Carlton Peets. Windrush Cymru: Our Voices, Our Stories, Our History, 2019

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Transcript of an oral history interview with Carlton Peets, discussing his experience of growing up within a family which migrated from the Caribbean during the 1950s. Carlton Peets was born in St Kitts. His parents were sugarcane workers. He was 20 years old when he settled in Cardiff. At the age of twenty, Carlton Peets remembers flying from St Kitts to Antigua then on to Trinidad where he caught a boat set for Southampton, UK.
Date of interview: 26 September 2019.
Length of interview: 54:38

My name is Carlton Peets and I was born in St. Kitts which is the best island in the Caribbean on 16th November. My mother was Vivian Peets and my father was Ezekiel, which is also my middle name.  At the time there wasn't much jobs for people of their education. My mother used to raise cane and my father cut them.  I have four sisters and one brother, I am in the middle, the fourth of the six. Growing up in St. Kitts I was very, very happy. We have everything, sports, go to the mountain and do everything boys do. 
I liked school, not at first. When I started, I used to like going down to see water, and once my sister came to look for me. I didn’t feel like going to school, so she get a dry cane because we had a lot of sugar cane in St. Kitts, one field was barren and she took up one of those and everytime she walks and catches up to me it is a lash and, unfortunately my classroom was outside the school, and then I turn round the corner to find my class outside, and I start drying my eyes because I don’t want them to know I get licks to go to school.  I went in to school, my sister knew the teacher and my sister said ‘Clarice, could you mark him present for me?’ , and she said ‘sure yes I will’, and then at recess time just as everybody was moving out, she called me back and she said ‘Your sister didn’t sell ,you out you know so do so as she says’  as she put a hand across my forehead and she wipe off the salt, that when you wipe off the salt, you know you was down the sea, because it  has left it’s mark and I won't mention you, she tells me as a teacher, but she said next time you run away from school again without any permission, I will sort you out myself. That was nice…

After that morning first person in school was me. Until I reached seven standard then, well I used to do what they called gardening and then go to school, so my boss was a white man named Mr Barr.  This is when I'm going to school, go to work in the morning, a little garden just water the plants and pick out the little weeds, because if you pick them out every day you won’t have much to do. So I water the garden and go to school in the morning and then after school you go back in the afternoon and ended it by sending mistress fall in love with me so they give me everything, they used to treat me like their own son, or children because they had three children. I was one of the Barr’s.


I didn’t have much of a dream about growing up, but I know for a fact I wasn't going into cane field to work, because my mother raise them and my father cut them. There's no place there for me.  Cutting the cane was a very hard job, and they wasn't paid the right rate and everything through politics and so on, and let me tell you what the man who was in charge was a blacker man than me, he was really black, and he was in charge of everything.  Negotiation with our Prime Minister, Robert Llewellyn Bradshaw.
At that time St. Kitts was very segregated, we never used to see black people working in a bank, and so on. And if you want a high job, working for government, you had to go to grammar school, which was the highest school in the land.  So unless you go to grammar school  you can’t get a good job so you have to take a menial job.  It wasn't easy for black children to go to grammar school. If you were bright enough and you could pass the entrance fee, like  your parents will have to pay for you, like me, I could have passed the entrance fee, but my head teacher Mrs Williams went and asked my father, could he afford to, because one of his cousins was paying for one of his sons to go to same school, and he said no. Well, just like with most West Indian fathers they forget that their children grow up and he said no. I tell Miss Williams go to my mother, a bit cheeky, but she wasn’t going to do it. She was a bit gutted, but… a friend of mine who was in the same class,  he went to grammar school because he passed,  and another friend of mine went to convent school and that one became an engineer, and the other one was a chief accountant in one of the banks in St. Kitts,  and me just left behind.  So that's why, after I got that job and the man told me to go and sell myself, I make, I said to myself no way I am not looking at more work, I’m not filling out nothing. I was caretaker supervisor and then was in charge of the cleaners and so on. But there was a lot of prejudice in that as well, this was just before I came here. I used to work in the Batter [?] shoe store. I used to make sure got shoes past the warrants and get the shoes out of the customs and things like that. And then I had somebody else, another friend of mine who used to clean out the store.


It was a tough decision to come to the UK for a start, if it was left of my mother, I wouldn’t be here, but 2 of my sisters was here, my older sister. I had a choice, she was going to send for me or I could get a job down the health centre as the sanitary inspector. I would have got that job because it was already earmarked for me, because through friends and so on, I was a nice boy growing up, some elderly people who know the man they tell him, a good word, a very good word. So it was like this whichever come first at the end of the month. If the money come first, which I explain to the man Mr Buchanan who was in charge, If the money come first before the end of the month I will be going to England. If it don't, I won't be going to England. I will take the job and, unfortunately, or fortunately, the money came first, and then I came to my sister.
Before coming, you always hear England do this England is that, everyone was saying England is paved with gold, streets are paved with gold and all that sort of nonsense, but then when you look at West India readers what they used to send for us,  is because you are going up, pushing people pushing, go up the ladder instead of going up on the roof to cut the grass well, they was fooling us and then they get some West Indian book I think it is a visual English book, and that was a different scenario to your West Indian books.
That was the English teaching, and yes we were still a colony. I came on a British passport, I was British and I still put down British up to now.  I flew from St. Kitts to Antigua and then from Antigua to Trinidad and then caught the boat in Trinidad, there was about 20 of us from St. Kitts that day. A woman she had about six children with her, and me and my friends and so on. I can’t remember the name of the boat, I tried to look for it but I can’t remember rightly so I won’t tell you.  The most I can remember about the journey is when we were in Trinidad and we had a good time in Trinidad. We went up and around the place, and because there was a few more boys joined from Dominica with us in Trinidad. We used to have some good times, there was this woman on the boat she could speak Spanish, she knew me as well, she knew my parents, so if I say I don’t feel like chicken today, I feel like fish today and she would order whatever I asked her to. So, the crew were Spanish speaking, but they could speak English as well.
It was a happy journey because especially this fellow from Dominica, we supposed to below deck, but he carry out upon the top deck and everything and foolish me follow him.  Even though we know we were wrong or not supposed to be up there, we still going.I was around 20 years old. We landed in Madrid in Spain and then my friend is leaning over the railing of the ship - we were going to come from Spain to come to Cardiff by train, no we come from Spain to Southampton- and then you see some people,  Spanish women,  they were more or less dressed in black as well, and when you see them speaking you see like steam coming out of their mouths.  I was telling my friend ‘look at them, steam coming out of their mouths’ and he said ‘you too!’ I said, ‘you too!’ It was winter, February I came. I was wearing a cardigan that I brought from home, but that was only for a style really, because you don't need them, so luckily I walked with it. I think it was red, white and black.


First impressions of Britain, we stayed on the ship and then we came to Southampton and we landed in Southampton. Well, me all on my own. I don't know nobody so I asked a man, luckily  he was very polite or kind and he said ‘I’m going up there I will drop you up the road. In hindsight now, I think I was taking a chance because I don’t know the people, I don't know the place, so he could go anywhere with me because he was a man and I was a boy so you know, I took the chance, but everything work out in the end and he said if you don't know what to do, ask any one of those people they’re black, meaning like the porters on the railway.
Then I came  to Cardiff because my sister was there. It’s thought my own father is one half pay for her so I wouldn’t like to elaborate too much on that part of it. But let's say for convenience our father sent for us.  He was here already, but nobody was waiting for me, I had to find my way from the train station to South Church Street.  On my way almost out of the train station, my brother and brother- in law turn up. So we walked down the back canal then come down the back and the first person I met was a friend of Keller. He was much older than me and he used to on the grammar school pasture that we play sport and so, and Sunday school time coming up and we don't go, he caught us, come on  boy go to Sunday school, you have to go to Sunday school but then when I look he has the big large cigarette in his mouth and I thought  you don't do those sort of things as Christians. He said boy, it’s a different story over here you know.  He was from St. Kitts as well and he was a good cricketer too.  You could say I learned from him, and I found the transition easy yes, because you know, it was okay for me because nobody really used to bother me and I had a friend. His brother was here as well, a guy called Dexter, we were from the same religion, so I had a friend so we could correspond with each other.

I had to work, as soon as I come I have to get the first job I could, But I won’t go into details as it might be embarrassing for somebody else.  At the time it was not easy to get a job, the only job you will get will be a factory job because my brother-in-law was working for the post office  and I apply for a job down there and they told me they would let me know. I'm still waiting for them to let me know. About a year or so ago I found the letter, and in vexation I ripped it up. I said ‘look they are supposed to let me know’.  I didn’t have too many jobs, but those that I really went for I got. The first job I refused was a place named John Williams over East Moors and the place they want me to work, with the vacancy, is a place they called the Knockout.  It is like a furnace. I just come from the West Indies, I am hot already, so I said’ no thanks’  I went to the super oilfields and  got the job there.  Then, after about 11, 12 years or so, I pack up super oilfields and went to the skill centre where I learnt welding. After about a year or so, the place I was in Meisens they used to make radiators and they fold up, so then I wasn’t working for nearly 2 years and then I used to come to the centre often, and the area tutor named John Greenslade this morning he see an application in the Western Mail and he got one for me and he said to me ‘here, fill out the form’,  This was for the Council housing department. I did apply for different jobs and I passed them,  but especially the last one was over at Nelson House. Now some university people did apply as well but some of them was too qualified, so I got the job because I had the best specifications out of the rest, but what do you think happened. My boss, Bronwen Lloyd, she give it to one of her friends. A woman named Nan, who used to work in the Old People's home and I start to protest. I see Rita Austin, she was a councillor. I went to see her and she said ‘Oh you’ve got a water tight case there no problem.’  I come back and I told my wife  and she start crying,  and she said we might have repercussions and then what’s going to happen to us,  and this and that,  and I said alright, no problem. I just continued and I forgot about it, then the person who got the job, she couldn’t spell concierge, and she asked me and she was supposed to get my job. And then I apply same housing, same manager Bronwen Lloyd, to be a cashier, pick up rent and so on and she turned me down, she gave it to another fella which is white and that white person turned around, take the money and run.  Then she get another student who went to University,  and she asked when this student is absent or didn’t come in she asked me to go to the cashier desk until one day, I decided enough is enough and when she asked me … I won't tell you what I tell her. Working was always a bit of a challenge.

My wife was born in Nevis but she went to St. Kitts to live with her father but I didn’t know her until I come here. There was a big Caribbean community in Butetown at the time. Well, what they told me is the council moved them out. When they started developing the docks they put them all out, to different estates. Like, a lot went to Ely,  some to Llanrumney, some went to Trowbridge and so on. Because all that side developed before the docks area. 
The main challenges faced here, I don’t know how to explain, but I know that I was lucky in a sense, because we formed a cricket team.  When I came here first they had a Bajan cricket team called the Spartans. I was two years with the Bajans and then me and my brother-in-law use to live in South Church St and it was right by the church, and a club named Combine  was having a meeting because it was just forming as well, and they invite me, and I joined and I played for Combines and we get a few more Kittitians and the guys who formed it was more or less Kittitians. We get a good side, put it that way and we used to beat everybody, and then we didn't have much more challenges so some of us walk away and then we had a better team, better club we called it Progressive and Progressive was a team from St Kitts.  That’s why we give it that name.  Some of the Bajans who  was in Spartans and so on came and joined us.  I was the club Treasurer Secretary, and I was lucky enough to meet Donna Labour,  she came from St. Kitts, she is in London now.  She used to work, she and my wife, for David Morgans and then she started working for the Bay, Cardiff Bay. And every year I used to get grants for the cricket club and so on. So it was successful, and then I was the first black man to get a cricket pitch for our club, over Fitzalan.  The head of Cardiff Bay at the time was a man named Mr Inkin, and he liked cricket so he used to go down there, and we would talk and talk and talk and he’d get his people who used to work in Victoria Park,  gardening and so on – and they fix up the  pitch for us, and then some people in other parts at the club think they know it all. And once they think they know it all, I leave it all to them and I pull away.  But as I said, you can see from the trophy,  when we had a cricket club we joined Cardiff midweek league division four, and every year we promote  from 4-3-2 until we become the champions, and even before we become champion we was beating the champions.  Then we join the Morgannwg Cricket league and they put us division five and we work ourself right up to champions as well. So we had a good successful local cricket team, we won two or three trophies every year.  I played cricket in St. Kitts before I came here, but not at that scale, and I mean we mostly used to play with with tennis balls, or rubber balls.

It was very important, to have something as a community that we excelled in.  I feel very nice, but up to now, with the centre  we had a lot of problems because we used to play home and away and people used to get jealous, because at one time I had about seven or eight coaches coming in, and they used to say, this is a West Indian centre.  So we had problems with the local  councillor at the time, and the local people.  From cricket to dominoes, we are still having problems, if you notice a lot of the people, I mean I don't have to spell it out for you,  they really thinking what domino want domino gets, but we are the ones who are supporting the place all the time. I mean, you will see more domino people out there using the place. I’m not saying we spend a lot of cash, but at least we are always here. 
I remember they had one fellow used to play for us, he was from South Africa, he was a nice player and he was a nice, nice fella, educated fella,  and black people was getting so much problems they formed a black alliance and the youth centre across the road there, they called a meeting in there, and they called the councillor and the councillor tell them,  ‘tell this one fella to go back to where he came from’  I always felt like an outsider and I still do. A few years ago, when I was running the bar this fellow came in, he used to live in Angelina Street and he was a bit tipsy and as a barman you’re not supposed to sell  people more alcohol. And he called me - I won’t put it on here - but an outsider,  and I must go back to where I come from too.  One night the  same man, he fell down out in the car park, and who had to pick him up?  So these are the things.
When Chalkie White was running the youth centre, when I got married, he helped me to arrange everything, a wedding reception and he'd do everything for me and so I just get the goods and everything. I used to work here then, so the brewery gave me a keg of beer and I had at least 12 cases of beer from the ship from the West Indies, as some of the men,  we used to go down Barry and pick them up and some rum and so on, so we had a very, very good day.  We had so much, and a friend of mine cooked the curry, and everybody coming back for more curry and he calling me and saying I ain’t got no more. We had so much booze that we went back the next day, the Sunday and we was still drinking.

Nearly all as far as I understand it, West Indians who come to Cardiff, branch off from within the Bay. Nearly all as far as I know, the oldest one might come and, for instance, me and my children come to me, where I'm living now, and that’s why they don’t have so much connection within the bay. but nearly everyone have a connection in the bay. A lot of people lived in South Church Street, Loudon square,  Angelina St, Christina Street and the somebody Sophia Street and so on. They live in all different areas in the docks.
Before I left and we went back home, I had to make sure at least once a month I make sure my mother get something.  Now, my mother died in ’86. I had £30 to send for her, I didn't get to send it.  I kept it but I put it in a frame and I tell everybody else, don’t spend that money otherwise you spend the last of your life. I'm serious. That money is for my mother, I could bring the frame and show you. That was my mother's money.  I was very close to my mother.The oldest two sisters helped me out a lot and that's why some people say,no wonder you spoilt and you can’t cook. I never feel homesick because nearly  every year since I catch my feet, I go.  But sometime in a year, I feel it, I’m ready to go back. Retiring here didn't really come across my mind because time was going so fast.
I came here as British, but my identity is West Indian and I will never give up that. I feel nowhere whatsoever, but I am West Indian and I will never change that. I never really felt British, because people tell me after all these years I haven't changed my accent, and they ask me where I’m from.  I make sure I got St Kitts passport as well and my British passport. St Kitts gained independence in 1983, 19 September.  Normally the service is in Westminster Abbey, but they had it in another church St Mary Abbott. Not a celebration but the church service, I went just last week. It is a commemoration, and I will go to that every year if possible while there is breath in my body. It is important to me because it’s my island, and I ain’t giving it up for nobody. I may not be a millionaire to go back and spend all the cash, but at least I go back there and spend what ever little I have and I just love my little island.


The advice I would give my 20 year old self, put it this way, I would have worked my life different, because I would have gone, instead of going up and down the place, I would have made sure I got a better education, educate myself a bit better and go into real house estate. That is the job I think I would have liked. I was going to buy a house in Corporation Road my wife told me don't do it, as it’s a millstone round your neck or something like that. So I listened to her, but then I said to myself, um-um, I want something and then eventually where I’m living now,  I buy it. She said ‘I thought I told you we don’t want no house’ , and I said ‘I’ll tell you something missus, the only thing you can do is divorce me, because I’m going to buy the house.’  and I should have done the same thing in Corporation road, and when I bought the house and start paying for it and everything,  she couldn’t tell me anymore. I explained to her we had  something to fall back to,  as we may not be strong and all these things all the time,  so you have to have something, and then after she see a bit of common sense, but that is one time I was determined to do what I want.
I don’t have regrets, as I am glad I came over here because I could afford at the time to send something for my mother, but I always thinking to myself, and I won’t know and I don't think nobody would know for me. What would happened to me if I had stayed in St. Kitts? Would I start good or end up on drugs, or I never used to smoke cigarettes and then I would start and stop starting now. But you know different things because when I go back I see some fellas have things I did not expect them to, because at the time, not boasting, but I was a bit more clever than them, but then I don't know how they come about them. I have a nephew who is thick as three planks not two and he had a car similar to that one in Knight Rider, Kitty.
So you tell me,  I might have been following him down the road or whatever it is, because I know my friend, he had quite a few houses.  Up to now he is my good good buddy when I go back there, and we talk and everything. He had a few buses and when people charged two to three dollars he charged one. Any stop, if you went from here to the shop, it is a dollar, going from the shop or from here to the bottom of the road, or whatever it is still a dollar.  And he make a lot of money, so I could be following him as well because it is my good start, but then he got caught up in drugs big time, because I can remember one time I went to him and I was speaking and he tell me, the police raid him and he had a lot of American dollars. A lot, thousands of US dollars.  They confiscate his money due to drugs and then another time he bring a lot of money, and he get married then and he thought he put the money in his wife's name and she run away with the money.  I could have become my nephew or involved with him, so I don't know how I would have fared.

[Value of stories]

These stories are important to the younger generation.  I know my daughter for a fact when she fills out any form with ethnicity, she puts Welsh and Black. Not Caribbean or anything, she’s born here, so she’s Welsh and she’s Black. In terms of my children and grandchildren knowing our stories, well, I hope the tradition goes on. Let them know where their roots are, because I ain’t giving up my little island for nobody. So that's where I come from.  My mother suffered a lot of hard times, I remember one time, my mother working on the estate and she sent me for her money, she said everybody know you. I went, and they’re paying out.  My mothers name called so I went to the overseer, and said my mother sent me for her money.  He said ‘go away from me, your mother not getting her money this week.’ And from that water started down my eyes because it means she ain’t get the money this week, what happen to us, we ain’t gonna get no food.  I went home and I said ‘Ma, the man said no money for you this week’ and my mother started to cry. I won’t go into details here.. so my sister told me the reason why because my mother won't tell me,  and is only about , my sister died last year and she told me the reason.  They won’t tell me.  So we meet some hard time, but see the only thing with that is my mother was a good cook, she would take two potato, three yam and dashi or something something like that and make something tasty out of it.  So that's why you couldn't starve. [recording ends mid-sentence]