Bridgetown, metropolitan pop 96,578 (2006), is the capital and largest city of the nation of Barbados. Formerly, the Town of Saint Michael, the Greater Bridgetown area is located within the parish of Saint Michael. Bridgetown is sometimes locally referred to as "The City", but the most common reference is simply "Town".
The Bridgetown port, found along Carlisle Bay (at ) lies on the southwestern coast of the island. Parts of the Greater Bridgetown area (as roughly defined by the Ring Road Bypass or more commonly known as the ABC Highway), sit close to the borders of the neighbouring parishes Christ Church and St. James. The Grantley Adams International Airport for Barbados, is located southeast of Bridgetown city centre, and has daily flights to major cities in the United Kingdom, United States, Canada and the Caribbean. While there is no longer local municipal government, it is governed as a political constituency within the national Parliament. During the short lived 1950s-1960s Federation of the British West Indian Territories, Bridgetown was one of three capital cities within the region being considered to be the Federal capital of region.
The present day location of the city was established by English settlers in 1628 following a prior settlement under the authority of Sir William Courten at St. James Town. Bridgetown is a major West Indies tourist destination, and the city acts as an important financial, informatics, convention centre, and cruise ship port of call in the Caribbean region. On 25 June 2011, Historic Bridgetown and its Garrison were added as a World Heritage Site of UNESCO.
Although the island was totally abandoned or uninhabited when the British landed there, one of the few traces of indigenous pre-existence on the island was a primitive bridge constructed over the Careenage area's swamp at the centre of Bridgetown. It was suspected that this bridge was created by a people indigenous to the Caribbean known as the Arawaks. Upon finding the structure the British settlers began to call what is now the Bridgetown area Indian Bridge. It is widely believed that the Arawaks were driven from Barbados to the neighbouring island of Saint Lucia, during an invasion by another people indigenous to the region known as the Kalinagos. Eventually after 1654 when a new bridge was constructed over the Careenage by the British, the area became known as The Town of Saint Michael and later as Bridgetown, and the final name stuck.
Bridgetown is the only city outside continental North America that George Washington visited. (George Washington House, the actual house where he stayed, is now part of the Garrison Historic Area.) In 2011, historic buildings in Bridgetown were made a protected area of UNESCO.
English settlement of Bridgetown began on 5 July 1628 under Charles Wolverstone, who brought with him 64 settlers to these lands formally claimed by James Hay, the Earl of Carlisle. Wolverstone, had been dispatched by a group of London Merchants, headed by Sir Marmaduke Rawdon. The group had been granted a lease to of land area by the Earl of Carlisle in settlement of debts. Each of the settlers with Wolverstone were granted by him of land, lying on the northern side of the Careenage waterway for the purpose of general settlement. The southern shore on Needham's Point, were claimed by Carlisle's agents that coming October, and in 1631, many acres of land directly facing Carlisle Bay were passed to Henry Hawley, the new Governor. Reports of dishonest behaviour about this Governor led to his arrest and rendition to England in 1639. After investigation by Commission in 1640, it was found that much of Hawley's land transactions were legitimate and properly showed these lands (including the town site), as being attributed to the Earl of Carlisle. Bridgetown was built upon a street layout resembling early English Medieval or market towns with its narrow serpentine street and alley configuration.
The earliest boundaries of Bridgetown are contained by way of an Act passed on 4 April 1660 called, "to prevent the danger which may happen by fire, in or about any of the seaport towns of the Island". The southern limit was declared to be the River (Careenage), whilst the western limit was declared to be the western boundary of St. Michael's (now St. Mary's) Churchyard, and extending in a direct line to the seaside. The town's other limits consisted of properties of certain citizens' names in this statute, the location of which cannot now be determined with certainty. The boundaries were not redefined until 1822.
From town to city
In 1824 Barbados became the seat of the Anglican 'Diocese of Barbados and the Leeward Islands'. Due to this the Saint Michael's Parish Church became raised to the status of Cathedral, in so doing the elevation meant that thereafter Bridgetown would be conferred with city status. In 1842 Royal Letters Patent under which Barbados, Trinidad, Tobago, Grenada, Saint Vincent and Saint Lucia were split into separate diocese decreed that henceforth the Town of Bridgetown should be called the City of Bridgetown.
From 1800 until 1885 Bridgetown served as the main seat of Government for the former British colonies of the Windward Islands. During this period the resident Governor of Barbados also served as the Colonial head of the Windward Islands. After the Government of Barbados officially exited from the Windward Island union in 1885, the seat was moved from Bridgetown to St. George's on the neighbouring island of Grenada.
It was not until 1958 when the Local Government Act was passed in Barbados. Within the act called for separate administration for the city. The act called for a Mayor, 6 City aldermen, and 12 City Councillors—of which 4 serve each of the 3 Wards in the City.
On 20 September 1960 a grant of Arms was conferred upon the City by the Royal College of Arms in London. The Armorial bearings for the City of Bridgetown were designed by the late Neville Connell, the then director of the Barbados Museum and Historical Society along with H.W. Ince the Honorary Secretary of the Society.
Local government in Barbados was established but not for long. In April 1967 the system of Local Government Councils was dissolved and replaced by an Interim Commissioner for Local Government. The Corporation of Bridgetown thus ceased to exist, and its records and paraphernalia were deposited in both the Government Department of Archives and Barbados Museum and Historical Society. Today Bridgetown and surrounding constituencies are administered by members of Barbadian parliament.