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A brief history of Drumblair Pen, residence of Norman Washington Manley

Published:Wednesday | March 22, 2023 | 12:48 AMMarcia Thomas/Contributor
Drumblair, The Manley residence, St Andrew.
Drumblair, The Manley residence, St Andrew.
Regardless – the Manley home.
Regardless – the Manley home.

Norman Washington Manley (1893-1969), national hero of Jamaica, chief minister, premier, and founder of the People’s National Party and the National Workers’ Union, acquired Drumblair Pen in 1924 when he was a barrister-at-law.

He sold it in 1927 to Charles William Racey (1867-1932) but Norman and Edna Manley would return to this property in 1933. They lived in the two-storey, four-bedroom wooden house on Old Church Road on their Drumblair property until 1962. Their home became a centre of Jamaica’s political and cultural life as described by Rachel Manley in her book, Drumblair, a tribute to her grandparents, and by Arnold Bertram in his book, N.W. Manley and the Making of Modern Jamaica.In other writings, the story of Drumblair begins when N.W. Manley bought the property, but it has a history before then.

Much of the land on the north side of Hope Road, from current King’s House to the St Andrew Parish Church, was assigned to the Anglican Church from 1667 and were known as glebe lands. James Robertson’s 1804 map of Jamaica surveyed from 1796-1799 shows large tracts of land in the area of present day Drumblair with at least one owner, a Campbell, possibly John, Colin or D.R. Campbell. The properties in that area were possibly surveyed and leased or sold in the early 1800s.

Drumblair Pen in St Andrew was originally Sandy Park Pen, a residential property of livestock, pastures and guinea grass originally using enslaved labour. These pens supplied animals and their products in the domestic market for transportation, work and consumption.

The Jamaica Almanacs show that between 1818 to 1827, a property called Sandy Park Pen in St Andrew was registered to Paul Lamothe de Carrier, and, in 1828, to Louis Desgouttes. Both Lamothe and Desgouttes seemed to have come to Jamaica through Saint Domingue (Haiti). From 1829, Sandy Park Pen was registered to planter, William Massop, up to about 1840.

In 1845, this Pen of 55 acres was occupied by John Rider Brice, magistrate and coroner in Kingston and St Andrew, and his mother, Mrs Charlotte Mapletoft Lawrence, who died there in December 1870, aged 90. She was born in 1780 and was married to John Rider Brice Sr (c.1787-1820). Charlotte Lawrence was a coloured woman. John Rider Brice Jr died in 1875, aged 72. His wife of 55 years, Elizabeth Studwick Brice, with whom he had four children, died in 1888 living at Orange Street. Sandy Park Pen was willed by Brice to his daughter Alice Maude Brice, (c.1852-1929) and her mother, Sarah Raxter Henriques. Alice Maude was an executor of his will. She is clearly from an extramarital relationship.

Even more interesting is that Sandy Park Pen also appeared in the estate of Emma Margaret Brass (1850-1878), wife of Robert Scott Brass, Kingston businessman and property owner. She died, aged 28, in 1878, a year after her husband. It seems she had some connection to the Brice and Lawrence families. This is an indication of the complexities of family relationships in Jamaica. It would take quite a bit of research to unravel this mystery.


In this intrigue, before 1883, the 50-acre Sandy Park Pen had a change of name. It became Drumblair. In 1883, a house and land called Drumblair was advertised for sale in The Gleaner. In February/March 1892, another Gleaner advertisement shows a property formerly called Sandy Park Pen, now called Drumblair, for sale at auction by the trustees (Arthur Alexander and Thomas Martin) of an estate associated with Emma Margaret Brass.The property had guinea grass, common pastures, logwood, ebony and fruit trees. The two-storey residence, in good condition, had four bedrooms, drawing, living and dining rooms, a large piazza, offices, out buildings, and its own water supply from Constant Spring. Furniture was also being sold. It was noted that it had been subdivided. It was also near the tram line.

It is not known why this property was then called Drumblair, but, Drumblair is a geographical area in Aberdeenshire, Scotland, where there is a Drumblair House and a Lodge which are over four centuries old.

From 1890 to 1908, Drumblair Pen was repeatedly being leased, rented or sold. This was even though a mortgage was being offered on the sale. This could also be a sign of changing economic times and domestic and commercial requirements.

In 1909, this estate, then reduced to 30 acres, was registered to Cuban migrant, Joseph Nasario Blanchett (1863-1912), who was involved in tobacco cultivation at Colbeck Estate. In 1911, it was transferred to John Richard Drummond (1880-?) who was then a dispenser (pharmacist). By 1912, it was transferred again to Samuel John Thompson, another pen keeper and property owner. In 1915, The Gleaner, shows Drumblair passing from Thomas Capper, a former inspector of schools, to A. F. Dunnett, sports figure and businessman. By 1917 it was in the possession of Elgiva Wilhelmina Doige (1859-1923) of Seaforth, St Thomas. From the Doige family, in 1921, it was transferred to Volney James Rennie (1884-1967), who was a clerk at merchants, Thwaites and Company, and later a prominent St Ann farmer.


Norman Washington Manley bought Drumblair Pen from Volney Rennie in 1924 for £1,125. By 1926, it was again advertised for sale. The house then had kitchen and sanitary facilities under cover. In 1927, Manley sold it to Charles William Racey (1867-1932) for £2,225. Arnold Bertram states that the Manleys then moved to Bedford Park, which was in the vicinity.

In 1933, Manley leased back Drumblair from Alice Jane Purcell Delfosse, widow of William Racey. He regained full ownership in 1936. The Manleys had horses and dairy cows on the property. Their family residence, the old house and its grounds, hosted labour leaders, politicians, artists, and sportsmen. It witnessed the movement towards self-determination. By 1955, however, Manley began subdividing the property, retaining 11 acres with their home and a few other lots.

It is said that, in 1961, to clear debts, Norman Manley sold their beloved Drumblair home and its surrounding land to developer Maurice Facey for £30,000. They retained two small lots where the road named for him, Washington Drive, was built. This Edna Manley called their toe-hold in Drumblair. She oversaw the construction of a new more compact concrete house which she would call ‘Regardless’. They moved there in 1962. The property next door was Ebony Hill and would be occupied by their son, Michael Manley, Prime Minister of Jamaica, 1972-1980 and 1989-1992.

The Jamaica National Trust Commission wanted to retain the old Drumblair residence as a national heritage site but Rachel Manley records that her grandfather agreed that it should be demolished.

The Norman Washington Manley Foundation, following the death of the Manleys’ eldest son, Dr Douglas Manley, in 2013, acquired ‘Regardless’ from the family, renovated it, and donated it to the Jamaica National Heritage Trust. The Foundation then leased it with the aim of creating a working heritage site on the role of the Manleys in nation-building.‘Regardless’ is now a national heritage site.

This site should be maintained and used in the national interest.