The chattel house

A typical chattel house
A typical chattel house in the style found throughout the islands of the Caribbean. Artist and date unknown.
Source: Museum Victoria Caribbean Community Photographic Collection

Chattel house is one name for modest, often brightly coloured, little houses found all over the Caribbean islands.

In the post-slavery plantation economies, these were originally houses for tenant workers. ‘Chattel’ is a legal term meaning moveable property and these houses often were not set on permanent foundations. In the event of a dispute with the landowners, in some islands it was not uncommon for workers to simply pick up their house and move it to another location.

Some of the architectural features of chattel houses are found in other houses in the Caribbean. The living rooms of West Indian migrants are often decorated with paintings, sketches or even miniature reproductions of chattel houses. They are a strong shared reminder of home, and a unifying symbol for West Indian migrants from all backgrounds.

This idea of a home you take with you is reminiscent of the migration experience and of West Indians establishing lives in a new country.

Image Gallery

Smiths in front of chattel house in Trinidad, 1956 Jarvis family chattel house in Barbados, 1975 The home of Elvira Lambert