As one of Barbados’ most accomplished architects, with his company now celebrating some thirty-four years of successful design work, Larry Warren is eminently qualified to appreciate the immense heritage value of St. Nicholas Abbey, which was built in 1658 and is one of only three Jacobean mansions remaining in the Western Hemisphere. So, when he and his wife Anna purchased the magnificent property in 2006, they did so acutely aware of the enormous responsibility they were assuming by taking over guardianship of this important historical treasure. Suitably motivated, the Warrens, along with sons Simon and Shae, made it a family mission to sustainably develop St. Nicholas Abbey.

Determined to create a permanent legacy for Barbados, the Warrens planned a long-term mixed development strategy founded on three key elements: a meticulous restoration of the house as a world-class heritage tourism attraction; reviving the property as a functioning plantation growing sugar cane; and producing the estate’s own sugar-based products, including St. Nicholas Abbey branded rum.

Some 13 years after first opening its doors to the general public, St. Nicholas Abbey has successfully attained those three fundamental objectives and now stands well poised to surpass them.

Larry Warren

This is a really exciting phase at the Abbey because we’ve been around long enough that we are now witnessing the benefits of all the foundation work we had to undertake in the early start-up days. For example, when we first launched St. Nicholas Abbey rum, the only way we could get started was to purchase good quality rum from another supplier, which we aged in the barrel and bottled straight from the barrel by hand. And that worked very well for us at the time, but it was never our long-term plan to operate like that. We have always been committed to the ethos of bringing together all the elements of authenticity and the traditional artisanal style of four centuries of rum-making in Barbados, and that is what we set out to achieve. Today we are in an enviable position whereby we can do everything on site: grow sugar cane, crush it in our mill, process the cane juice in an evaporator to make syrup, feed the syrup into the distillery, refine and bottle our own rum for retail. We still have a few barrels of the original rum stock we bought, including some outstanding premium 15 and 20 year olds, but it means so much more to me that we are now selling our own completely home-produced 5 and 8 year-old aged rums. When that St. Nicholas Abbey Rum label goes onto the bottle it really belongs there. All in all, that makes our rum a rarity in the modern world. So, even though we are still a relatively small
operation, we are actually regarded as an important brand.

The house has always been well supported by customers, especially long-stay visitors to the island, but we have seen a substantial increase in the numbers since we opened the St. Nicholas Abbey Heritage Railway in late 2018. And that was always my main motivation in bringing an authentic 1914 steam locomotive to Barbados. The tremendous interest generated by that new drawing card has dramatically increased the number of visitors, including many locals who might not otherwise have stepped foot in the house. And that is a very good thing, as we want Barbadians to experience the Abbey because it’s part of their heritage.

As a rule, we like to develop our business in a slow burn, just one step at a time, but we are already planning to extend the railway track so that the train can travel further away from the property, out across Cherry Tree Hill where we have a 100-acre peninsula. In addition to the obvious point of making the return trip a longer experience, it will also open up some incredible views of the East Coast and give passengers an opportunity to disembark at a stopping point.

Having the railway also opens other exciting options, allowing us to further fulfil our mixed development strategy. We are currently converting a disused coral-stone quarry into a unique venue for major outdoor events. By using dramatic landscaping and creative lighting, we can provide a truly amazing ‘fantasy land’ effect. But what will make the whole incredible experience really unforgettable will be riding to the venue on the train, passing through trees illuminated with giant chandeliers. It will be spectacular!

Whatever else we do in the future, it must always comply with our original mission to sustain St. Nicholas Abbey as close as possible to its original form and preserve the plantation. And I like that kind of challenge because it forces us to find innovative ways to develop the property in an eco-sensitive way. We are located in a beautiful, peaceful corner of Barbados that remains relatively free of traffic. So we must protect that precious natural environment while also expanding our product.

Inspired by that proviso, one of my biggest ambitions is to build a limited number of wooden, one and two-bedroom eco-lodges, spaciously distributed throughout the 100-acre peninsula, all self-sustaining and completely off the grid. Instead of driving to them, residents and guests would check-in at the Abbey, leave their cars there, then ride the steam train to their accommodation. It would be like stepping back in time, to the days when the old Barbados railway line stopped at the Atlantis Hotel.

That would undoubtedly add a compelling new dimension to heritage tourism in Barbados.