The History of Cedar Hurst and Rowan’s Royale

Rowan’s Royale farm is part of Jamaica’s rich coffee history and heritage. It is the southern, uppermost portion of the Cedar Hurst plantation (sometimes called Cedar Valley, and which eventually came to include Wallenford) in the Parish of Portland.

The machinery room for the 18th century water wheels.

Coffee was first grown here in the 1770’s. In literature of the 1790’s Cedar Valley is described as a coffee factory and plantation. In fact, the design of the great house accommodated a narrow aqueduct leading from the river beside the house to a large water wheel which was used to process the coffee.  It boasted a large water tank exquisitely decorated with Italian tiles.

Coffee was brought to the island in 1728 when Jamaica was a colony of Britain.  It was introduced by the then Governor Sir Nicholas Lawes who himself owned several large estates.  Coffee quickly became an important export.  By 1799 there were 686 coffee plantations covering 30,000 acres.  In 1814, 34 million pounds of coffee was exported.

A coffee tax imposed by Britain to fund the Napoleonic wars, and the abolition of slavery in the colonies in 1833 (and thus the previously free labour) heralded a decline in industrial coffee production in Jamaica.

Today, more modest coffee plantations emphasize quality rather than mere quantity.  Rowan’s Royale accentuates the naturally high quality coffee produced in the Jamaican Blue Mountains through an organic and biodynamic growing and harvesting process.

In 18th century Cedar Valley was a sprawling plantation of some 3000 acres (1215 hectares). The Great House was situated, at about 2000ft (610m) beside a swiftly running tributary of the Buff Bay River but the coffee lands surrounding it rose to over 4000ft (1 220m).

Cedar Valley in the 1970’s.

Rowan’s Royale, the south eastern tip of the property is situated at over 4000ft.  It was known once as Brown’s Piece, Wallenford and was sold to the Rowan-Campbell family, long-time friends of the owners of Cedar Valley, in 1964.  In 1921 Cedar Valley became linked to the Mount Holstein coffee property owned by the Benn family since 1868.  The Cedar Valley property was bought when the son married.  It was a neighbouring property and thus a convenient place to which his mother and unmarried sisters could retire.

It was originally called Cedar Hurst, (which in German means wood and suggests some early German influence for both Cedar valley and Mount Holstein).  However, as one of the family re members

“Our dear Aunt Helen (Dot), who was the artist and seam stress, used to say, Hurst sounds too much like Hearse. I don’t like that; we must call it Cedar Valley. So the family began to call it Cedar Valley. And Cedar Valley it became.”

At that time the Benn holdings were over 4000 acres including Wallenford, of which Rowan’s Royale was part, Cedar Hurst, Spring Hill and Mount Holstein. Although much of the vast acreage was sold off in the 1970s the Benn family still retain the Great House and surrounds.

Coffee in Jamaica’s Social Life

Coffee is central to Jamaican life.

After the abolition of slavery in the colonies in the early 19th century, coffee remained a core element of the Jamaican diet. Labourers would take a bowl of coffee in the morning as part of breakfast, and then again in the afternoon (tea being an expensive luxury only for the middle class), and also after dinner.

Coffee and the coffee service is a central part of celebrations and special occasions and being invited to coffee is an important rite of passage – much like being invited to tea.

In Jamaica we use coffee in our cocktails, to flavor pastries and some even use it as an unction or topical skin treatment.

On the big plantations before the 1930s, they always seemed
to beeating. Coffee was served early in the morning in large cups or steaming bowls. This was with the “little breakfast ” taken just before dawn prior to going out to setup workers in the fields.

Old Monkland’s Works C 1890 – from Jamaica Surveyed by W. Higman.

At about 10.00h the planters would return home and have breakfast; a huge meal of fruit, eggs, fried fish, ham and other meats, and yams and plantains, and, of course, coffee. A large luncheon would be eaten at about 14.00h and coffee would be taken afterwards. Some may also have had coffee at
tea-time about 16.30h. Dinner was served about 21.00h with coffee, demitasse, and liqueurs to end the day.

Drinking coffee wasn’t and isn’t restricted to the Great House.  It is an important social mechanism shared by all social classes but not all ages. Young children are never given coffee.

Drinking coffee, is a great morning ritual which, in small villages, is still turned into a social event. The older people often stop in with neighbours to visit and drink an early coffee on the way to their “grounds” or farms. Different areas of the island prepare their coffee in various ways. In some a pinch of salt is added to the brew, in others a grain of pimento and in others it is always drunk either black or with coconut milk.

Old and young are nostalgic for the days when the coffee was placed in a long muslin “sock” and the boiling water slowly dripped through it as the scent invaded the entire house. No coffee maker can replicate that scent, or, the sense of anticipation waiting for the drips to end!

Our Coffee is immortalised in folk song. An old lady declares that she might forget to say her prayers but she never forgets her morning coffee. Anyone, she says, can make choices about what
they want to drink, black teas, herb teas or even lemonade but:

“I cares for none of it! The only thing for me
is my bowl of boiling coffee in the morning!”

Join us in a cup!