Good morning, my name’s Deborah Norrey and I’m working on the History at Hobsmoor Project. Today’s date is Wednesday the twenty-fourth of January 2018 and I’m here with Claris. Claris, can I please ask you to tell me your name, your date of birth and where you were born, please?
My name is Claristine, and I, was born in the West Indies, in Brown Pasture. My age is twent, twenty-nine, ten, thirty-one.
[Pause] A, and, where, where about in the West Indies was that, Claris?
Well, I was actually born in Nevis, but I grew up in Montserrat.
Can you share with us one of your early childhood memories?
Can you tell us a little bit about your childhood, in the West Indies?
[Draws breath] W, [Lets out breath] mm… well I grew up in, I wa, I was born in Nevis, and erm, I was living with an, a lady. I didn’t actually st, grow with my mother. I grew up with a old lady. And erm, when she died… ‘cause my father was in Montserrat, and when she, died my father sent for me and then, I was in Montserrat. So I spent most of my time in Montserrat. … And er, I was in the town, Plymouth, my father was a policeman I should say, and erm, I was living with my auntie at that time. … Then my father, transferred to the d, countryside and then we spent a lot, of time there. Can’t remember how many years, but quite a few years. And then when he retired he came to, another part of Montserrat to retire, that’s Kinsale. [Pause] Erm…
Did you go to school there?
Yes, I went to school… in Montserrat. And I went to school in er, Nevis, a part of my time in Nevis and then at Montserra, at Montserrat. … I spent most of the time there.
And did you enjoy school?
Yes, I did. … Erm, I can’t remember a lot now about school because it’s so many years now [Laughs] it’s a long time, uh. Erm…
But what was it like growing up on the island? I mean what did you do to uh, to play, what sort of games did you play, what…?
Ooh dear, well, tuh I don’t know what to say. Um, Montserrat was a poor country where we living, so you would not have a lot of games and whatnot to play. We used to do, I remember we used do skipping, and erm… we’d do it, erm, rounders… and running. We used to have erm races at erm, a special season of the year we used to do seas, erm [Pause] we used to do a lot of competition like uh …
Did you enjoy those?
Oh yes I enjoyed what I did, yeah.
Before you moved to the countryside, did you live by the sea?
Before you moved to the countryside, when your father moved to the countryside, did you –
– used to live by the sea?
Yes, eh d, we live, ve, yes we just erm, it’s like here is the house and just down the road you just, run into the sea, but I can’t swim although [Laughs] although I was that near to the sea I still [Chuckles] I can’t swim [Laughs]. It might sound funny but er, I scared of water. [Laughs] Erm…
[Tut] So when you finished school…
… erm, did you work on the island?
Well, nothing much were there to work, uh. I remember I was um selling in a sh, store, for a short period. What work most people could do there, is the land, you know the plant, the vegetable and whatnot there. And erm if you… well, clever enough, you get teaching job, or, well my husband was a teacher and he was a accountant as well. But there wasn’t a lot there. What they used to do, they used to plant what you call cotton, you put the seed in the ground then it, grow up. Then er when it’s ripe it’s like a pod and you have to break it open and it’s white and you have to clee, clean the bits what is not good, you put the good part one side, on the one side and the bad side, the bad one at another side. So what they used to do, they put it in a bag, bag it up and then they sell it, that’s what, they could get, you know, for their living like. But other than that, that was much on the island to do. Erm, but it was…
So anyhow, after erm… after we heard about England, you know, to come over, my f, husband, well, Kathleen, I was married in the West Indies, start from there. And Kathleen, that’s, she was born there, and then my husband came over 1954, he send for us 1955. My father came along with us as well. And erm, when we came it was, [Chuckles] I was very disappointed. I thought erm, England was a l, lot better thing, all paved with gold, all things like that. I was shocked when I come and see [Chuckles] what it were like. Because in the West Indies, especially, white people there… they worked for them, the coloured people work for the white people ‘cause the white people never do any, they do like office work and things like that. So when I came over here and seen the white people working I was shocked, I couldn’t believe [Chuckles] couldn’t believe my eyes. Anyhow, afterwards I get used to. [Laughs] Used to [Chuckles] erm… .
And my husband he, he got a job as erm working on the Midland Red Busses. Can’t remember how long he was on the buses working for. And erm, afterwards he went, he was working at South Hall/Southall [ph] where he, drive big van to deliver goods. … And er, I couldn’t go to the work because I had four children at the time so I never, I never work, it’s my hu, husband alone work. And erm, wh, d, work very hard, he have to work a long hours to get anything, because when we came, or when he came over here he borrowed the money, to come here; then he had was still pay it back; then he send for myself and Kathleen. So life wasn’t all that easy. It was very hard and tough at the time. But anyhow, we got through it.
Eventually her erm, we had a small, fire, upstairs in the front bedroom. I don’t know if you, you remember, the, e… the, eh, what you call it… the heater, you know the…
Not Calor Gas, the paraffin, paraffin heater, yes. We had one of those. And er you, light it to keep warm in the bedroom… which, you have t, [10:40], sometime you have to turn it up and trim it off for it to burn properly. Anyhow, it so happen that a, every so often I used to have to go upstairs, have a look and see if it’s burning alright. Well, when I went upstairs, that time, it wasn’t, it was flared up, and er, I call my husband. Well, I try to uh, put it out, got a bath towel, wet it, and put it over it for it to go out but it didn’t so I called my husband. He came upstairs and he had a fire extinguisher, tried to put it out, but it didn’t, work. So he picked the, paraffin, up by he, the handle and coming down the stairs with it, well, he dropped it, and the stairs was all… burnt like. Anyway, two other… n neighbours came and help him put the fire out. It wasn’t that, big fire as such. [Draws breath] And erm when the ambula, when the fire brigade came the fire was almost out. Anyhow, d, the ambulance people were there and everything, and they ask er, if you want to go to, no, they said they’re going take him to the hospital. He said no, he didn’t want to go, he was alright. Well, they persist on him to go, so he went. So, when he, he went, they said it was just for observation, he would come out the next morning. It was a Wednesday evening.
Anyhow, I went to the hospital, o, the same night to see him and when I went he was there and he said to me that he just been sick and I said, ‘Oh, that’s good. You bring up the flame or whatever there.’ Then a nurse came in and asked me to leave and draw the curtain because, you know, I don’t know what you, she was going to do at the time. Anyhow, when I went back in, my husband was rubbing his leg. I ask him, ‘What you rubbing your leg for?’ And he said, ‘They just gave me an injection.’ Anyhow, the following morning I went because, Ronald [ph], my son, he had a burn on his ear. Don’t ask me how he got it [Laughs]. But anyhow, I took him up to the doctor, doctor just the top of the road, there, and he asked me, ‘How this happen?’ And I told him, ‘We had a, a fire.’ ‘Oh’, he said, ‘Oh’. They didn’t know because, they live in the same road but at the time they was out, so he, didn’t know about it, the fire. Anyhow, he asked me if I want him to say anyth, do anything for me and I said, ‘Yes. They asked me to, phone the hospital to see, when he will be out.’ Anyway, he did, and on the phone he’s saying, ‘Yes, yes I’m his doctor… yes’. Then afterwards when he hang up he said, turned to me and said, ‘It’s not very good news, Mrs Allen.’ And I start crying. Well, I didn’t realise at the time that he was dead. I thought that he just took… you know, for the worst or something like that. Anyhow… I came home and I told, my friend were living in, ju, just the next road, Deakins Road there, and erm… she said to me, ‘Well, we go up the afternoon now to, see him.’
So when I went, when we went… erm, the doctor, the nurse came out and said, ‘Oh, wait a bit, Mrs Allen, wait.’ And we wait. Then afterwards the doctor came out and he was talking and whatnot, and he couldn’t come out and say exactly what happened; it’s my friend had to say to him, ‘What do you mean, doctor? You mean he’s dead?’ And, he said, ‘Yes.’ And I said to my friend, ‘What am I going to do now?’ So anyway, we came, home. And it’s, at the time, when we got to the hospital to see him, visit him, they said that the police, they came to the house, which in that was too late, because I gather when the doctor said to me that it’s not very good news, well I didn’t take it that he was dead, he, because in the West Indies, anything like that they’ll tell you plain the person dead, but here they, you don’t do it up, er that that, make you feel, you know?
Anyhow… the neighbours and everybody, they were very good to me and whatnot. Had the funeral, they had, they had collection, pick up collection for us and whatnot. And erm [Pause] I think they had two collection for us… a, and then had the funeral, and then er… on the funeral, uh, when they’re having the funeral they um, went to the place, went all around where they had to, where he was working, so it was a long time going to the cemetery. So we got there, and whatnot. Then erm, we s, we are standing because in the West Indies when anybody die, anything, you, we, cover them over with the soil and everything so we were there waiting for them to think that they were, we were going to, but nothing like that. They said we had to go, so [17:59 early] we left and then we came back, to my friend house where we had, a cup of tea and sandwiches.
It was very hard for me because I had the four children, had to bring them up all on my own. And… er [Pause]. Anyway… they all… went to school, had their education and thank god, they all come out to be something, they all work, have good job and everything. So I’m very, pleased of them… for how they grow up. [Pause] Uh, uh…
Can I just take you back to when, when you first came over to England, did you come straight to Birmingham?
No, when I came to, Birmingham… my husband, when he came over here there was a vicar, were in Montserrat and they keep in touch when he came back over, the vicar, they keep in touch with him. So when he to come over, the vicar put my husband up, and then they had to, he had to get somewhere for us to, live and that was in erm Cannon Hill near, near the park, Cannon Hill Park. Can’t remember th, the name of the road. … No, I tell a lie, I was in erm… what’s is the … Cambridge Road, I think it, that was. And er, when er, w, went there it was in a basement and all round the wall was wet and damp. And er, I think the landlord, he had a, it was he, the landlord h, house, and he had another house where he were living in. We stayed in this r, room I think it was just for a week. I think he felt sorry for us having a young baby in a damp place like that, so he gave us a room where he, live, which it was a lot better. But the one room you have to do everything and whatnot, and erm, he had other people living in the place. It was very hard, we, for other people when they come, one room, so many people live in the one room. Because erm, the next thing, you couldn’t get erm… prr, it was hard to get anywhere to live anyhow because they didn’t want er, David said, ‘They don’t want any blacks’ so. And Irish, and especially if you have children, that even worse. It was hard, you know, get a place. So even, that’s why my husband quickly, because he came fifty-four and fifty-five he bought this place and we’re living in it until now. … So…
So why, why did he buy in Yardley? Was it just somewhere to buy or did he want to move particularly into Yardley?
I don’t really, don’t know what erm, I think he’s look around and see because he were looking to see that there, the school was there and a church and shopping ag, area, which in that was very good. But here l, when it, when we came here to live it was a very nice area to live in but not now, it’s gone down a lot. You couldn’t get everything that you want, you know, to buy, it.
Can you, can you describe what the road was like when you moved in and what the area was like?
The area was a good area to live in… and the road was alright. Y, I mean we were the first black to live in this road. … and er –
Did you have any, any problems with the neighbours because you were the first black family?
No, I didn’t have any d, any problem with the neighbours, yeah, they was alright, especially next-door there, an old lady were living there named Mrs Campbell [ph], she was very nice and erm, anything, some, she have a stairs come up, by the, you, if you would look out there you could see the house there and she is usually up there, open the window and say, ‘Hello!’ And we say, ‘Hello.’ And they, if we, if she want anything done she’ll call my husband, my husband would go and do it for her. She was very nice, yeah. And erm…
Were you quite apprehensive though, moving into a predominantly white area?
Yes, er, I had no problem really er, but then again I didn’t erm, go out much, I didn’t work, and so I can’t say, but from experience with other people, you know, they had problem but, I didn’t have any problem living here with the neighbours. Another neighbour over the road, she is very good with, because when we had the fire I think two of the children stayed there, and next-door, I think, Kathleen or who, was it you? Was next-door until erm [pause] until er, yes, my n, er my neighbour in Deakins Road, we, she put us up until… until we got, the, the house, finished. That was about three months we was off, from the, living here.
What was it [Tut], what was the Swan Centre like when you moved in? You know, the shops up by the Swan Centre, what was it like up there?
Oh, it was nice, very nice a, nice shopping area, yes, you could get everything there, yes very nice.
Did you struggle with the, the different foods when you came over? W, were you able to get, like stuff that –
No, that we, e, no from the West Indies?
No, no, no, not, not at first er, but gradually afterwards you get it here. Can get everything now like what we get in the West Indies, yeah.
So was that, it must’ve been a little bit of a shock and… quite, it’s a big move, isn’t it, coming from the West Indies to –
Oh yes, yes, er yeah.
So were you… and c, course the weather [Chuckles].
Oh yes, yeah, oh yes, s, eh, the weather, yes. Well, as I say, I didn’t go out much because I had the children and I wasn’t working but … other people, yeah.
Did you ever feel like you’d make a mistake and that you wanted to go back?
Oh yes, er, when I came here, oh yes. I said if I had wings I would’ve… [Chuckles] yes. And my father as well sh, he didn’t like it neither, he spent five years and then he went back home. Yeah, he didn’t like it, no.
So the area has changed, as you’ve said. What do you think are the biggest changes in the area?
Well, the [Chuckles] the biggest change is the Asian there, they all have erm, well, before you couldn’t get erm anything you want, but now all you get is, you see, is erm, fast food and, a carpet place and things like that. Nothing like what it was before.
[Tut] Do you think that… the community feel has changed? Did you feel like it was more of a community when you moved in than it is now?
Mmm… I would say, yes, it change. [Pause] I do not [Chuckles] know much really, as I said, because I didn’t go out a lot, to know much about the area like that with the community.
So how did things change for you personally after your husband died, ‘cause you had your four children to raise?
Oh yes, yes, things change a lot because I had, was still, you know… bring them up all on my own. But as I said, the neighbours, people were very kind to me, I must give them their due, they were ve, when my husband died, people that I don’t know about would send parcel and things like that, you know, which was very good, yeah.
[Pause] So did you have to go out to work then or were you able to still stay at home with the children?
I stay home with the children until… the, the last one, the last one is the, went to primary and secondary school, then er, that’s the time I went out to work. But erm, meanwhile [Pause] the doc, the same doctor, my doctor up the road, well, the ca, he came one day and asked me if I could go and do some, you know, housework for him. So that was in erm Solihull. So I went, I say… I said to him, ‘Providing I’m back in time for the children there when they come from school.’ And he say, ‘Yes, be back about two o’clock.’ So, I went there. Well, the wife, I had to catch a bus to Solihull, then h, she picked me up from Solihull by the hospital there and then take me to, house because she was a optician as well and they work at the same, place. And when the doctor come home now to have his lunch, he bring me back so it was alright, I was back in time for the children then at s, at school, yeah.
And is that that job you started when your youngest went to secondary school?
Well, yes er, and erm meanwhile in that er, I used to go erm… botanical garden, I used to do a bit in the evening like, you know, and then I used to, go to Wilmot Breeden where it were just, just the top, not far from here, and do a bit of cleaning there. And then… I want, s, I went to, my, my brother said to me, instead of doing so many bits and pieces job, I should have a permanent job. So… he got a bu, a job for me on the, the bus, where the busses er, garage, to do, help do, like erm domestic work there. But I didn’t like it, only stayed there till about four weeks. It were my friend, she were working in the hospital, the Eye Hospital, and she got a job there for me and, that’s where I, I went eight till one – I was still back home in time for the children then. And then… afterwards it closed down, and then I got a job at the nursery. I don’t know if you remember the nursery up the path here? You remember it? Well, that’s where, I wa, I finished work there. That was 19…91, yes, I retire at sixty and that was, that was it. Yeah.
[Pause] So… when you first moved to Yardley obviously… everything was completely different, so the Swan Centre was different, Coventry Road would’ve been different?
Yeah, but afterwards the Coventry Road erm, they make it er, what you call it erm…
Yes, yes, yes.
Yeah. Because the top of your road here, it’s blocked off –
Yes, you used to go –
Was that always the case?
– you, y, you could go right up but not now, they block off, I think about three other roads they block off the top, yes.
And was that done when the Coventry Road was widened?
[Pause] No, I can’t remember.
How did you feel about them widening the road? Because the, a lot of businesses got lost, a lot of houses.
Oh yes, the, because I think they half the road, yes, the people there, yeah.
So when you came over to England and Birmingham obviously you’d got a small, I mean you’d got your daughter and then your family expanded.
Did you ever go out, did you ever go to the pictures?
Oh no, no … no [Chuckles]…
But then again I, I never liked going pictures anyhow because I just fall asleep so just a waste of time going. [Laughs]
Oh, what about your church, did you…
Yes, I go to… church. Well, the vicar that was home, he had, his church was in St. Aidan’s, down Small Heath, do you remember? Do you know it? St. Aidan’s but it’s call, they change to All Saints now, you know it? Oh. Yes, that’s where we used to go, well, the children… the older ones, oh, used to go to St. Cyprian’s Sunday School there. Then after my husband died now, all of us went to St. Cyprian Church.
So did they put on community events, you know d, did… lots of churches put on events throughout the year, jumble sales –
Oh yes, they used to have a lot of jumble sale, yes.
Seems to be a thing of the past, the jumble sale. [Chuckles]
Yes I know [Chuckles], but they don’t have it now [Laughs]. Yeah, I don’t know.
So you eventually settled into life in Birmingham?
Oh yes, yes er, that’s why, I … I’m here all these years, I would never move [Laughs]. Yeah, I like the here, you know. Well, when I say I like the here, v, when we came first, it’s alright now because you learn to live with it and with your neighbours, you know?
What is it you, that you think has changed that you don’t, y, you don’t like it so much anymore, that you feel it’s gone down hill?
Well, as I say with erm, d, the, the Asians and they keep the road dirty, they drop things and the st, street is just dirty and filthy now. Before it never used to be like that, you know, it used to be n, nice, clean area that you could live in. But as I said, I’m here already so, you know, I wouldn’t move really.
Has your street changed much?
But it change a lot because erm there’s all Asian living here, now. I think I can count the o, how many whites on one hand, you know? And when we came here first it was all, all white, but now, Asian now. It was a lot better, more friendly and everything. But not now.
One or two more cars on the road as well?
Oh yes [Chuckles]. tell me about it [Laughs]. You can’t, sometime you can’t, the children come and they can’t get any place to park [Chuckles], yeah.
And when you moved in were there any?
Oh no t [Laughs], no cars [Laughs]. Might be one or two but just, time has changed a lot, yeah.
[Tut] But on the whole you’re glad you lived in Yardley?
Yes, yes erm … yeah, as I say, a nice area [Chuckles] to live in, yeah.
Well, like you said, you had plenty of shopping areas, there’s lots of parks and –
Yes, and everything, mm.
And, and do you still go to St. Cyprian’s Church now?
Yes, yes, er yeah. We’ve been going there from the time my husband died, that’s 1965, so been a long time. Erm, this month, the twenty-fifth, will make fifty-three years since he passed away, mm.
It’s a long time. Mm.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with us, any fond memories? What’s your favourite bit of Yardley, what do you like best about it?
[Pause] Hmm [Pause] ooh, no, that’s erm… well I did like everything about, you know, in li, I didn’t have any, you know, nothing fault to say about it i, in the early stage but not now. It’s different now.
[Tut] Well, as you say, times change.
Yes, time change a lot, yeah.
Big differences from when you first came over till –
Yes, yes er, yes, a big change yes. [Pause] And erm… gardens, some of them, well, not so bad now but the garden next-door was over, you know, overwhelmed with weeds and grass and everything.
Do you think that people used to take more pride in their house, than they do these days?
Yes, I would think so, yes. Er…
Do you think that is because more, more women stayed at home with their children?
Well, yes, it could be, yes. [Pause] Mm.
[Tut] Anything else you’d like to share with us?
[Pause] No. [Laughs] [Pause] Well, I think that’s, all.
[Draws breath] Well, in that case can I take, I’d like to just say thank you very much for taking part in our History at Hobsmoor Project.
Yes, thank you.
You’re welcome, thank you.
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