Photograph of Grace Browne

Grace Browne

Born: 31st October 1932

St.Thomas, Barbados

Date of interview: 11th July 2006

Map showing where Grace Browne came from

... Let me see ... some years ago back, ah 74 years back, let me see ... my mum used to do sewing and I did like doing bits of making doll dresses, yes and looking after the chickens, because they used to keep lots of chicks ... I had three other elder sisters, and we used to just play together, yeah.

Did you have any brothers?

No brothers, had one brother and he died when he was two years old. And she never had no more boys. That was her second child.

Well, you said your mum, you remember her when you were a young child doing sewing?


Did she make your clothes?

Oh yes that was her job, her living.

So who else did she sew for?

Oh she sew for the district, lots of brides, yes, baby christening dresses, school clothes. We have a lady here in Reading now that she used to make her clothes when she was small but she's blind.

So as a small child you can remember, did your mother, how did she do the sewing did she have a machine or?

Yes, in those days it was the hand, hand machine yeah.

And what would people do, come to the house to ask?

Yes, bring, sometimes they bring material and she cut it out, if not they give her the money and she go into the town and she do the shopping, and if it's a bride she goes into town with my mum and choose her material and then my mum makes her dress, and makes the bride's dresses, and the bridesmaids dresses, and the guests.'

Where did she, how did she learn to sew?

When she was a child her mother sent her to learn it because that was when you leave school that was a profession like, the boys go and do tailoring, and the girls go and do sewing or if not the boys do joining work. Making chairs and tables, that type of work. Yep.

So how did the people, where was this in Barbados? A certain area or district that you lived in?

At first it was in Saint Thomas, Pourer Springs, St Thomas, yes. She used to live there first and then we moved from that area and been into the city which was in Black Rock, St Michael's.

Why did you move?

Well, my father was working at the biscuit factory and save him getting bus backward and forward ... and moving on, you know.

Who owned that factory, what was it called?

Well to be truthful all I knew was the biscuit factory, it was the only biscuit factory that was in the country and it made all the biscuits and then import them to different countries. So I would just say it was Barbados West Indian biscuit factory yeah and he worked there for many years as management.

So when did you, where did you go to school?

I started school in Saint Thomas ... I leave there when I was about ... seven and I went to school in Black Rock at St Stephens' School it was a parish school ... I been there until I finish school.

How did you get there?

I walk it. Oh, we had to walk more than bus, unless it was very far you get the bus but we do a lot of walking.

And what was school like there, in Barbados in those days?

Yes, it was very good, very strict, yes, be in school in time, do your work, if not you get a smack, or misbehave you stand on the bench, or you stand in the corner yeah. And you couldn't be rude to the teachers. No, it was very, it was very strict. You used to get lashed in the palm of your hand [lashing noise] with a ruler, yes.

How long were you at school for then?

I finish school when I was fifteen and sixteen that age.

When you came home from school what would you do?

First thing come home, you had to say good evening whatever you call your parents, take those school clothes off and if it's, have something to eat if you have homework you do your homework. Most people they keep goat, sheep, cattle, chicken, pigs, you go and do that and water the garden. We have coops that the chicken used to live in and you had those to clean out, see they have clean water.

You see in our country it's a sanitary inspector, he comes around to the house, at least twice a month and see if there's any water, dirty water around the house and he have a ladle and dips it into it and see if there's any little creepers into it and he will warn you and if he come back again and its not there you have a fine. So round the place must be kept clean and you keep pigs and the pig pen must be kept clean or you can have a fine.

How much would the fine be?

Well to be truthful I was a child, we didn't know what fine would be all we was interested to know was that is been kept clean yes and if it don't keep clean well you know what you going get. Because each child have their little jobs to do yeah. On Saturdays you had to clean the house, see everything in the house is nice and clean that was definitely a Saturday job, all kids have to look around and make sure that sweep around the house, the houses are not like these, but they have to go out and clean around the house and put the garbage out and see that everything has been kept clean.

What did you do on Sundays?

Sunday was church. Wake in the morning, if you live near to the beach you go and have your sea bath, you come back have your breakfast, and you go to church, come back and then you got to Sunday school. And then in the evenings, depends on what your parents like you might have to go back to church. So definitely Sunday was the time of worship, yes, if parents don't even go to church they make sure that the kids go to church until they get fifteen, sixteen.

Was this typical of the whole neighbourhood?

Most people would tell you that, yeah, that they had to go to Sunday school, yeah.

So you left school when you were fifteen or sixteen, what, tell me what you did next?

Well ... first I used to go to a music lesson, but I didn't keep that up and then I started work as a nanny. Yes, I used to look after the kids yeah ... and I done that then until I got married at twenty.

How did you meet your husband?

Ah when I met my husband at a funeral, I been a friend of mine had died, and I been to this funeral and that's where I met my husband. Yeah.

And what did he do?

He a joiner, used to make chairs, yes well, we say a cabinet maker here.

You were doing the nanny job until you got married?

Yes I done it until I got married after I got married then I start getting babies so then I didn't work anymore and I came here when I was, in fifty-three, yeah I came in fifty-three time I had three kids.

And tell me about coming here then what, why did you come?

Well, then there were emigrating people from the west here, so my husband came over here and then I came, he came in the August and I came in the December. I should have travelled before but we had a storm by the name of Jeanette and it was a very bad storm so I couldn't, I couldn't travel than and I travelled by boat.

And he did he come straight to Reading?

Yes, to Reading.

Why did he come?

Well, he had a friend that receive him when he come so he came to Reading and he lived in Reading until he went back to Barbados ... I came straight to Reading. I land here Christmas Eve night. Yep, and I been in Reading from then on, until now.

So tell me about that journey?

It was ... it was sad leaving my mother to be truthful, it was sad leaving my mother and the two kids, but I came here and I haven't have much complaints. I really did miss my mother.

How did you travel here?

By boat, yeah, I came on a ship. I think it was the Erika? There were two I can't remember the other name, but there were two that always used to travel backward and forward bringing passengers

This was your very first passport?


So did the ship call at other places? can you remember what is was like?

It, I know on this ship we had people from Jamaica, from other places and then we stop in Genoa ... and then we came across the channel by boat.

What was it like?

Well that experience it wasn't bad you know because you met a lot of people that you never met before and then travelling on water for so many days, when we got to Genoa we got off the boat and then you walk around then we got on there, back on to the boat and then come over then by another place and then we get the ferry and come over.

When we come it was cold, I said to my husband, I wanted to go back to my
mother because see in the place then it so cold, and I had to stay in where we
were living then ... it was just the one room and everything had to be like done in that one room, and never used the fire. The lady she had a fire in the sitting room and we had to use these paraffin heaters and those things used to be so smelly.

Where was this in Reading, Grace?

Edges Street, 17 Edges Street. Yeah and then I lived there but I wasn't very happy to be truthful. She never used to bother me but changing my way of living in Barbados and coming here I wasn't very happy and then work at Huntley, Bourne and Stevens.

A lady, probably must have heard about her Mother Walker? She took me in and she thought I had come to do nursing and I leave the hospital and come to live with this man which was my husband. My husband and her was speaking and he talk about his wife, and she said to her husband 'That girl I see she's a married woman and she have three kids,' and they took me in and I live with her then for about two years, but she was like a mother to me then because she was from Jamaica I was from Barbados. I lived with her and she make sure that we got a house and then we had 27 Harts Road.

So, I'm, I just take you back, did you have your children come with you?

No ... no, because I didn't know what is was going to be like, so I leave the children with my mother and then afterwards I sent for the kids, and the kids went to school here.

Mrs Walker, from Jamaica, she had a house, a house herself?

Yes she had her own house, and it was an open house I would call it, and when people come they don't have nowhere to live she would take them in and then they move on. Several people in Reading would tell that they live at Mrs Walkers or Mr Piet, those were the two homes that used to care for people when they come here.

So that was a help to you?

Yes, that made me feel then more comfortable. Before we got our house we were walking out one evening, and I can remember the place was off the Oxford Road because when I come out back into the main road I was under the bridge. I been to a house and I knock and the lady never wait to find out what I want but she came to the door and said 'Sorry, no rooms to let.' So I was just going to ask this other lady if she had any rooms, she didn't know what I want, nothing she just go up and draw her curtains and that really upset me I said to my husband 'No. I'm going back to my mother,' and I often remember that bit. And as I walk and come up, I find myself just under the bridge, near the Oxford Road, yes because it was a bright evening just walking around to know the place.

You said you were working at Huntley, Bourne and Stevens? Tell me what you did on that job?

Oh all bits of things, used to cut the, there were machines and you used to put these sheets of tin and you stamp it and it shape the tin, you can either make the lid, you make the bottom, or you make the side, whichever part the machine you go on to work.

What sort of hours did you work there?

I used to work, we start at half past seven, until one for lunch and then you finish at five. Sometime I work from Monday to Friday, sometimes I go in Saturday mornings and I stayed there for a year and then I been to Battle Hospital. I worked at Battle Hospital on maternity for five years.

What did you do there?

I was an assistant nurse in those days called orderly or auxiliary nurse. I work on the admission ward and then from the admission ward I went into the prem unit and the labour ward. In between that time I had a baby and after the baby, I went back to work and I worked in the prem unit.

Did they give you training? ... While you were working there?

You used to go to Henley to do your training but at the same time when that batch was going off to Henley I was pregnant, so I didn't go then. But then I done a part of my training in Wokingham. I work at Wokingham hospital. And then I leave Wokingham hospital and I went to St Marks hospital in geriatric and I stayed there for twenty-two years. That's where I retire from there.

Where was St Marks hospital?

Maidenhead, yeah, travel from here to Maidenhead every night, like I said from the time I was there I done all nights.

So what, what time did you start then on the night shift?

The, nights they start at eight, until eight in the morning but what I used to do I wouldn't have a night break, I would finish at half past seven in the morning, that I can get a bus, or transport to bring me to Reading to take over from the kids.

And where was your husband working was he working as?

No, he in those days then he had went back to Barbados, so I was live alone with the kids.

At that time did you want to go back?

I was missing my mother and my kids, but then after my kids came here I settle in so I didn't bother then any more about that.

When did the kids, when did your children come?

Well when my kids come it were, let me see, I think one was about twelve years then think I leave them for five year with my mother between five, six years with my mother yes.

How did you keep in touch with your mother and the children?

By writing letters, because there wasn't no telephone in those days like that so I was writing letters until telephone, was extended then I could phone her about the kids.

How often would you write?

To be truthful I would write nearly every two week because by the time one letter get there and she send it back and send it back to me, the letter is going there.

How long did it take for a letter to arrive?

Well it depend sometime it might take four days, a week, depends of the travelling time.

So, you ... tell me you were doing this night shift for all these years, did that mean that you had to sleep in the day then?

Yes ... I come in in the morning, depends of how tired I am, I will go to bed for, well not to bed, I had a chair there and it was my bed, because it was more comfy than going up to my bed. I will get a sleep and then I will get up and I will do the housework and do what have to be done and get dinner for the kids, and as soon as kids comes in I'm off again yes. So see more than any time I had an extra job at the weekend as well ... I used to work at a nursing home.

What was it like doing nights all that, all that time?

It was fun, not that every night would be the same but we used to work in the team, so you have someone you working with for a long while you come as one, so I know what you I like, and you know what I like, so we gets along together.

Were there lots of other black nurses working there?

All about, I had, well really my team, she was from Ireland and one was Grenada. And three of us worked together for many years, yeah.

In the meantime your bringing up your family, your children, so how many, just remind me how many children you have, is it six did you say?

Six girls and one boy.

How did your daughter, you had one that was twelve, when she came here, how did she find it?

Well it was a bit tough for her first at school, but then she got used, then she just move on ... she been and she done her nursing and she's living in London.

What sort of changes have you seen in Reading over the years?

Plenty, plenty, yeah there plenty changes in Reading ... when I came here it was trolleybus, know what I mean, yes the electric buses, those finish. Then it was the red buses with the one door at the side, that's finish and now you got great big lovely buses. In those days I had to push my pram along the way, you don't have do that now the bus, load up and you push your pram in it, easy going now.

Where did the trolley buses go, did you use the trolley buses?

They used the seventeen, from Tilehurst to Wokingham Road. Remember the chap going out and pulling the same and turning it back round yes, were you in Reading all your days? no answer It was from up where the fire station in the Wokingham Road. Well there was the junction and to the top of Tilehurst and then it get there, turn round and go back.

Where did, what did you do for entertainment?

Oh, well, we used to gather together and you get some what your country, provides, what how you cook, and I done mine and everybody do theirs and we get together or you have a large family get together and have a time of it. In those days it was the big old radiograms and they play the tapes and that were your entertainment, well then, then they start having different places having dances and excursions and all like that.

You told me earlier about these women saying no room and closing the curtains, were there any other times when you felt you were being discriminated against?

Yes I have met some patients, that wasn't very good, and definitely I met some patients that, they get on very good, yes ... I met some that was have prejudice in them but they couldn't really show it because they were sickly in bed but you could see for yourself and some again was very pleasant. I did have some pleasant people, old people to work with. I couldn't complain.

How do you see the future now?

Well, I don't think there's as much prejudice now as there was when I first came here. It don't make sense being prejudice, you will find a few but they don't show it if you know what I mean, they have it down inside but they don't show it, we all mix together now not like before.

Grace, you've got a picture there, of Barbados, tell me about it?

Now this is the picture of Barbados and it have, a shapes like a leg of mutton. It has eleven parishes the, one to the top is St Lucy, St Peters, St Andrews, St James, St Joseph, St John, St Philips and Christchurch, St Michaels, now there are two in the middle which is St Thomas and St George, those don't have no sea, the other have sea but those two don't have no sea. And the main, our main fish is the flying fish. And the flying fish is the people goes out in the boat, they sleep out in the ketch, flying fish, they coming in the evening, and they comes back in and they puts them on a string and they sells them.

How do they put them on, on a string?

They have a string and push it up the gizzard and it come through the mouth and they put so many on the string and then they sell it for different prices, yes, some people weighs them and sell them by the pound, yes.

When you were a child, did you go down to the beach to buy this fish?

Yes, you go on the beach and buy the flying fish or people walks along the street and they say 'Flying fish, flying fish, six for the bit?'

You were telling me about the crabs?

Yes, there're two types of crabs, is the land crab and it's the sea crab. The sea crab, we eats the sea crab, but the land crab is not very wholesome to eat, because they on the land and they lives around different places, dig holes and they get down into that hole they do. And lobsters is a very nice fish they puts pots into the sea like net and the lobsters goes into them and then they can't get back out

When you were a child you, what would be the main meal you would eat?

It's fish, yes, it's fish. And it's fruit by the name of breadfruit you have breadfruit. Potato, yam, pumpkin, yes. And it's so ... meal that is Barbados people generally have they call it Cuckoo. Which is corn, the corn they grows on the cob is dried, and then it goes to the mill, and grind and it make flour, what some people calls it, some country calls is maize, we calls it cornmeal and you cook that with okra and, you make the gravy with fish, could be flying fish or other fish. And its another fish that is imported, in those days a lot used to use, but it very expensive now, salt fish, it's like a cod fish and it is been, dried in salt, it been cured in salt, but you have to soak it to get all that salt out. Because there was no freezer in my days they used to clean the fish and they used to hang them out like you hang out clothes on the line. They used to hang the flying fish out and dry them. And that's you curing them like, that the sun would dry them out and then you would store them, store them away and then when you want them to cook you just get them to cook like that.

What did you store them in? Jar or a box?

Yes, yeah, you can put them into a box, or can put them into a jar. And in those days, even with meat there were no fridge, so when you have meat, like pork, you put plenty of salt on it and you know pottery. There used to be big pottery jars with covers, lids we say and you would take your pork and you would wash it nice, clean it and put plenty of salt on it, and put it into that jar and cover it, and when you want it you just go and take it out, you soak it in water to take away that salt. Thats how they used to cure meat ... but I would not say for today because there lots of fridge and different things that are going but we used to save meat, meat like that.

What were you saying about the sharks?

Yeah, and sharks, in the month of May. Baby sharks used to come in on the seaside and people, and people, would get nets and they would go down at night and they would catch the baby sharks and they used to eat baby sharks in those days, yes the baby ones.

And turtles used to come in on the beach, and dig a hole and lay their eggs, and you would keep an eye, what you do, you go on the beach early in the morning and if you see like the sand move away you will come back next night and you will watch it. Well then we know how many days it would take for a turtle to hatch its eggs and because the turtle comes out the sea, digs a hole in the sand and lay the eggs and cover it over and then it go back into the sea. And then so many days it come back, it open up and got all the baby turtles and people would get nets and catch them.

When you came to Britain, how did you find the food?

It was very hard with the food. The meat was alright because in those days Union Street had lots of butchers. Them only have one there now, but some three or four was there and there were lots of different butchers around, so the meat was alright. But different things that we get from our country like sweet potato, yam and pumpkin and those things you didn't used to get them as you would like. It was a place not far from Jacksons, think it was a big butchers shop now, just there past Jackson, they have just in front of the bus stop it was, we used to call it the continental den. We used to go in there and you would get, different little things that was the only place that you could get things, foreign food and it was always packed with people because, from every country, you would get something in that shop, yeah. So that's where you used to get it but otherwise you couldn't get no food around. We use brown rice and it was not brown rice it was only just the, like the pudding rice in those days.

I always motivated by you, your views and way of thinking, again, appreciate for this nice post.

- Murk

poker spielen, 29 September 2010

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