Key announcements

Due to scheduled maintenance, our housing repairs service may be unavailable for periods from 5pm Friday 12 April to 9am Monday 15 April. To find out more about the section 114 notice, visit our section 114 page

Photograph of Beryl Martin, LSAH customer

Beryl Martin

I was born in St Kitts on one of the Leeward Islands, Saddlers Village, in the Parish of St. John in 1933. I’m the youngest of six children. My mother also adopted her sister's children after she died in a polio epidemic.

My parents were self-employed cultivators, as you had to look after yourself and family. We grew vegetables and sugarcane; however women didn't cut the cane then. But I would help to plant the cane; this was called 'dropping the plant'. People with learning difficulties and their children could join in work gangs for the big landowners. We would work on the estate and get somewhere to live in exchange.

At age four I went to Bethel Government School, walking one and a half miles to get there. The children went in groups of friends from the various villages and school started at nine am. There were very few buses; one ran in the morning and one at night. We would sometimes use donkeys to travel. Dad woke us up early for school and in the holidays. At four am we would have to get up to fetch the milk, to give to the milk trucks to take to the city. I dreamt of having a lie-in but could never get one. My mother insisted I got up early to wash her feet and put Vaseline on them, so the sugarcane and all the walking didn't cut and mark her feet.

We all had to go to church every week and our church clothes and shoes could never be worn anywhere else. We couldn't smoke or drink, and if you got a boyfriend you were told to stay with him. Some people brewed their own liquor and other locals would come over and try it.

Kerosene lamps were used to light around the house. It was okay to light them but the glass shades would soot up all the time. At a certain age you were given the responsibility of cleaning the shades and you were expected not to break them. If you did break them you were in trouble and you would have the broken lamp to use in your room. When you were cleaning them, first you used paper, then cloth then you washed them and after all this they would come up lovely and shiny. Everybody had chores and it changed around so everyone got all the chores to do. One of my sisters was always getting in trouble and she could never say 'I didn't do it'. She would get afraid and couldn't lie.

My mother could not beat the children, so she got someone else to do it. She would be praying on her knees next to you asking the Lord to ‘forgive the child.’ You had to sit listening to her prayers and she would go on until 7pm or 8pm in the evening. The other children would pass outside and shout, 'Has she done yet?' My mother was very religious. I would try to outsmart her and I didn't get thrashed too often.

For pocket money I might get a penny or my uncles might give me 10p. On a Saturday night when the music was playing and people were having a good time, I would go round selling treats like nuts, snacks and sugar cakes, so I didn't have to buy them for myself!

I learnt how to do peoples’ hair to get some money. However, some people could not afford to do anything but the bare essentials to get by. Some people could not get out of the poverty trap; they stayed there and put up with it. Others would find a way out of the situation and take a chance or get a lucky break.

I came over to Britain in 1958. There were only four black people working in Selly Oak hospital at that time. As long as you had good general knowledge, could read and write you could work in a hospital and train to do nursing. My husband came over first, while I carried on working self-employed and looking after the children in St Kitts.

rating button