It’s not every day you encounter a hotel that can instantly transport your mind back to the warring days of a seafaring pirate. Recently however we found just such a location, and this gem is due all it’s lauding. The Admiral’s Inn on the island of Antigua is a true historic find, and walking it’s hallowed hallways really does take your mind back to a simpler time of plundering, pillaging, and of course chasing after the occasional wench.
Originally built in 1788 as the Pitch and Tar House for the British fleet’s Caribbean outpost, this classic three-story Georgian brick structure has undergone many changes to get to its present state. Located in the historic Nelson’s Dockyard at English Harbour, on the southeast corner of this quiet island, many remnants of its seagoing past still exist. Its narrow corridors are lined with nautical artifacts, paintings, and photos of a bygone era. The 18″ thick brick and stone walls, the massive wooden beams with their hefty iron tie-backs, and its hearthy yellow pine plank flooring throughout, are faithfully preserved remnants from its prestigious past.
Throw open the windowless shutters, and you can almost see the fair maiden looking longingly for her man to come back from the sea. But I digress…
What began as the Pitch and Tar House, was later relegated to duty as the Engineer’s and Draftsman’s Offices in the 19th century, and was ultimately abandoned altogether in 1899. Restored in 1954, the building later served as a police station, and as a doctor’s office and residence. Further modifications in 1960 saw it’s conversion into a hotel by the Engineer’s House Company Limited. This beautiful old structure has survived the winds of change, and the torrents of more than one passing hurricane in it’s 223 year history.
Situated amidst the beautiful gardens of the Nelson’s Dockyard, the surroundings and large terrace over-looking the water and the yachts lying in anchor, coupled with the building’s historic charm, harken you back to a simpler day. Remnants too of it’s sailing past abound at every corner of this beautiful property.
The entirety of the Admirals’ Inn actually consists of three buildings situated at the entrance to the historic Dockyard. The main building was planned in 1785, the year after Captain Horatio Nelson arrived in English Harbour as Captain of HMS BOREAS, and completed in 1788. The ground floor was used for storage of pitch, turpentine, and lead, and the engineer’s offices of the Dockyard were relegated to the upper floor. Some original pitch marks may still be seen at the foot of the stairs.
Ships sailing to the New World typically contained bricks in the hold as sailing ballast. Since the ship’s return ballast was frequently barrels of rum, I bet that made for a hearty homecoming, the original ballast was ultimately left behind. Thusly, the bricks used in this building’s construction were brought over from England as standard ship’s ballast. Also, as was the custom of the day, every sailing vessel was required to leave a draft, submitted to their Lordships of the Admiralty, for approval of it’s design.
Behind the bar in the hotel’s Lobby you will see a photographic copy of the original Admiralty draft of Nelson’s vessel, the HMS BOREAS (meaning “the North Wind”), a 142 foot 28-gun frigate built at Hull. The frame surrounding the plan is of lignum vitae, and is an original door frame from one of the entrances to the building.
Sparse, yet adequate furnishings and amenities, complete each of the simple rooms, remaining true to the building’s heritage and proud past. An attentive staff sees to your every need and is quick to assist, advise, or lend a hand. A small kitchen prepares daily breakfast and dinner, which is served open air at the feet of the pillars of the former sail loft. The spacious patio, lined with airy potted plants and small cafe tables, provides a romantic setting for a quiet coffee or a hearty breakfast sure to prepare you for a full day of surf and sand or sailing.
Our recommendation when vacationing on the island of Antigua, is to take a departure from the norm, and opt to pass on the modernized resort areas of the north and western coasts. Instead we suggest a step back in time in the historic Nelson Dockyard. Grab a couple fingers of your favorite spirit, and settle in for a trip through history. Tell Ruth you were sent by Island Art & Treasures, and walk the halls where Captain Nelson walked. Aye Matey!