Growing up in St. Philip, Barbados in the 1950s and 1960s life revolved around two seasons. Crop Season (when the cane was being harvested) and Out of Crop (or hard time). The latter was called hard time because wages were lower. These were even more important than school holidays, Christmas or Kite Season.
During crop time everyone focussed on the reaping and processing of the cane. Everything else took second place. A factory manager once told a worker who was feeling ill and asked for time off “This is no time to get sick, wait until after the crop!”
Crop time was special. As the fields were cut we could build and fly kites, hitch rides on the donkey carts and suck cane until you’re almost ill. Everyone enjoyed the smells of the factory and freshly cut cane. We watched and learned all about the various stages of sugar production. We built our own model factories, trucks and carts. We were never bored.
If the field was to be ploughed the trash was piled into large heaps to be spread out after replanting. Perfect for children to climb and play in.
If there was a fire in one of the fields, everyone helped to put it out. I remember going into a burning field with the manager and beating out the flames until the tractor could arrive with water trailer.
The Factory was a constant hive of activity. Canes were delivered freshly cut from the fields on trucks, tractor and trailers, or animal drawn carts. The sugar and molasses was sent to town on trucks, first in bags and later in bulk trucks.
A steam operated horn signalled the change of shifts or when the factory was ready to receive or to stop receiving cane for the day. Something was also happening.
During “hard time” life was a lot slower. Every piece of equipment was taken apart and serviced ready for the next crop. Everything was repaired on site by the workers.
We spent the time fishing, swimming, and riding bicycles all over the Parish. The fields were ploughed ready for replanting in November. Early Yams and Pulping Eddoes were planted to be harvested in time for Christmas. Christmas lunch could not happen without Yam Pie and Slippery Eddoes. Another necessity for Christmas lunch was Jug-Jug made from fresh Green Peas. Our Grand Mother made Sorrell drink. It was cured in tightly corked bottles placed in the sun.
Several events stand out in our memory, all of which would have taken place out of crop.
The Coney Island was held on Spartan playing field in Queens Park. There were elephants, lions, trapeze artists and clowns. Mr. H. Laurie was buried and was resurrected a few days later. Mr Laurie worked at Three Houses for a while. Later he joined the British Army where he died.
One side show was Baby Thelma. Baby Thelma was not fat, not obese and not large. She was extremely huge. Think of an Elephant Seal. I remember her on stage and dancing around and kicking her extremely large flabby thighs at all of the men. Showing her panties. SS got them removed. The next day he walked across Guinea Factory yard waving them between his outstretched hands. Enough cloth to make a sail for a fishing boat!
The Mobile Cinema was not to be missed. Weeks before, when the notice of its arrival was broadcast on Rediffusion, there was an air of excitement. On the appointed day the Land Rover would arrive and set-up before sunset. People would gather at every vantage point. Trees would be prime seating. Others would sit on the ground or on Cow Stools. First would be a news bulletin from Pathe News. Usually about some event that occurred in the British Empire during the past few months. This was still news to all.
A Cow Stool was a seat made from 2 pieces of wood nailed in T.
I remember seeing Charlie Chaplin, Bud Abbot and Lou Castello, The 3 Stooges. These were Black and White silent movies, long before colour or sound. The subtitles were read aloud by everyone.
I remember two shows. I think one was at the old St. Catherine Sports Field at Marley Vale and another at Bathsheba.
Another event was the Ice Follies. This was an ice skating show, sponsored by Bottler’s Ltd (who bottled Ju-C, Pepsi and 7-Up), staged at the Globe Cinema. The manager of the Bottler’s factory, Charlie Ray, put dye into the water to make it look like Ju-C. The girls white costumes did not look so clean after the show!
The Agricultural Exhibition was held yearly in Queens Park. There were prizes for the best livestock and demonstrations of various agricultural equipment and products. Of special interest was the competition between the plantations to produce the best cane. This caused much discussion as to who had the best cane and which had the higher sugar content. Special treats for the children were Candy Apples, and Peppermints.
Almost everyone who lived in St. Philip derived their income from Sugar. In addition to those who worked directly in the factories and estates, some had trucks or mule carts that carried the cane to the factory. Numerous small holdings produced cane and a wide variety of food crops. Nearly every household had a cow, pigs or sheep that added to the income. The manure went into the fields which gave a good crop.
Many men and women supplied a wide range of goods and products. Mr. Cephas (Caephas?) Walker in Marley Vale printed the books and receipts used to record the wages, tonnage of cane, and sugar produced. His house was once the rectory for St. Catherine’s Church. He learnt his trade at Coles Printers when they published the bi-weekly paper, The Recorder, on Wednesdays and Saturdays.
Carson Don Lorde sent me the following bit.
“… my grandmother was Florence Mason better known as Florence King of Marley Vale, St Philip and she worked in the Three Houses bicycle shed with another seller called Edna Millar of Marley Vale. Both sold nuts, salt Bread and fish cakes. My grandmother also sold muffins, sugar cakes, cassava pones, corn pones, coconut bread and turnovers plus mauby and bananas. They worked together and sold from each other’s tray when the other stepped away and trusted each other with making change from each other’s tray.
On mornings in the late 60’s about 7am I would walk from Wiltshire area down the kilometre long road east of the factory with a 5 gallon mauby can on my head containing the mauby bitters and carrying a bag of oranges. Then I would leave the mauby can and oranges on the counter in the bicycle shed and head to Shrewsbury Primary school. My grandmother would then come down with her basket of goodies for sale balanced on a rolled up flour bag towel.
David Marshall provided this on people who lived and worked in St. Philip.
“There was a Mrs. Hinds who lived in Industry and sold Mauby, Fish Cakes and Coconut Bread. Her best customer was a man called Dumb Charlie from Bayfield who used to help her carry the bread Basket and Mauby Can.
As regards to mule cart freighters there was Pappy Greenidge who lived near to the lime Kiln in Merricks. He had a mule called Sailor Boy and carried peasant canes to Three Houses. Also there was James Mason, and his chestnut Mule Dolly, from East Point. From Marley Vale there was Evelyn and his mule, Bright.
King Harmon worked for the Manning family at Golden Grove and looked after their houses at Ragged Point. Today he would be called a property manager. Although he had a badly deformed hand he could still play cricket.
The shop at the top of Marley Vale was owned by a white man called Bynoe. It was also run by MS or Miss Bispham. It was a shop that sold many things but not foodstuff. Some of the things I remember sold there was cigarettes, sweets, patent medicines, kites, school supplies, Bay Rum, and Liamcol. I am not sure if Miss Bispham was old Bynoe’s daughter or what. She lived in the house as one of the family but she was not his wife who also lived there, but she was actively involved in the shop.
We had eight windmills at East Point but only six pumped water from down in the wells and into a big tank in the yard. This tank was on the highest point of the estate and irrigated the estate by gravity. On top of this tank was one that was used to supply the house and yard with water. So we had good pressure. The water got into the top tank by the two smaller mills.
The tank is still there but Chimp has built steps up to it and it is used as a look out. The two smaller mills were not on any well but they pumped water from the bottom tank to the top tank.
The pottery by the lighthouse which was not far from Walkers Printers was run by 3 poor white families. One of the families was from Devon, England. The problem was that the clay was not suitable for pottery and most of their work came to nothing as the pottery cracked very badly after coming out of the Klin and they could not overcome this problem.
They discovered the clay at Chalky Mount in St. Andrew was what they were looking for, so all three families moved lock, stock and barrel to Chalky Mount. That is the story of Chalky Mount. I think the year was 1847.”
Ronnie Burton gave me this account.
“Elliot Brathwaite was the electrician at Three Houses when the factories were gradually becoming electrified. He helped build a helicopter for the factory manager which was powered by Continental flat four Air- Cooled engine. I remember seeing him repairing Irrigation pumps for the nearby plantation. He was an all-rounder.
Rannie Armstrong also worked at the factory. His side-line was repairing Bicycles. He taught me how to “spoke-up” bicycle rims when I was about 13 years old.
Lee Batson used to operate the modern Western States centrifuges at the factory and was factory watchman out of crop. In later years he was involved in the St.Mark’s Co-Op Credit Union. These Co-Op’s were organised by the peasant cane farmers to assist in getting supplies and reaping their small holdings. I remember being told “he was good with figures”.
These people I have mentioned, as well as many others, were respected. We as children knew we had to behave properly as they would reprimand you. We were lucky to grow in rural Barbados in the 50’s and 60’s.”
Joe Absalom from Marley Vale had a cart with 2 donkeys. Mr.L. Knight, (aka Salty) dressed in a Khaki Shirt and short Khaki pants, walked barefoot next to his mule cart carrying canes to Three Houses. When it closed he continued carrying to Foursquare until that closed in 1988.
Mr. Beckles sold Snow Balls and cold drinks from his donkey drawn cart. He set up to the west of the factory under one of the coconut trees.
Snow Ball: – shaved Ice in a tall glass with coloured sugar water and condensed milk poured over it. The Ice was in a large block and he shaved off the amount for each glass with a tool similar to a carpenters plain. The ice was kept from melting by covering it in Saw Dust or Bagasse.
Every village had a house with a “Dress Making Done Here” sign. Mr. Wiltshire, the lighthouse keeper, was a bespoke tailor who made men’s jackets and trousers.
Mrs. Hinkson and her daughters ran a shop in Blades Hill. They supplied everything from food, hardware, bicycle parts, cane bills (local name for a cutlass used for cutting cane) and many other items. My Mother brought cloth, buttons & zips here when she wanted to make a new dress. As soon as we got Easter holidays we rode our bikes there to get kite paper and string. Mrs. Hinkson was also the person you went to if you got a cut or infection. She would bandage it and you will be soon back at work.
Other shops were Fogarty in Blades Hill and Blades in Marley Vale. In Well House was The Handy Dandy and Lloyd Alleyne.
Mr. Hutchinson, at Ragged Point, had a mill to grind corn to make Corn Meal, the main ingredient in Cou-Cou. There were Blacksmiths forges at River Plantation, with a hand operated Bellows, and another one at the bottom of District C Hill.
“Bob” Reece was the Factory Manager and weather forecaster for the island. He accurately forecasted the arrival of Hurricane Janet in 1955. He instructed the factories and plantations to close and everyone was to return home and prepare for it. He saved many lives. We spent the hurricane, with the Roach and Atwell families at Fortescue.
Mr Reece built a Helicopter. I remember it hovering about a meter but I do not think anyone was brave enough to go any higher. He was a pilot and entertained us by doing loops and flying low over the fields. One evening when the plane landed it came to a stop on the runway. When the authorities went to it he was dead.
He also built what was probably the first solar water heater. He designed it after the electrical one blew up one night demolishing his bathroom and part of his roof.
There was a house with a home built wind turbine in Bayfield. ( If anyone knows who lived there please let me know). Grant Weeks lost his foot in an accident in the factory. He had one made and continued working for many years.
Mr. Gooding lived in Four Roads and freighted cane with his Chestnut horse to Foursquare Factory. After he unloaded the cart he went to Phyllis Mayers Bread Shop where he had a drink and fed his horse a salt bread.
Consett Bay, Skeets Bay, Little Bay, The Crane and Foul Bay each had a fleet of fishing boats and the catch was sold on the beach. This provided work for the boat builders. Sea Eggs were legally sold, wrapped in Sea Grape Leaves, in every month with an R in it. Including ARgust. Eating raw Sea Egg roes would put lead in your pencil.
After the 1970 Crop Three Houses and three other factories were closed as part of the consolidation of the Sugar Industry. This made the cost of grinding and processing the cane cheaper. It greatly increased the cost of transporting cane from East Point, River, Golden Grove, Wiltshire, Fortescue, Palmers, Bath and the surrounding areas. Animal drawn carts, which transported mainly the small holding canes, could not travel the extra distance. In 1973 another war in Middle East resulted in the increase cost of fuel. These growers soon ceased production.
The same thing happened to Springvale and surrounding estates when Haggatts, and Bruce Vale closed and canes had to be transported up hill to either Haymans or Andrews.
In 1970 there was no legal requirement to pay the workers severance payment. Errol Barrow was Prime Minister and he passed the severance payment law and back dated so that the owners had to pay everyone for the time they worked before the factory was closed.
Between 1949 and 1970, with the exception of 1969 (138,512 Tons) Barbados produced over 150,000 tons of sugar every year. Since then there has been a steady decline in the production of sugar. This year we will be lucky to make 5,000 tons of sugar.
I cannot understand why they closed Three Houses and kept both Carrington and Foursquare working, which were only 1Km or so apart
The consequence of this was the reduction of employment and money circulating in the area. Many of the shops closed. The next generation, armed with secondary and University education, sought easier work in Bridgetown. Those who were self-employed now had to work for others. It was the end of an era.
Today the residents of St. Philip spend 1 hour twice a day commuting the 20Km to and from work in Bridgetown. Most of their salary goes in taxes and bank loans.
Click on individual photos for a full description. These are from the Burton family collection.
Three Houses. You can click on the thumbnail image to see a larger image with captions.
[br] I wish to thank Ronnie Burton, Carson Don-Lorde and David Marshall for help in writing this article.
Much more that can be added to this short essay. If you have any knowledge of people or events please add them to the comments, or contact me. It is important that this history is kept for the future … whatever that may be.
Other articles on St. Philip
- St. Philip, Barbados in the 1950’s & 1960’s. Growing up in Wellhouse and Marley Vale in the 1960’s
- Abandoned Lime Kiln at Ragged Point, Barbados
- The Wreck of the SV Nordenskjold
- Keeping fish fresh before refrigeration
- The Bottom-up boulder between Bottom Bay and Harry Smith Beach
- Scientific Studies of Coral Rock
- Boer Camp Pasture – St. Philip
- Ben’s Spring
- Memorials to Departed friends
- High Altitude Research Project (HARP)
- Three Man Well – Woodbourne Valley
- Samuel Weatherhead (1756 – 1816)