Oral History -Victor Jones, Len Barker

image w2017-85_victor_jones_supporting_image_1
image w2017-85_len_barker_supporting_image_1
image w2017-85_len_barker_supporting_image_3
image w2017-85_victor_jones_supporting_image_1
image w2017-85_victor_jones_supporting_image_3
image w2017-85_victor_jones_supporting_image_4


Audio file


Oral History -Victor Jones, Len Barker


Cassette Tape
Digital file (.mp3)
Digital file (.wma)


Audio recording of an interview with Victor Jones and Len Barker who were born in Jamaica and Barbados respectively. Victor moved to the UK in 1957 and Len, who was born in 1927, moved to the UK around 1952. In addition to the interviewer asking questions, Victor and Len take turns interviewing each other. Topics discussed include arriving in the UK, finding employment and adjusting to their new housing situations in the UK. Also the interview touches on the topic of Caribbean herbal remedies and the local West Indian cuisine.



Q. Suppose your real purpose of coming to England? [0:04]
VJ. Well I used to work on the water front and it wasn’t a regular thing and I wanted something regular where I could look after my kids the right way. So I decided I come to England to get a regular job that I could take care of them the right way. And I left in July 1957, landed Liverpool, took a train from Liverpool to London and when I came to London I moved to a place on Halen road, that is the first place I lived when I come here and I started a few jobs, I wanted something regular [inaudible]

Q. What was your impression of the country when you first came? [1:39]
VJ. Well, it was a nice bright sunny day and a taxi took me from Euston to [inaudible] had me driving all around and I had a look at London and I liked it because I have experience of America what America was like so when I came here it was a bit different but I liked it alright. And in those days the living wasn’t what I expected so I made the best of it.

First day the women took me to the exchange to sign on and get reception I did that for two weeks because I didn’t like it and then I got a job. My friend used to take me out to parties in those days we never had blues dance we had radio phone dance. Radio gram. We used to enjoy ourselves alright. And I make myself at home, it is not that we didn’t have problems but with my experience of my first time in America the problems [inaudible] I got used to the white is white and black is black. And a lot of Americans tell me [inaudible] but my experience was very few I didn’t let anyone take my liberties [inaudible] then the living condition, it was one stove to the whole building and that stove had two burners or three burners and every weekend you get a certain amount of gas. Your given four [inaudible] a piece for the amount of gas for the week. When you go down to cook it was like standing in a box cue. You got to wait until your turn. The bad thing about it is when your turn comes around sometime the gas run out. And there was no use talking to the landmass because he say he drop it in the morning.

Q. So people didn’t pay as they went along? [5:46]
VJ. I can remember on Sunday I put the washing on the line and when I came back it was crisp and dry I went upstairs and put them on my bed and went downstairs to cook my food and when I come back I look on the bed and the bed was wet and I couldn’t understand it. So what really happened was that the clothes freeze on the line.
But on a whole I wouldn’t speak bad about this country, it’s a great country. If you have a vision and are willing to learn you can learn as young as you are or as old as you are the opportunity is there. And I am comparing it with Jamaica, I lived there for 34 years and it would not make sense for me to go back home to Jamaica because most of my friends are here and going home would be starting a new life and at this age I do not think it would be wise. I would go home on holiday but England is my home right now.

Q. What is the difference between England and Jamaica? [7:42]
VJ. Well when I was in Jamaica I had a 2 bedroom house with a kitchen and bathroom attached to it and I lived there with my wife and 4 kids. In my home there was mama and papa but we lived like sisters and brothers. My mother was a big sister and I was a big brother [inaudible] In Jamaica is the building with land around the difference in England is that they are all attached. In Jamaica it was more friendly, everybody know everybody in the area. In England it is not so.

I can remember speaking to a man at the railway where I work. He said to me he had been living in the street for over 20 odd years and he did not know his neighbour and I said in Jamaica everybody know about each other. Over here it is different everyone does for themselves. And I find that West Indians come here adopt that same principal, it is only a few that still have that Jamaica touch in them. [Inaudible]
Back to the house, In Jamaica you can cook outside when it is nice and sunny and you cook with coal and wood over here is gas and electric and if the gas run out and you have no money they your doomed. You stop cooking when the gas stop. And when you get to understand all that it is no problem because you make preparations for those situations. Again the home in Jamaica you don’t have much upstairs and downstairs, you have more concrete, lower houses, and the housing roof or tile roof. If it is a big house then people afford shingles but it is mostly tile roofs we use in Jamaica. There are a lot more differences such as you can have your home with a kitchen garden where you grow your own vegetables and you can raise chickens or whatever you want to. Sometimes when you are here you really think about those things but its two choice, one is circulation and money and a lovely climate. If you had both of them, circulation of money and a lovely climate you wouldn’t leave Jamaica but you have the lovely climate but bad circulation of money and that is what brings the West Indians to this country.

Q. How did you spend your leisure time? [13:10]
VJ. On holidays I used to go sometimes Southend, Margate, Clapton, Clapton and Sea and on weekends we used to have parties, radio phone parties almost every Saturday night a friend would have a party. A holiday for most West Indians they save up to go home for their holiday so you will find that they have a holiday probably once every five or six years, they go home for a couple of weeks; 3 weeks, 21 days. I never really have the opportunity of going back until 1979, I went home for three weeks and I enjoy myself because everyone was glad to see and I met some old friends and went to some different places and had a good time, but it was not long enough. So I planned the next time I go I will stay longer and eventually when I retired and had the time I went home for 6 weeks and I leave from Jamaica to America for 6 weeks and spend some time with my daughter and my sister and then come back.

LB. What year was this? [15:35]
VJ. It was 1983. I had a wonderful time with my daughter. She was living in Los Angeles. The kids are grown up all them was driving so every day I was out take me to different places. I went to Disneyland, I went to [inaudible] that’s Howard Hughes Museum, I wen to Marine World, took me all around Hollywood, I had a wonderful time with them. I don’t think I’ll have the opportunity again.

VJ. I’ve been telling you about my experience of the impression I found of the country when I came here first. I think it’s your turn to tell me about your impression. [16:46]
LB. Well when I came here first, it was similar to you. I landed at Liverpool. I had made a decision within myself not having anywhere to go to travel with other passengers down and we came to Euston station. The other passengers had some relatives and friends to meet there together, loved ones. I in turn said to one of the relatives, ‘Do you know anywhere that I can stay?’ He said ‘how many of you?’ And another chap said ‘I as well’.
This chap start fuming in a sort of a rage as though he had done something wrong. He says ‘when you people come into this country you should always let someone knows that you come so they can provide for you but not just come to the country and have nowhere to go.’ And while he was carrying on in this manner [inaudible] a poor man passed by the same time and the recognized that something was wrong and he stopped and came over. A very quiet man. He said ‘what’s going on here?’ the chap said again, it’s these people here, they come to this country and have anywhere to go. [Inaudible] He said, ‘its only two of you?’ He said I will sort you out. He gave us this note and said you have got to be very careful when traveling with taxis because if your journeys are not long enough to make money they just take you in a circle to make some money so you have to avoid the consequence. Or in other words, pay for it.
And he said you will have to give him a tip. I said how much should we give him as a tip? He said 6 [inaudible] will do, which was old money in those days. [Inaudible] That driver took us direct to the place, I remember where it is now, 20 Grove Avenue. Just down the road, just off Newington Green Rd. Got there, took my cases up the steps [inaudible] bang, bang on the door with a knock, no reply. It seems like no one was here, [inaudible] this was around half past four, the sun starts going down, it was getting dark …

Q. What time of year was it? [21:30]
LB. This was December, for that time of year it was a pretty mild, what the English call a bit nibbly. Anyway the sun going down and it start getting cold out. About half past 5 we saw a chap get in and we start to tell him our story and he said oh I am not the landlord, the landlord gets back about 7 o’clock. And we start shivering in the cold. Anyway about a quarter to 6 [inaudible] the only thing the chap said he can do for you is he can put your cases inside for you and you can go over there, get on the century bus go to audience cinema which is the Essex route. Go in there and get yourselves warm and come back about 7 o’clock.
So we allow him to keep our cases for us, we decide to [inaudible] because we don’t know if we are going to get somewhere to live to start our leisure, in those days they had plenty of shops around Newington Green. There was a beverage and a meat shop [inaudible] also we saw another chap walked by and he recognised we are strangers to the place and he said hello chaps, how are you? So we gave him our story. He said well I don’t know and we were getting colder and colder.
He said what can do for you, I can take you home, I don’t live far away from here, and this country is a tea country so plenty of people keep warm. We said ok and he took us home [inaudible] knows about different people who have rooms in case the room that you came for is gone, so he took us to his home and his brother said there was a room going but [inaudible] but I don’t know any more at the moment. But if you all did get a room there I would have to see my land lady and talk with us for a couple of days until you sort yourselves out.
Meanwhile they gave us a cup of oval tea. We take that and leave this place and got back to this landlords house and we had a welcome [inaudible] I think he put the heater up do when we come it was quite warm. Anyway the chap said I will leave you and see you some other time. When the landlord [inaudible] the monthly rent is 2 pounds 10. So I said, this is a Monday, well he said the thing is boss let’s get 10 shillings off so 2 pounds 10.

Q. Was that expensive, 2 pounds 10 in those days? [26:00]
LB. That’s pretty reasonable. [Inaudible] Very large room as well. You share this [inaudible] with the tenants next door which was a couple. The [inaudible] was under the stairs. Three houses, two large to the front one small to the back [inaudible] what do we do to get a job? First says you have to the Lira Exchange and register, he says I will direct you where to go, when you go there you will need a form to fill out, etc. etc. [inaudible] medina row. She said go over there tomorrow morning, take a passport, etc. with you and let you know what positions is [inaudible] Anyway first morning I left something back inside and he was the person that the landlord said not to talk to. I didn’t know who he was. Lira Exchange said sorry there is no jobs this time of year, what did you do at home, joiner and he was a metal worker, but things are a bit slow, [inaudible] come back on Friday. So on Friday we went back to Lira Exchange and gave me 33 shillings he gave my mate 31 shillings, he was married and I wasn’t so I don’t know why

Q. You tell me about the experience after you came here, what is the difference between your home life and the life you had in St Lucia? [3:04]
LB. Traveling is a great life experience you automatically become a pioneer. My first place to live you have only your room, no outside, to me it was like a divided world. I was not married. I lived at my parent’s residence which was what we called in those days a gadling (sp?) house a shared roove and kitchen. We had [inaudible] shingles and had a fair amount of land, where we would plant provisions raise livestock, chickens, cows, and sheep etc. etc. I must say personally that I lived very happily and literally cried [inaudible] I said to myself anyway I’ll give up trying, 5 years’ time, why I decided 5 years for the simple reason, I paid money to come to the country, it would be reasonable for me to make the money that I spent to come to the country back and make my fair to go back home so that I have not lost anything. But the system in this country was such that it altered that [inaudible] taxes, insurance etc. etc. I said woah, I don’t know but my period got extended and first time I see my home again was 9 years instead of 5 years.

VJ. My experience in those days is that it was easier to come in but hard to get out. [33:07]

LB. [Inaudible]

VJ. My reason for asking you that question was, pushing that point that it was easier to come in and harder to get out, is that you are paid your passage and you brought a little something to carry on, it was hard for you to go back empty handed so you had to accumulate some money or something that you can say that you don’t lose in coming. But it was hard for you to do it in those days because the way it is was very smart and most of your wages went into expenses so you couldn’t save much in a quick time. [33:27]
LB. What I remember, my first job was 8 pounds a week plus a [inaudible] I got 11 pounds and that was in Green Lanes at the joinery shop, Clissold Joinery. I didn’t have any tools or nothing when I came here because I didn’t intend to work at the joinery but for me it was the first job I got so I carried on. When I went for the job the receptionist came after I rang this bell and said what kind of job are you looking for and I said anything would do, I am not keen on any special job and she said what job do you really want? I said any job you can give me. She said can you do any joinery? I said a bit, like doors, windows, [inaudible] sash. Can you do [inaudible] sash? I said yes and she said wait a minute I can go and get Mr. can’t remember his name and she said upstairs, he came down, he said morning, I said morning, he called his secretary by name she said you can do a [inaudible] sash.
He said if you can do that I will give you a job. I said but I don’t have any tools what can I do? He said the best thing to do is go to Lira Exchange and see if they can sort you, if they don’t you come back and I’ll see what I can do for you. The exchange said no, I am a grown man and a tradesman should have tools. I returned back at half past four [inaudible] I said I have no tools and he said would you do some labour work for me if I gave you tools. So he took me and show me tomorrow morning and [inaudible] It was a Wednesday [inaudible] comes Friday around 3 o’clock a young man comes to me and says Mr. X wants you in his office [inaudible] When I get to Mr X, I can’t remember his name. He says sit down. You said to my secretary that you can do a [inaudible] sash. I said yes. He said well a chap works here and is sick, he said his tools is here I’ll let you use and start you off on Monday morning.
Saturday morning I started off and worked there for three weeks and they said work was slow so again so they have to let me off. I said all is well and good so anyway I worked there for a week and then got a job as a mechanic [inaudible] 6 pounds 1 shilling a week and I stayed there for two months and I looked in the Islington Gazette and found a job in Clark Street at a joinery, Packman [inaudible]. So I leave work, lunch break go and ask for the job. I finish there after 2 and a half years.
So I give you my housing situation now in mornings when I got up it was all occupied by the next door people and you had to bang on the door and they said who is it? I said I want to get a cup of tea [inaudible]

VJ. Tell me about cooking, how about the heating? [41:27]
LB. Our heating was over a coal fire [inaudible]

VJ. How did you find the shop, when you did your shopping? [42:16]
LB. There was a general shop, a meat shop on the corner [inaudible] there was Angel, Chapel Market where we could find things a bit cheaper on weekends.

VJ. I guess more or less that’s where you meet up one or two friends in the market? [42:53]
LB. Well no, funny thing about that I must say we meet a lot of people in the market but no one we had really known.

VJ. I mean friends that you make over here? [43:13]
LB. Oh friends that we make, as I said the previous friend we have was the chap we met and we tour with him for a very long while until we get to meet other people who were friendly

VJ. You see why I asked you that was because in those days most people in this area, in Hackney area, did their shopping in Vigero (sp?) and every weekend when you go to Vigero(sp?) you were bound to bump into somebody, some old friend that you meet in the market. Because everybody was working during the week and it was the weekends that you look up anybody that you can stop and have a chat. Mostly they do their shopping but meet old friends there. [43:30]
LB. Yes [inaudible] but in the late 50s there were people here until the 60s that is because we didn’t have the option of meeting people in the market [inaudible]

VJ. What kind of vocation you had? [45:10]
LB. My vocation, the same chap that we first met that gave us a cup of tea [inaudible] called Sheep something, I can’t remember what they called it [inaudible]

VJ. I guess more or less you were here during most of the time? [46:28]
LB. Yes [inaudible]

VJ. You never go to any of these sea side resorts? [46:56]
LB. Yes been to Sultan on Sea, Clapton on Sea, Margate, Ramsgate it was fantastic going to those places [inaudible] some of my holiday and getting to know different people and visiting different people etc. etc.

VJ. You never leave the country on holiday? [47:53]
LB. No actually I never went abroad a lot [inaudible]

VJ. What about going back home? [48:12]
LB. Yes my first visit home was 9 years after I got here. And to see my old lady, she was very, very sick. I went back home to see her. Everyone was saying she was close to death. She had three strokes.

VJ. What year that was? [48:47]
LB. 1964

VJ. And you haven’t been back since? [48:52]
LB. Yes many times since.

VJ. A lot of westerns believe in different type of herbs they use back home. What’s your belief in the different type of herbal medicine? [49:03]
LB. I think herbal medicine is great. A majority of people in those days [inaudible] herbs was a great [inaudible] known by [inaudible] it was great relief because people in those days could not even afford a doctor

VJ. What kind of herbs are you used to using? [49:58]
LB. I can’t remember the name of all these things [inaudible] the countries call them by different names. Cerasse, pear leaf, sweet mate [inaudible] several shrubs and herbs

VJ. The reason why I ask is because in Jamaica they take different herbs for different complaints? [50:39]
LB. Yes we had this as well [inaudible] the older knew a lot more they knew different potions for different complaints.

VJ. And you mentioned cerasse and that stand out above all of them because I use to use search a lot in Jamaica and I even use it still. I never run out of cerasse because it is a bush and it’s good for almost everything. [50:59]
LB. Yes, [inaudible] we have it at home as well and it can now be purchased here [inaudible] I remember once as a youngster I catch a flu and [inaudible] and I pick some of it and boiled some of it and just as I boiled it was so bitter, my aunt was not home at the time and when she came home she said what is all this, you shouldn’t drink it like that, she said you will poison yourself like that [inaudible] she said no you shouldn’t have done that it is too bitter for you

VJ. Well some people like it strong and some people like it mild, but I believe that you enjoy it better when you boil it mild. [52:48]
LB. Yes but I was a youngster, didn’t know any different.

VJ. What were the different type of food, the difference between your food in the West Indies and the type of food you enjoyed here? [53:05]
LB. Well when I first came here you know at home there was roasts etc etc. When I came here the only roasts I saw here was dry roasts [inaudible] but after a couple of weeks I got used to [inaudible]

Q. What about the difference between food in Barbados and English food? [53:47]
LB. English food I never ever ate fish and chips, never ever [inaudible] and fish and chips have a lot of grease therefore I never ate

VJ. But there are different dishes, a lot of different English dishes and I would like to know the difference between your food, that you used to eat in the West Indies from the English food that you enjoy? [54:25]
LB. Well I have to say coming here I found certain [inaudible] that I can get similar food [inaudible] sweet potatoes. The first time I saw sweet potatoes in this country was Seven Sister Rd and I was surprised.

VJ. Well I don’t know if it was so with your people because the whole of West Indies is a group of different islands that have their own ways of living but in Jamaica home rice and peas is a base for dinner, you can have rice and peas and fish, rice and peas and chicken, rice and peas and skillet you can have anything but that is the base. You have black eyed peas, pigeon peas, red peas and you have cold peas … no you just cook your peas and when your peas are properly cooked, in Jamaica we grated the coconut and squeezed some milk, coconut cream and scallions but over here were use a bit of honey, garlic and thyme and you boil it properly then you wash your rice, put in your rice and when its finished you have your rice mixed with your peas. But in some of your West Indies islands they cook their beans separate from their rice but when you do it that way we call it stewed peas and rice, different from rice and peas [55:22]

Q. So what about things like fish and cooking here, was it difficult to get? [57:33]
VJ. The difference between the fish and the meat on a whole is that in the West Indies you get fresh fish, you can go to the beach and the fisherman come in on the boats and you buy the fish, sometimes you buy the fish live, still jumping and then you scale it and clean it up at the water front. I used to do it that way I would clean it up at the water front so that when I went home it was ready to cook. Over here it is different, when you get the fish it could be months old.
LB. It could be 10 years old.
VJ. Meat the same, very fresh. Some of the West Indians are the same. When they go home for holiday they recharge their battery.

Q. English people have a terrible reputation worldwide for terrible food. The French think it is not even food we eat. [58:47]

VJ. I enjoy some English dishes, but the difference that I find between the English dish to the West Indian dish is that the West Indian dish is more spicy then the English dish. And when I came here, on Fridays you have to stand in the line in at the fish and chips shop to get served because they used to say [inaudible] you find the kids come to buy fish and chips [inaudible] I enjoy fish and chips, I have come off it but I used to like it. You used to get a big piece of fish and lots of chips wrapped in newspaper.
LB. We had another dish at home that we called ‘kookoo’ (sp?) [inaudible] and that was part of our mixture if dishes, we used it with [inaudible] Sometimes as well we used what we call pigeon peas, the green ones not the grey ones [inaudible] and when that is finished we used that alongside a roast and that was a dish on its own. Majority of the time it is done at special occasions

Q. What is that dish, callaloo? [1:01:40]
VJ. It is a vegetable like spinach, something like spinach, you can heat it, you can steam it and eat it with fish and we have a soup called peppercorn soup it is a vegetarian soup, you cut up your vegetables, you cut your okra, turnip and carrots and put on the meat to boil and let it boil. After your beef boil you put in your vegetables and let it boil right down.
LB. [inaudible] it’s really hot
VJ. But in Jamaica we eat yams but not green bananas, sweet potatoes and you have one called [inaudible] and plantains. In this county we call it soul food. Another one we mix the flour with a little honey and kneed it as though you are making bread dough and then put it in the palm oil and roll it and flatten it out and call it dumpling.

Q. My mother used to make dumplings and we would have stew with potatoes and thick gravy and she would put the dumplings in like 20 minutes before or half an hour and they would be made with flour and water and a bit of lard, a bit of fat [1:03:42]
VJ. I can remember a regular Sunday dish, is that in the mornings we had chocolate tea with bananas with steamed collard, that was your breakfast Sunday morning, chocolate tea, steamed collard, green bananas 2 or 3 bananas with that and the dinner which you eat dinner at 2 or 3 o’clock was rice and peas and brown stew fish, rice and peas and stewed on steak, rice and peas and chicken, that was a regular Sunday dinner. And in the evening we didn’t have much more then, we cut the lime, and mix it with the sugar and water with a lot of ice. It was very nice, when you have that you don’t [inaudible] until tomorrow.
LB. What I remember on Sundays as well it that in those days we squeeze the juice over and make cream with it, sugar and ice, and make cream with it

Object number


On display?


Back to top