When the Royal Navy left its station in Bermuda in 1953, handing over 300 years of dominance in the Western Atlantic to the United States, it kept a small presence on the island. The historic, sprawling dockyards to the west on Ireland Island were left to ruin, but the venerable old navy maintained a token force behind, named HMS Malabar.
For 40 years the small garrison force was run out of a now abandoned complex on the southern tip of Ireland Island North. The centerpiece of the outpost was a once grand home belonging to the Royal Navy Commanding Officer, Bermuda. Standing proudly on a bluff overlooking the ocean, the elegant white house featured a two-story wrap-around porch, club rooms, and extensive playing fields.
The home is situated on the corner of Cockburn’s Cut, itself named after Vice Admiral Sir George Cockburn, commander of the British forces in Bermuda, who not only had the distinction of burning the White House in 1814, but of conveying Bonaparte to his final exile on St. Helena.
The grounds surrounding the once elegant home were made of limestone, most of which was quarried by slave and convict labour, to construct the larger dockyard to the north. The grounds of the Commander’s home were turned into playing fields for the sailors’ games of tennis, cricket, and football.
A short distance further south is a small cemetery which was used to bury the convicts who died while building the dockyard. Rather than be executed in Britain, over 9,000 convicts were shipped to Bermuda, of whom 2,000 died amidst the horrific conditions endured. Despite the thousands of deaths, only 13 graves are marked here, of which only four are named.
When the small garrison finally sailed to England for good in 1995, the former home of its commander was allowed to fall apart. The old playing fields, like the house overshadowing it, were also left to fall into disrepair. For a short time they were home to the Ireland Island Rangers football team, who plied their trade in the second tier of Bermudan association football. But today the playing fields are also closed and forlorn.
Of all the types of abandoned places, there is always something quite poignant about a decaying sporting venue. Where once the concrete flagstaffs would have clattered with the sound of studs on boots, signaling the beginning of a new football season, today the fields lie silent and overgrown. The goal nets have withered away, and the changing rooms shuttered closed against the volatile sub-tropical winds.
Bermuda, once one of Britain’s most strategically important outposts, is filled with similar such abandoned buildings; the last remnants of the old Empire, which are slowly fading away on a small island, isolated in the middle of the the Atlantic Ocean.