Take a peek inside the houses of Richmond Hill
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In 1995, and again in 1997, a major volcanic eruption warranted the immediate evacuation of a number of towns across the southern end of Montserrat. More than half of the island was rendered an uninhabitable zone of exclusion with approximately two thirds of the population departing permanently (most to the United Kingdom), many never to return. Those who chose to remain relocated their lives to the more habitable areas in the north.
The southern area’s were sealed off and declared as unsafe due to such close proximity to the now unpredictable volcano…one of these areas being Richmond Hill. Now overgrown and engulfed by nature after almost 20 years of abandonment, this small suburb was once a quaint, proud, hilly beachside town with manicured, grand family residencies, holiday houses and apartments. Unlike the neighbouring town of Plymouth (which is still a sealed off exclusion zone), Richmond Hill is now accessible, allowing me to spend 5 uninterrupted days wandering its streets alone, taking a voyeuristic peek inside the many discarded homes of this abandoned town.
Years of ash build up meant that most front doors couldn’t be opened, so I found myself climbing in through windows. In terms of interior architecture and design, I was usually greeted with either a 60's, 70's or 80's kitschy space (ie: lots of wood panelling, crazy stone and retro beach furniture including cane, plastic and fibreglass). Some interiors were sparse with nothing at all inside while others were filled with household items and bits and pieces. It was interesting to note how many lounge rooms had these common arched doorways (and I started to take my photos using these doorways as the central focus). There was no indication of life after 1997, with VHS tapes, cassettes and dated letters scattered over floors and tables (objects of the time). Some bedrooms still contained clothes hanging in closets and shelves full of books (which I spent a while sifting through).
Wasp nests dangled from ceilings while large frogs had taken up residency across the floors. I also found a green swimming pool filled with toads sitting on top of each other which looked kind of gross but cute at the same time.
There was a hotel on top of the hill with guest rooms, a reception and a swimming pool filled with years of ash fall and a perfect view of the volcano in the back ground.
I had been advised by a few locals that no one in the Richmond Hill area actually died as a result of the volcano erupting (unlike the neighbouring area of Streatham village in which 19 people died when pyroclastic flows tore through the town on 25 June 1997). And although it was sad to see discarded children’s toys and forgotten family photos covered in dust, I’m sure (as advised by my sources) that these former residents were (hopefully) living happily somewhere else…so it wasn’t a particularly heavy place to explore. I guess the only disturbing thing was the occasional strong smell of sulphur and a faint mist that would descend over the neighbourhood from time to time (a creepy reminder as to how close I was to the active volcano). Even though I had been advised by locals that the chances of an eruption reaching this area (at the present time) was unlikely, it still felt a little uncomfortable (and, being the horror movie nerd I am, reminded me a little too much of the movie/video game 'Silent Hill').
This was a great place to explore and felt very untouched. Adding to this was its stunning location being surrounded by beautiful beaches, nature and warmth. And for those who enjoy checking out modern ruins, I’d definitely recommend it. With this is also the amazing culture of Montserrat…these people are so friendly, helpful and just beautiful. With hardly any tourism, it would be nice to see more people visit this amazing little jewel in the Caribbean. Welcome to Richmond Hill....