

Photographs, maps, prints, etc.