Oral History Interview - Arthur Lovell

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Oral History Interview - Arthur Lovell

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Audio recording of an oral history interview with Arthur Lovell, who moved to Britain from Antigua in 1957. Arthur discusses his Caribbean background and racism experienced with London housing.


[Song being sung: ‘Day o I want to go Home’]

Q. Arthur, could I ask you first about your childhood what was your home like?

AL. Tropical country, tropical country and where in my day we used to; the village where I come from, my childhood there was no school, we have to go to the next village with kids, or Saints village, and Edgware school from, I think when I was seven years until I finished. I think I stopped at school when I was fourteen, fourteen and a half, and my childhood was very, well most of my childhood would have to tag along with my father, because he was, he was what do you call it, a Farmer and we have animals, and he worked the land and we had animals, and there was no one else to assist him but either me, or his wife, which his wife wasn’t me mother, she adopted me so I had, I was brought up on the active side, there was no waste time with me, there was no waste time at all.
I was busy from the time I got up, until the, only thing I can say night, as soon as I eat me dinner I must be in bed at about seven o’clock, they always said, ‘If you don’t rest well, you can’t work well tomorrow.’ So I have to be in bed early, but four o’clock in the morning, because there is the cows to be milked, and there is nobody else to help him but myself or his wife, and I could remember there was time we haven’t got nothing like help, we tired, we cold, late together and I behind holding, and he in front milking sometimes, sleep, business, so really I never had much spare time and I used to be hungry, hungry when I was a boy because I was brought up very strict, and I was brought up very sick, strict, and we was Christian people really and we have to, I have to go, he was a leading man in the Moravian church and I used to go and it’s called a chapel servant and this chapel servant have to on the Sunday time, take over the running of the church even though that sometimes in the morning the rain is pouring down; I have to still get up and go out with him if I like it, or not to have to because its a must, cos I have to be in Saint Johns which is the city of Antigua as early as six o’Clock with that milk and get back to go to school and as school finished, in particular when we have dry weather, have to collect the water from various places, put into a tub for the animals to drink.
Anyway that as I say I was brought up very strict, I have to work from youth, and not excessive I just have to because I have to be with my father because there was nobody else, but, either his wife, then going on to the church side now, I does go with him to clean up the lamps, the hanging lamps in the church, and ring the bell, and learn how to ring bell from him, and he was a Sunday school teacher, and all those things, so I had to do what he wanted.
Anyway he never done me any hurt, for today I’m glad that it was so, yes, and he yes, he was very, and he was very active and all his life like myself and up to now I know that I’m old now, I still have the same attitude, I can’t stay in bed in the day, I have to get up in the morning yes, and as I say it was very daunting when I was a boy growing up and for today I can say it’s a good thing that my father did what he done because well, I can relax on what I learned from him you know, and up till the time now I’m living on my own. I give up living with people from 1978, and I can still go through life and be comfortable myself without worry or anything. So I was still glad in the end the way how he brought me up and yes, so when I become big man now I have to, time, on my own.
So anyway I remember he died, he and his wife died the same year, which is my mother-in-law, yes they died 1949 and he first died, and she died eight weeks after, yes, and well I do what I must do for both of them, because she was one of the, one of the best person I come across, she and a brother of mine, my only brother, ‘til he died from my mother’s side, so I grew up alright “til I become big man for myself, and when he died I carried on where he left off.
I worked the land and I was very good with the land, and I could plant any amount of thing and very happy with the result, I used to be good working in the land, and that builds me up as well, builds me up as well you know because I was well off in Antigua and that was in the year, in the forties, I was well off and then I met up with the wrong set of people and I met up with a friend and all that, because I was working with the intention to make myself happy and comfortable as me father was, and I know for that to be, I must work and will learn to.
We does learn to work in those days, not like today and I worked so the bad management take place, take over and I just leave, can’t be bothered leave everything that matters much, that should help to the other things, and there it is I get in trouble with myself because you can only take so much, so much you can’t take it all the time.
So I was comfortable, working myself, comfortable and then in a few years I come to bad, the wrong people you know.

Q. Could I ask you, what your school was like? You’ve talked a little bit about your childhood but you mentioned school, did you like school?

AL. Oh yes, oh yes I liked school, they send me first to a private school, I spend some time in a private school and I can remember the teacher come to me Father, he used to pass that school every afternoon and tell him it’s time for me to go further now, because I’m doing well, I pass the test with her with the school they send me to the Elementary school that was a mile away from where we lived really, to another building near all saints and I schooled there until, I could school there until I was old man if it was my stubbornness because I become big, and me Father lie wanted me to get more education as well as me Mother-in-law and after all me, all me school mate and the neighbours; they stopped from school and it hurt me that I have to still go to school and there going to school. Me Father used to say to me, ‘They haven’t got no Mother, they haven’t go no Father, they’ve only got Mother so you don’t go like them I am your father.’ [laughter] It’s a joke ain’t it?

Q. Okay thank you. Could I ask you when you decided to leave home and come to England?

AL. Oh, yes well after things become very rough I used to follow me father’s footsteps, I was working for myself alone just in the land and everything, and after the years as things get bad I got so broken down that one or two people gave me a job to do in their land, and I become, become very depressed, and uncomfortable because I say, ‘I come have to be working in peoples land now’ and I did have, I did have to employ people so I become very ashamed of myself, very ashamed of myself and I say oh I better try and go away, it was, I came away in 1957, yes, not 1957, I can’t remember the year now, it was yes 1957, because I’m here now 38 years I think now, yes, and then I had to was to make up me mind, either stay here and die in disgrace and shame, or something, and I didn’t have much, no, and I come down I still wasn’t a pauper but I didn’t have much. I have a house and a crop of sugar cane so I saw me neighbour; I went and I told him what was going wrong with me and so on they was on me side and they used to say you should tell us you want to go a long time because we help a lot of people and we will help you as well, so I was very glad. So I come away leaving what I have to them, what’s to spend three years and return back, so I’m still here [laughter]

Q. And you were only going to stay three years?

AL. Three years

Q. What did you think England would be like before you came?

AL. Oh, Oh well I learned so much, so much about England, I wasn’t so much disappointed when I came, I read plenty about England, I never disappointed because people was different from now, people was different from now, the majority of the people that I meet when I come here when I was adult. Most of those people die out now so it’s the younger people, because people of my, cos I’m over seventy and when I come here I was fifty, in me fifty-seventh year, so it’s a different England, it’s a different England complete, and I know when I come here loved the place, I say oh dear I never see so many churches in me life and when I find the pubs I say well what is this churches, pubs so this must be a good place it was a good place England was very nice, England was very nice. I came here and I went straight to Leicester and then live in Leicester, live in Leicester twice, live in Manchester and around the country every place differ, in every place is differ, because I can tell you I don’t know much for now because I used to live in Manchester, and Leicester.
The approach of people was different from London and the approach that met in ’57 was a different one today people not friendly again, and people not friendly again and I wonder I don’t think everybody, what I think in people, money on its own doesn’t make people happy because people was happier in the fifties and the sixties and there wasn’t so much money as today and there was, give yourself time with people, yes I live with some. Well I live with various kind of people, I live with China people, I live with English people, I live with Polish people and I used to get a lot and I still get a lot, nobody, I never be offended by no one when I say offended people may say things behind me back well that’s nothing cos if they’ll so brave they will say to your face.

Q. When you first came to England you had to look for somewhere to live is that true?

AL. Yeah, yeah.

Q. And did you face any discrimination?

AL. Well, tell the true, my dear the first day that I come here, I couldn’t, some people expect me but when I came the night it was early in the morning, 2 o’Clock, when I reach the address somebody upstairs said, ‘Oh they’ll not here anymore, they left.’ I didn’t know what to do that was 2 o’Clock in the morning and I say well, well, well, anyway it was December month and I could remember have two suitcases and a bag and I left with two blankets and I had to take out the blankets, throw around me; one of the suitcases on me head, one in me hand and the bag in me hand I say, well, I struggle, I struggle.
I was on the pavement and a man came up face to face with me, and I say, I say well I just from the West Indies, and I’m disappointed full stop, for the people not expect me and they’re not there and I didn’t know so he say, ‘You see where the lights is?’ I say ‘yes,’ ‘keep right on this side and go straight there, its the police station,’ so I went there, covered up like an Arab and I went there struggling, and every one of them fell down on the floor in hysterics and when they finished I say ‘Oh dear forgive us it’s not you we’re laughing at its the way you come in!’ [laughter]

Q. I bet you looked a picture, what was it two in the morning?

AL. Two o’clock in the morning, and in a strange place and it’s not daylight so it sort of, anyway oh dear.

Q. Were you frightened?

AL. I wasn’t frightened, no I know I’m in the place where people is, so not frightened, oh dear it was rough time with me, and a man, a policeman I think they say ‘Go out and go straight round the corner, go straight up and there is some hotels,’ and I do but every one said ‘No vacant’, anyway another man said ‘come let me go round here’ and he said ‘This is the railway station’ and I say ‘yes,’ anyway I didn’t know what to do I was really lost so I went round, on the platform and I make up a bunk, put the two suitcases standing throw on the blanket over and put myself there.
So I say well I’m safe here, so when I’m there, someone knocking around, so I say ‘hello’ and look it’s the Police he say ‘Who are you?’ I say ‘I’m a stranger, I do nothing, I just come from the Caribbean but...’ He say ‘Poor man are you cold?’ I didn’t know if I was cold or hot I didn’t know what to say because I was freezing, I didn’t know if I was cold nor hot and he say, ‘Come can you get up?’ and he helped me, and he brought me round to the front and he say ‘Oh dear I’m sorry I can’t take you home with me because there isn’t space, I’ve got to leave you here and in the morning I’ll come back and lead you over the railway there,’ so he left me there and it was a godsend, it was a godsend for I didn’t know what to do.
I was confused I didn’t know what, so anyway he leave me there but there was some men and they was drinking and drinking and drinking and in the morning they pushed the bottle underneath where we were laying on some benches, and say I was drinking and I was so angry just one of them two and two of them gripped. I hadn’t got a penny you know, I haven’t got no money you know, I reached, I reach England with one pound, one pound and the taxi man take, give me back ten shilling and nine pence he take the balance for the fare and I could remember I was going to Leicester that night, and I couldn’t even buy me ticket and it was sixteen shillings and nine pence, I remember right now, so I had a terrible time and even when I came the morning to leave me things I couldn’t afford them and I could remember somebody over the counter, a porter said ‘I will pay’ and it was only three or four pence, it was no, things were so cheap that time, and he pay and he say ‘Wait,’ because when I see the man I say ‘Oh I think I see that face sometime’ and yet he was an old mate and he’d left Antigua four years ago and gone away to some part and they never see him until it happened that day.

Q. What a coincidence!

AL. Yeah, then he take me home, and he took me home and he say I can remember he say ‘Well, you come home with me and we will look for those people later,’ and he come and take me home and I didn’t know what to do, I felt strange and I never felt that way in me life before because well I was in the Caribbean ain’t it and he said to me ‘What do you want to do? If you want to lay down in the bed, if you want to lay down in the bed?’ ‘no, I don’t want nothing more than stand up here,’
I couldn’t do nothing, I had to just stand up there by the fire, and he say, he say ‘You’re cold?’ he say, I don’t know if I’m cold I can’t feet nothing, I couldn’t feel nothing, nothing, I can’t tell anybody how I feel, yeah? it was terrible and really and as I say I never one single time I feel, I feel I was let down.
I had a friend and we was walking looking for places, and we read in the paper this place, and my friend he was a white bloke and man he went and as soon as the woman saw my face she said ‘I told the landlord I don’t want a black drum beater by my house’ and she slammed the so I say to her, ‘no’ he said ‘I have a mind to report her’ I said ‘Don’t, don’t it wouldn’t be any good, nobody nobody can prevent these things, these things happen from people inside, the body can’t’ and from that I say ‘Well I will never go to another person’ does well t’was a place, I never go back.
I did, I use, I live at the hostels, I say even some of the people say But you, how can you go to some of those dirty places, I say there’ll not dirty, they’re clean, they’re clean its only we that make it dirty, so I use to go from hostel to hostel, nobody ever insult me again, so thank god ‘til things change over the years and I live. I was living alright with friends and things until I make up me mind, I mustn’t continue, cos thank god where I’m living now, it’s place to all of them, mind you some people prejudices all over, where I live, but then you haven’t got to take it to heart because if those people are prejudice themself against you.
So somebody prejudice against them, they might hate me, worse of all they can give you a cause, well but they can’t give you no cause more than because you’re black and that’s no good because I can say many things about white people because I associate with them. Now some people can’t say nothing about me, they never associate with me and they never associate with coloured people more than see us, so how can they judge you? they don’t know nothing.

Q. Can I ask you, I’m really interested, you said you started off in Leicester and Manchester and moved around? How did you come to London and particularly Hackney? How have you ended up here?”

AL. Oh, when I come I was in a monastery, you know I was in the Dominica order in, I leave for Leicester and I went there, that was sometime ‘58 1 think; anyway I was with them until, as I say even those places they were still around, and I had was to leave that monastery with regret and I recall an Irish inhabitant as well and when I wanted to leave there the prior said I can’t I never know they can’t let me go like that at all, irresponsible and so when the day come for me was to come from Staffordshire they send me down on the train to some priest at Southampton Row straight to them, and I stayed there with them until I get in contact with some people from my country. Then I came from that place straight to London and the people in that know me that I came to really, cos when I was with the priest and I come in London and see them, and so they get me a place right there in Clapton, at the time.
Then from that me life start because from then I get a job, and then I start to move because I like travelling and I like going to places I got to Leicester, the second time to live. I was there once then I got to the monastery, then I come back to London, then I leave London and go back to Leicester because nearly everybody who knows me, and I was a stranger in London because the majority who knows me would come from the same village, live in Leicester, so I would be more comfortable and aware if I was still living in Leicester.

Q. What even now you feel that? You’d rather be in Leicester?

AL. I would rather be in Leicester because people knows me well, I have people of my age and even younger people that tell them about me; so I would be comfortable in Leicester more than London in a way where things cannot overturn now. I couldn’t go back to Leicester because that would be happy among these people that know me so well.
But anyway I just, I know what it is so I came away from there with intention well at the time it was easier to find employment, and everything in London but I did prefer London because I was younger and wanted employment and thing, but up to now I’d be still happy if I was there with them because people of my age and, you know when you meet people of your age you can congregate and talk and because one came to see me in the Christmas there, the day after Boxing Day, and she came down from Leicester to somebody and she asks somebody to bring her to see me, and it was marvellous; we talked so much, me and her were children together yes.

Q. Can I ask you one last question? You’ve mentioned lots of different places in England, but where is home for you?

AL. London.

Q. More than Antigua?

AL. Well, I went back home to Antigua, I was back home in Antigua, year before last. Well, tell you the truth I don’t think I think London will be me home because its, I’m better off here now in me state of life; I’m better off staying here than to be in Antigua although it’s a bit lonely living here now because I have relations and I go home to know them. I have nieces, nephews and I have a nephew, married and her family but they are the people I have to keep away from because they have me well enough when I could see well enough when I go home; whereas now and I have one sister, and me and she and her husband work, and send her money there for them to build a house with me. Mine for me to stay there when I come and that property was done, that property done.
I go home and see the property in motion and it was done and 1987, I keep saying to me brother stop work and go home because after you get seventy years we’re doing overtime, and he said ‘I think I’m holding on to get a little money,’ I said ‘Bugger that,’ he went home 1987 and he died, 1987 he lived three months with me sister and he died, and the big inferno places there, so what’s the good of it; three months, so I went home 1987 when I heard he, about his death, and I saw, well I know the place because I went twice to see it, going up. So I, all that I help me sister, helping with, that gone for nothing because he died and they make a will, and it’s a will that is very troublesome because he had an adopted son, and so I don’t know what will happen in the end, but now I go back last year was to see me sister 1993, so I couldn’t live with her because she’s another one, she’s very dangerous, so I, if he was alive as I planned that was our plan; I’d go home and I would be more comfortable with him alive because he was; he was much younger than me, but he was he was active in his way, active, so I won’t go back now.

Q. So London is your home?

AL. London is me home

Q. London’s your home? Okay Thank you very much.

AL. There is two, I have one over here and Niece and thing but they are all adult, and you can’t and you mustn’t and you shouldn’t depend on people to look after you, never mind who it could be or while they are adult you just try to look on the bright side, and if you can fight it, you fight it because everyone have a nephew that he come to see me, almost every other week, and from Christmas he say ‘Uncle, me have to come and visit you now regular now because when I don’t come my mind is still on you’ so he work he’s a foreman, anyway, if he left, he work on Sunday sometimes, about rail track and he will come and say ‘It’s no good to go home because he’s still worried about me, and me own I keep saying ‘Not to worry, not to worry, not to worry at all,’
My mind is already made up because never mind, never mind who you are, or where, you can’t get away from that thing that is suppose to be there when your time come, yeah so, I will have to stay here, I think, it’s much better for me because I’m taken care of, you know; in a way we thought it couldn’t be in Antigua.

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