Lagos Island otherwise locally known as Isale Eko which was once the hub of commercial and administrative affairs during colonial Nigeria is a haven of residential buildings that boast of European architectural styles as brought either from Bahia, Brazil or from some other part of Europe with a mix of local influences. It is undoubtedly scattered with a few remaining “important” buildings of which includes the Old Government Printing Press amongst others.
Lagos Island in Two Hours: A Victorian Perspective
A Sunday walk around Isale Eko in two hours will undoubtedly fill your curiosity patterning the history of Nigeria which is ignorantly covered up with tales of the civil war, military coups amongst other things. Starting from the former Her Majesty’s Old Broad Street Prison which is now the Freedom Park which was operational from 1887 till it was closed in the 1960s. The most infamous inmate was 22 year old Esther Johnson who was jailed for stabbing her British husband Mark Hall. She was later released by the then Governor General on Royal Prerogative. On the grounds of the park is a section called Esther’s Revenge.
A walk down lies the Old Secretariat which was constructed in 1906. It was built with imported bricks each one of which was stamped with the armorial bearings of the Quartermaster General of Britain which appeared on all British government property.
Going further is the Old Government Printing Press which is said to be constructed in 1895 by the colonial government on the site of what used to be the first oil mill . Apparently, the annual government gazette of the colonial government is said to have been printed here.
Adjacent to this, past Joseph Street [named after the first Baptist minister, Joseph Harden] is the St. George’s Hall which was opened by Sir Walter Egerton in 1907. It belongs to the masons lodge. The interior boasts of a wooden staircase which is so pristine.
Along Broad Street leads to the CMS Bookshop which was started in 1869 and rebuilt in 1917. It used to be the book hub for Nigerians who loved to buy books especially for children, and also Christian books as well but as time went by, it became largely defunct.
Heading to Kakawa Street is the Water House, built 1885. It had a borehole and the first water fountain in Lagos Island as water was sold from his house to consumers which he made money from. It was and is still owned by the Da Rocha family.
Walking back, one gets struck by the beauty of the St. Anna Courthouse which was completed in 1925 and the only colonial structure in the entirety of Lagos currently to have the George Rex insignia which is inscribed on the façade of the building said to be in honour of King George V.
Heading down on the left is the African Church Cathedral [Bethel] which was designed by Bagan Benjamin. It was built by Diya Olu, a local builder of repute, who was killed in a fall from the top of the building in 1918. It was built with burnt bricks on a strong foundation, reinforced with iron beams imported from London.
Walking ahead lies the Lumpkin House on Abibu Oki Street. It is said to be built in the 1890s and restored in 1990s by the Leventis Foundation. The structure has very good window features of a Brazilian building. It is said to have been occupied by Jenkins Lumpkin.
Few minutes walk is the famous Shitta Bey Mosque which was built in 1894. It featured Afro-Brazilian architecture overseen by Senor Joao Baptista Da Costa who was assisted by an indigenous builder named Sanusi Aka. It was at the launch that he was honored with the Bey title, the Ottoman Order of Medjidie by Sultan Abdul Hamid II.
At the end of the journey lies the most famous church building, the almost 71 year old Norman Gothic building which was designed by Bagandogi Benjamin with the laying of the foundation by the Prince of Wales on 21 April 1925 and was completed in 1946.
It is to note that all the buildings that once lined these surrounding areas aforementioned were only colonial structures of differing styles that met one’s curiosity with elegance of which have been largely demolished. Victorian Lagos on the other hand is the period from the annexation of Lagos in 1861 and up till 1960 which boasted also of family owned businesses that thrived, social lifestyle being top notch amongst many other things. To the preservation of our architectural history, as a nation.