The Montego Bay Cultural Centre

The Montego Bay Cultural Centre

Montego Bay’s beautiful new Cultural Centre is an outstanding cultural facility and an attraction for the people of St. James and Jamaicans as a whole. Standing on the site of the old courthouse, it is a heritage building and a quiet cultural oasis in the middle of the bustle and noise of the city providing interactive, educational entertainment and relaxation.

The Civic Centre is a multi-faceted facility with provision for:

  • Art Gallery
  • Performing Arts
  • Conferencing facilities
  • Food services
  • Parking
  • Guided tours
  • Public washrooms 

Current opening hours (subject to change):

  • Tuesday to Sunday: 9 am to 5 pm

The Cultural Centre is now available for bookings. Please contact the St. James Municipal Corporation at 952-5500 or toll-free at 1-888-666-8346 for further information. Contact the Cultural Centre directly at 876-940-6402 or 971-3920.

Historical Background

The Montego Bay Cultural Centre (formerly Civic Centre) has been long awaited by the people of St. James, who have been without a unifying Town Centre since 1968 when the original building, a Courthouse, was destroyed by fire. Montego Bay was a small town during most of the 18th Century until a Captain Jonathan Barnett subdivided his sugar cane lands and created Charles Town with Charles Square.

With this subdivision the commercial coast line expanded and the trade, commerce and population grew. Montego Bay was now a much larger and important town with over a hundred ships clearing port to England and North America and slavers from Africa. The Vestry of St. James bought land at Charles Square to build a new and imposing building for Court House and offices. In 1804 the building was dedicated and it was completed in 1810. The Court House became the civic and political centre of St. James.

The building housed the vestry offices, and regular court sessions such as the debtor’s court at which slaves were sold to pay the debts of their masters. The upper floor was used for hosting balls, plays and recitals. Receptions were held by the plantocracy to commemorate important events and to entertain visiting dignitaries. In 1815 the government moved the country (Cornwall) Assize Court to Montego Bay. The first sitting of the Assize Court was held at the Court House in 1816. It was in this Court House in 1832 that the trials of the slaves in St. James who were accused in the Rebellions of 1831-1832 were held.

The slaves who were found guilty, including Sam Sharpe, were hung in the Square and at the Albert Market. Sam Sharpe was tried at the Court House on the 19th April and hung in the Square on the 23rd of May 1832. On the 29th of July 1833 the British Parliament passed the Emancipation Act that became law on the 1st of August 1834. Slavery was abolished and all children under six were free, but all other slaves had to serve 6 years of apprenticeship.

On the 1st of August 1838 all were emancipated. It was from the balcony of the Court House that the Act was officially read in St. James. The building housed the local government office. The board of directors of the Closed Harbour Company, the trustees of the St. James Free School and the Court of Inquiry, also held their meetings in the Court House. The building housed the St. James Parish Council until 1968 when fire destroyed it along with the Albert Market at the rear of the building and other buildings in the Square. The building was restored by the Urban Development Corporation, with funding from the Venezuelan Government through the San Jose Accord.