The colours of Falmouth
James Parrent, Contributor
THE HISTORIC town of Falmouth is undergoing major development, and with development comes change. Those that have become comfortable with the way things are quite often resist change, which is not necessarily a bad thing. Resistance leads to dialogue and quite often dialogue, based on informed ideas, guides the processes, resulting in changes that satisfy the majority of the persons affected. This has been true with the selection process of the colours for Falmouth.
Falmouth was conceived, planned, and developed during the Georgian Period (1714 to 1830), and is unique in the Caribbean with the largest collection of intact Georgian period buildings still in existence. The town was declared a national monument by the Jamaica National Heritage Trust (JNHT) in 1996 for this reason. With its uniqueness comes the potential of becoming a major destination for tourists, which in turn, brings with it many opportunities and some challenges.
Much is made of the Georgian buildings. What exactly does Georgian mean? Simply stated, it is a period of a particular architectural style popular in the time that King George I, George II, and George III ruled England. Directly, it has nothing to do with the monarchy; it just happens to be framed in time by their period of rule.
Historical authenticity of the colours
With the ongoing improvement works in Falmouth, there has been open dialogue regarding the historical authenticity of the colours being used in the town. During the Georgian period, the number of colour choices was limited, and was often determined by the process of making paint and the colouring pigments available at the time. As Falmouth developed, there had been, and will continue to be, an effort to reflect the Georgian character of the town by preserving the historic buildings where possible, and this includes recommending colours similar to those used during the Georgian period.
Selecting appropriate colours for Falmouth required much discussion and consultation. Colour palettes were considered from many sources, including Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia, USA, and all local paint companies. Finally, a decision was made to use the historic colour palette of Benjamin Moore Paint Company, a company that has been in existence since 1883, and carries a line of paints suitable for painting Georgian buildings. This colour palette was approved by the JNHT and is available on their website at www.jnht.com. Merchants and property owners around Water Square were consulted, and colours for their buildings were selected. The process of painting these structures has started.
A second, and significant, palette of colours for Falmouth has also been considered. These colours are based on pigments added to limewash. Limewash is a diluted form of lime putty to which a pigment may be added. The pigments are mostly hues of earth colours like yellow, brown, and red that occur naturally. This range can be extended by using man-made pigments. It is also common to find a simple white limewash used on Georgian period buildings. This leads us to the selection of colours for the courthouse in Falmouth.
From examining the façade, it was clear that the building had been painted with a light-coloured latex paint more than once, and some areas had been painted with oil-based paint. Since latex and oil-based paint are waterproof, moisture was retained in the cut limestone blocks used to build the courthouse. Water retention in the walls led to the deterioration of the stones, and a build-up of moisture inside the building, resulting in a severe problem with mould. The retained moisture also provided an excellent habitat for termites that have plagued the building for many years.
Falmouth Heritage Renewal, a local restoration company, in looking for a solution to the problems concerning the façade, undertook a study conducted on treatments on the building. Three samples were collected from the courthouse by Dr Edward Chappell, Director of Architectural and Archaeological Research at Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia, USA, and submitted to the paint analysis laboratory at Colonial Williamsburg.
It was determined there were 19 generations of finishes. The first was a white stucco, followed by three unpigmented limewashes, a yellow limewash, a pinkish yellow limewash, 11 treatments of yellow limewashes, and finally, two layers of modern cream latex paint. From this analysis, a yellow limewash, similar to historic ones, was selected for the façade of the courthouse while a white limewash was selected for the quoins and columns. It is this colour that is now drawing all eyes to the historic building.