Oral History Interview - Len Barker

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Audio file


Oral History Interview - Len Barker

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Digital file (.mp3)


Audio recording of an interview with Len Baker, who was born in Barbados in 1924 and moved to the UK around 1952. Topics discussed include their Caribbean background, life in Barbados, training to become a joiner, finding employment and settling into life in London. Note: Quality of recording is compromised and can be difficult to hear. Note: Quality of recording is compromised and can be difficult to hear.



LB. So we had moved from Harvey to Hackney [inaudible] and he said one weekend he said

Q. Thinking back to when you came here what would you say were the main differences in the way of life, in London than in Barbados? [1:49]
LB. Well I have to say that when I came on as a youngster I always heard it said that you used to call barbers [inaudible] because [inaudible] the similarities [inaudible] you got the sunshine there in Barbados.
The weather was more than a shock. I will always remember my first experience of snow [inaudible] and snow start falling [inaudible]

Q. How about the cold generally, was that hard? [3:48]
LB. [inaudible]

Q. Did you ever feel homesick? [5:11]
LB. Homesick? What’s that?

Q. Well, do you miss certain things about Barbados? [5:18]
LB. Well if I have to say, if I have to go back to Barbados now, there is one thing I miss, that’s the car.

Q. You got so used to it. But how about the other way around? [5:34]
LB. Well if I had to, if it was possible to get the sunshine that they have in Barbados into England that would be great. It would be very pleasant [inaudible]

Q. So did you never encounter any direct problems with racism while you were here? [6:17]
LB. Yes I did, but I just ignored it to a certain extent. I remember I used to work for the same firm [inaudible]

Q. Testing, testing. Interview 5 May 1994 with Len Barker. [16:41]
Q. Can you tell me where and when you were born? [16:51]
LB. I was born in Barbados [inaudible] 1924(?)

Q. Can you tell me where you spent your childhood? [17:11]
LB. Saint George [inaudible]

Q. Is that a large town? [17:20]
LB. Small town.

Q. Can you remember your first house? Can you describe it? [17:23]
LB. Our first house was together [inaudible] 3 bedrooms and very large yard.

Q. Did the family grow things in the yard? [17:46]
LB. Oh yes were grew a lot of vegetables [inaudible] cabbage, tomatoes, carrots

Q. Did you live with your parents? [18:06]
LB. Yes.

Q. What did your parents do? [18:07]
LB. [inaudible]

Q. And who did your father work for? [18:20]
LB. [inaudible] driving a truck

Q. What was your first school like? Can you remember? [18:31]
LB. My first school was a private school [inaudible]

Q. What kind of lessons? [18:46]
LB. Lessons [inaudible]

Q. What was discipline like? [19:02]
LB. [inaudible] traditional, Prince Charles

Q. After you left school, what was your first job? [19:23]
LB. After I leave there I went to the Church of England school.

Q. How old were you when you left school? [19:31]
LB. I was 14 when I leave school.

Q. So what was your first job after that? [19:44]
LB. My first job was joinery.

Q. And who did you work for? [19:50]
LB. I worked for, in a workshop, [inaudible]

Q. And what kind of things did you make? [20:03]
LB. [inaudible] chairs, housework in general

Q. So you were an apprentice? What did it teach you? [20:17]
LB. [Len discusses the differences in method between the system he was trained under and the English system, but the skills were the same]

Q. How long did you stay with Mr. C...? [21:13]
LB. I stayed for 5 years. After that I went out and started my own business.

Q. You were self-employed? [21:26]
LB. Self-employed.

Q. And what kind of business did you set up? [21:28]
LB. Working the same joining work, doing the same joinery work.

Q. How did you set yourself up ... [21:33]
LB. Actually I was working for a company then. I worked for a company then. I worked for a company for about 4 years [inaudible]

Q. So was there plenty of work around then? [21:51]
LB. It varies, sometimes plenty and other times work becomes a bit down. So you had to take [inaudible]

Q. What was pay like? [22:05]
LB. The pay was reasonably stable [inaudible]

Q. Did you get into joinery because you enjoyed it or was it because that was where work was? [22:15]
LB. Well I would say personally, that it was the sort of thing that a family [inaudible] my father said, you got so far and you’re just going to waste your time starting something else. [Inaudible] money was not there for us to get an education that he would have liked

Q. And why did you choose joinery? [23:26]
LB. I was so far [inaudible] family tradition

Q. So who in your family did joinery? [23:39]
LB. Uncles, cousins, nephews [inaudible] Not that all family had done that, some were masons and some work on the plantations, various jobs [inaudible]

Q. What age did you decide to leave Barbados? [24:22]
LB. To be honest [inaudible] but it so happened that I leave Barbados when I was 28.

Q. And why did you think of leaving? [24:43]
LB. Well just to see what [inaudible]

Q. So why did you choose England? [25:16]
LB. Well at the time it was the going thing. I had actually made application to go to America. They had sent me back a list and told me my name was on the list but how far down I would have to I think it would take me about 4 years. Everyone was saying that England was there [inaudible] well I will come to England.

Q. Were you single then or married? [25:56]
LB. Single.

Q. Would you have gone if you were married do you think? [25:58]
LB. I won’t commit myself to that. It depends [inaudible]

Q. What ideas did you have about England before you left? [26:21]
LB. Generally speaking I was told that England was one of the greatest countries in the world and the streets were paved with gold.

Q. So did you think you would have a better standard of living over here? [26:50]
LB. Well, in life pioneers always look forward [inaudible]

Q. So you were ready to try a new way of life? [27:39]
LB. A new way of life in every aspect.

Q. How did you get to England? [27:46]
LB. I came to Britain by boat.

Q. Do you remember the name of it? [27:56]
LB. No

Q. What type of boat was it? [28:05]
LB. Actually, I can’t remember the name of the boat but we came to Liverpool actually. And during my travel actually [inaudible] London was the better part and it is warmer. Liverpool was alright, you could get jobs, but London was warmer. So I took a train to London

Q. Did you know anybody in London? [29:15]
LB. Not one earthly soul. The only person I knew in London at the time was [inaudible] [mice?]

Q. Did you make friends on the boat? [29:25]
LB. We did meet a few friends on the boat [inaudible] friend from Barbados

Q. Can you remember what your first impressions were when you arrived? [30:21]
LB. My first impressions when I arrived, smoke, plenty of factories around here. Not realising it was [inaudible] my intention at the time when I got here was never to work in the building industry.

Q. Why was that? [31:28]
LB. Well I planned to have a changed life and live with different people in a different way of life in a different atmosphere. But it so happen [inaudible]

Q. Did you stay in Liverpool at all or did you go straight to London? [31:57]
LB. I came from Liverpool same day and came straight to London.

Q. What was the first place you stayed in London? [32:11]
LB. First place I stayed in London was 20 Grove Avenue [inaudible]

Q. How did you find that place? [32:21]
LB. Well the chap that [inaudible] and we asked if he knew of anywhere we could stay and he got a bit hysterical [inaudible] these chaps came here with nowhere to live [inaudible]

Q. So did he know the owner? [33:17]
LB. He knew the owner.

Q. What was that like? [33:20]
LB. It was a very large room accommodation. It had about 5 of house use one stove [inaudible]

Q. So how could you organise cooking with so many people? [33:50]
LB. Everyman for himself. Get in where you can. [Inaudible] and if you get in first on Friday [inaudible]

Q. Where was your mate from? [36:30]
LB. Barbados as well.

Q. You met him over here? [36:33]
LB. I met him travelling together.

Q. And he worked in London too? Same place as you? [36:39]
LB. No. Well my first job was in Green Lane, joinery. From there in Green Lanes [inaudible] working as a [inaudible] mechanic [inaudible]

Q. Did you find it easy to find work at first? [37:19]
LB. I would say the first three weeks were the hardest of me finding a job from there things got more established [inaudible]

Q. How did you look for work? [37:41]
LB. In those days we had the Islington Gazette which was a great paper in those days. Today it is not a paper at all. We had the, about three papers Evening News and The Star. The Star had jobs.

Q. How did you find people reacted to you when you went looking for work? [38:16]
LB. I would say, not very bad to be honest with you [inaudible] My first job we had a joinery [inaudible]

Q. So what did they make? [39:50]
LB. [inaudible] kitchen cabinets, windows, doors

Q. What were conditions like? [40:04]
LB. Conditions in my first stage of life were not bad. Nice tidy workshop [inaudible] well kept workshop [inaudible]

Q. How long did you stay there? [40:29]
LB. I think I stayed there about two months.

Q. And why did you ... [40:36]
LB. There was about six of us in the shop and we got a bit down so he had to put two people down so two of us were put down [inaudible] I got my other job after a week [inaudible]

Q. So after that you stuck with joinery? [42:29]
LB. I stuck with joinery [inaudible] ...

Q. So why was that? [44:39]
LB. I guess I wanted a change [inaudible] ...

Q. So at that time where were you living? Still around Hackney? Why was that? [47:41]
LB. Still around the same area [inaudible]

Q. Why do you think that is? [48:26]
LB. Its not like I am not trying [inaudible]

Q. Have you always lived and rented ... [49:42]
LB. [inaudible] I probably would have to say the worst accommodation I had was around the square [inaudible]

Q. So when did you get married then? [57:00]
LB. I got married [inaudible]

Q. So how did you meet your wife? [57:08]
LB. Well I had known here [inaudible]

Q. Had you been courting in Barbados? [57:17]
LB. Yes.

Q. So how did you keep in touch while you were here? [57:21]
LB. [inaudible]

Q. And then did you get married over here? [57:27]
LB. Yes.

Q. Where did you get married? [57:30]
LB. Saint Mary Magdalene Church [inaudible]

Q. So what did your wife do when she came over, did she work? [57:46]
LB. She was hoping to get a job [inaudible] she don’t like the hospital [inaudible] she is not going back to the hospital [inaudible]

Q. So she used to work in a hospital in Barbados? [58:20]
LB. She worked in a hospital in Barbados [inaudible] she went to work at a factory [inaudible] things got slow and she went to work for a cabinet shop in Mare St. But she didn’t like it because [inaudible] dirty water

Q. Did you have any children? [59:30]
LB. Two, a boy and a girl. The boy is 30 odd

Q. What did you do in your spare time? [59:51]
LB. I don’t get much spare time. [Inaudible] working late was compulsory [inaudible]

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