Ivor C. Conolley
Recent excavations reveal that the Dome and Foundry Yard was the location of a 19th Century multifunctional industrial site in Falmouth, Jamaica WI.
Traditionally, the property referred to as the “Dome” had been known as a foundry constructed in 1810 by one Mr. Field with a slate roof and used for the repairs of machinery from sugar estates and those of shipping interests.1 Likely constructed as a bottle kiln to manufacture ceramics and possibly glass products, the Dome only operated as such for a limited period if at all. It was soon adapted to function as a foundry. In August of 1837, a report mentions a Mr. Jonathan Smithers kept a coke foundry in Upper Harbour Street, very likely this building.2 As business deteriorated from the demise of numerous sugar estates and fewer ships in the harbour, the foundry eventually ceased operations. It fell into ruins in the 20th century and thereafter became a curiosity piece for passing tourists.
How the structure could have been amenable to these four uses:
Kiln used in the manufacture of ceramics including new designs including that of a palm tree depicting the Caribbean. Clay, coal and equipment sourced from England
Kiln used in the manufacture of glass and glass products. Ceramic kiln adapted to use as glass kiln by placing furnace in the centre and using clammins/firemouths as annealing furnaces.
The third adaptation would have involved attaching bellows on the outside to the structure with air ducts leading to the central furnace and permanently blocking a number of the archways. Smelting of iron and manufacture of iron products for shipping interests and sugar factories would have been their primary business activities. They would also manufacture copper products such as nails and other household and factory prerequisites.
Fill and a new floor may have been laid down after the roof collapsed and the building deteriorated. Possibly some of the equipment was salvaged. Subsequently, the site became a visitors' centre for a limited period and eventually even this activity was abandoned.
Not only does the structure of the Dome indicate that the original plan was to use the building as a glass or ceramic kiln, but also a vibrant market for these products was an incentive for their manufacture. Furthermore, the presence of a furnace in one of the archways suggests that the building was used not only as a foundry but also a kiln. Additionally, while the location of a furnace in the centre indicates its use as a foundry, furnaces in the centre as well as on the perimeter were typical of glass kilns where central furnace generated greater heat and the heat for annealing glass products provided by the perimeter furnaces. Architectural and archaeologically determined features provide enough evidence to suggest this was a multi-functional facility. Evidence of the manufacture of metal products confirms its use as a foundry. Evidence of ceramic manufacture is not as strong, although an unusual imprinted sherd has been found showing the top section of a coconut palm.3
If this piece is unique to Jamaica, it may be evidence of a new type of ceramic design, which could have been manufactured at this facility as it represented palms endemic to the islands of the Caribbean. Further research ought to be undertaken to determine if such pieces were manufactured in England or in other colonies. Proof of the Dome’s use as a glass kiln from products is rather weak. As noted before, the furnace located beneath the archway could be an annealing furnace for glass. Remnants of unblown glass were not found on the site to support an interpretation as a glass kiln. A quantity of glass sherds of various colours and types were collected from the site, which may indicate that there was a limited level of glass production.
Given the acknowledged wealth of Jamaica in the 18th and 19th centuries it would not be surprising to find that ceramics and glass were being produced in the island.4 It would have to be shown however that clay of the type which produced such pottery was either available in Jamaica or was imported from England. Given that stones and bricks often came to Jamaica as ballast in ships plying the route from England to the Caribbean, it is likely that clay necessary for the manufacture of ceramics also could be imported. Additionally, coal, unavailable in Jamaica, has been found in Unit 1 demonstrating that this material and possibly others needed for foundry operations were sourced from England for use in this facility.
A consequence of Jamaica’ thriving economy of this period meant that innovations in various industries would have found their way here. It is documented that in the 1840s when mining precious metals was popular in the Americas that Jamaica also had its share of gold, silver and copper mines, albeit with varying levels of success.5 The point is that the country had wealth to attract such enterprises. Not far away, on the North American continent, glass industries were established as early as 1608 at Jamestown, but failed. Glassmaking enterprises became more successful especially in the latter part of the eighteenth century and the nineteenth century in places as Maryland and the Alleghenies as the demand for glass increased.6 The date, 1810, given as the start up date of the dome coincides with this period of demand for glass ware and may have been constructed with this market in mind.
The Dome site is currently the only such structure known in Jamaica. Further study of this structure and the associated yard is critical to further understanding of the level of industrial advances and development in Jamaica during the early 19th century. This site ought to be saved for future study and posterity.
1 Both authors Dan Ogilvie and Ray Fremmer agree are on the date and the name of the founder. Ogilvie, Daniel L. History of the Parish of Trelawny (private publication: Falmouth, Jamaica: 1954) chapter 6. Accessed 13 October 2010 from http://jamaicanfamilysearch.com/Samples/histre06.htm. Fremmer, Ray. “History of Trelawny”. Undated. Unpublished.
2 Ogilvie, Daniel L. History of the Parish of Trelawny (private publication: Falmouth, Jamaica: 1954) chapter 11. Accessed 13 October 2010 from http://jamaicanfamilysearch.com/Samples/histre05.htm
3 The fronds also resemble those of a banana plant.
4 Carter, E. H., G. W. Digby, R. N. Murray. History of the West Indian People 18th Century to Modern Times. Great Britain. Thomas Nelson and Sons 1967, 8, 27.
5 Senior, Olive. Encyclopaedia of Jamaican Heritage. Jamaica. Twin Guinep Publishers, 2003, 129..
6 Frank, Susan. Glass and Archaeology. London Academic Press Inc. 1982, 36-37.