Eulogized in Marley and the Wailers’ Trench Town Rock, No Woman, No Cry and Natty Dread, Trench Town – one of the government social housing communities of West Kingston – has earned the title of the birthplace of popular Jamaican urban culture. This was the first Kingston home of Bob Marley, who earned his nickname – the “Tuff Gong” – on the community’s football fields after his mother relocated to the capital when he was a small boy and moved into a government-built house at 19 Second Street. In Trench Town Bob Marley found a community rich in music, religion, nationalism and sports. Though the area’s “government yards”, built in the colonial 1940s, were conceived as part of a planned community and were seen as desirable places to live when Mother Booker (Marley’s mum) moved there in 1956, the political violence of Jamaica in the 1970s soon took its toll. Trench Town today is as infamous for garrison politics and gang feuds as it is for having spawned some of the biggest names in the rock steady and reggae pantheon, including the Wailers, Joe Higgs, Delroy Wilson, Alton Ellis, Ernie Ranglin, Dean Fraser and the Abyssinians. Also from here are numerous Jamaican notables, from Labour leader and Garveyite St William Grant to the late Rastafarian elder Mortimer Planno, and famous sports personalities such as cricketer Collie Smith and footballer Carl Brown. Trench Town is also home to two top Premier Club League football teams, Boys Town and Arnette Gardens.
Though Trench Town remains one of Kingston’s poorest areas, the picture isn’t entirely bleak. Over recent decades, enterprising members of this tight-knit community have clubbed together to find ways in which to regenerate their area using their heritage and cultural status for economic development. The first initiative was the establishment, in 1993, of the Trench Town Reading Centre on First Street, a library and resource centre with a mission to arm local people with information rather than weapons. By 1996, the aim had widened, and the Trench Town Development Association was formed to address the pressing issues of sanitation, security, housing, health and employment.
While your safety is assured in and around the Culture Yard (there’s a community-based vested interest in ensuring the success of the project, after all), wider Trench Town itself remains a volatile place.