Kingston’s Grid

Kingston is a city that was born from calamity. It was the heir of the robust and wild city of Port Royal, a city at the hub of marine life, stuck out on a long peninsular arm to embrace the enormous natural harbour. One of the major event cities within the hemisphere, Port Royal was garishly coloured by the licence that the aggressive nature of the entrepreneurial spirit nourishes itself with when law is distant and difficult to administer. The stories of that wild spirit abound -of Sir Henry Morgan- whose piracy was even institutionalised and used by the English, against their rivals the Spanish.


But in 1692 the city of Port Royal was swallowed, an apocalyptic act of retribution- in an earthquake. At the time the story was a global skoop with a description of the event, translated into every major language. A new era in the history of Jamaica was about to begin, one where the primary focus was not the sea and its fluid tendency to erase the lines of order imposed upon it: but the land. Within this era of consolodation Port Royal reverted to a more specialised function, a marine base, a function it has kept to the present.


The parish of St. Andrews had already been divided up among the soldiers who had helped expel the Spanish in Modyford‘s expedition to Spanish Town. Col. Barry, one of them had, however sold his lands to Sir William Beeston who had arrived in Kingston five years after the conquest of Jamaica in 1660. After the destruction of Port Royal he sold 200 acres of his land for £ 1,000. That land was neatly divided by John Goffe into a very nicely modulated grid suffused with the aesthetics of manifest order.


The west of the slightly elongated parallelogram was bound by West street, the east by East street, the south by the memory and view of Kingston’s predecessor: Port Royal Street of which it gave a view and to the North by North Street. That is the kind of grid that is very neat and pleasing, filled with self-evidence and reminiscent of the neat orthogonal disposition of the Egyptian pyramids and subject to the same geographical geometry. If the nile goes from the south to the north, Jamaica, as an island is elongated exactly according to the East West axis. That satisfaction in the plan continues in its further division directly inspired on the military aesthetics of Roman *** and ultimately of

Hippodamuss’ plan of *


The main street, King Street, slightly wider than the others, dissected the parallelogram from south to north, expressing the economical interface between land and sea. It passes through a square at dead centre, a military camp called the parade and is intersected at that point by an aesthetically and symbolically motivated East-West street, which, to give expression to the machinations of dynastic perpetuity, was called Queen street: the royalist credentials of the city Kingston were engraved through its heart even though the conquest of Jamaica had initially been inspired by Cromwells’ Grand Design. The subsidiary streets memorised early notables including Beeston himself, Beckford, whose descendents we shall come across a century later and even rubs off reminicesces of


In the middle of the square, which was an exact square true to its name, was a cistern, water being the main medium of urban possibility.  What is particularly subtle about the plan and has a similarly symbolical and ideological significance is the way that Kingston Parish Church was the only building to penetrate the square, disrupting its geometry in an act of righteous religious assertion. An act prophetic after the fact, as religion is one of the mainstays of Jamaican life, an extrarodinary force penetrating to the very heart of its existence.


The rest of the parcels of land were carefully modulated, giving expression to anticipation of the value of land with regard to its location, two rows of smaller parcels near the harbour, then two rows of slightly longer parallelograms, succeded by a single row of attentuated plots which broder the parade to the south. The Parade itself, because of the necessity of symbolic disection, by queenstreet, gives slightly smaller plots to the East and West.


But below the rich symbolical language of the grid lay the cruder game of land speculation. Sir william Beeton, already wealthy, became exceedingly rich and played the games of extortion to perfection when he returned to the island in 1693 as Governor from a sojourn in England. He declared the initial sale of land illegal, reposessed the 809 lots and resold them for £ 5 pounds each, a near 500% increase on the initial price, all the while ensured of a future security by the fact he already owned 330 acres of land surrounding the city.[1] 


[1] Anthony Johnson, Kingston, Portrait of a City, Kingston 1993, p. 48. On the grid of Kingston see also Dr. Wilma Bailey * ; P. Stanigar * etc.