Gaynor Legall. Windrush Cymru: Our Voices, Our Stories, Our History

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Transcript of oral history interview with Gaynor Legall, discussing her experience of growing up within a family which migrated from the Caribbean during the 1950s. Gaynor Legall was born in February 1950 in St David’s Hospital. Her mother was born in Cardiff, and her father was from Belize, which was known as British Honduras until it gained independence in 1981. Gaynor Legall remembers the beginning of the Tiger Bay redevelopment, which started in 1956 and saw the relocation of families from 57 different nationalities.


Interview date: 25th September 2019

Length of interview 27:07



My full name is Gaynor Antoinette Legall. My mother's name was Josephine Margarete, and my father's name was Alonzo Archibald. I was born 11 February 1950  in Cardiff actually in St David’s hospital in Cowbridge Road. I had a very happy childhood and in lots of ways , although we were very poor and were seen as underprivileged, we were very rich in other ways. So in terms of culture in terms of friendships in terms of living in a community that was cohesive and protective. We were very fortunate so I had a very happy childhood. I grew up in Butetown,  it was known as Tiger Bay when I was  a kid, and then when I left I remember my mother teaching me to write my address,  and it was 20 Nelson St,  Docks, Cardiff.


I have one brother. I went to West Coast nursery from the age of two, so the state nurseries were established during the war and then post-war children could start from the age of 2 and a half, because as a push to get women working

I loved nursery school. My brother hated it. I remember very clearly him and another boy called Alec Farah and tried to escape over the fence and it's quite funny  to go back and those things that seem right up to the sky when little was not high at all, but they got caught halfway up, but he hated it. He was a mamas boy and liked staying with  my mother.

So then I left nursery and I went to South Church St  school, and  S. Church St had recently changed from an all age School from 5 to 15, to a junior School so a lot of people called it the board school because it was run by the education board, as opposed to the church school St. Mary’s, so I started at S. Church St. I was four and a half and for the first year I think it was okay, and then after I hated every single day of that school,  I just hated it. Everything about it. I just think it was absolutely brutal. I think that’ the teachers there had been working at that school for years. In fact, some of the teachers taught my mother, and I think that they had no expectations of the kids and they ruled by brute force lots of caning, or punched in the side of your head,  that sort of thing, and I just hated it.


I remember going home one day,  I was always in trouble in school I had the cane and the last two years of every single day before school started, I had to wait outside the head teachers door and say ‘ sir I haven't done anything’  and he’d say ‘You will’  well, and so I had the cane on each hand before school started, every single day.  But I went home one day and then I said to my uncle, the teachers look at me like that, and he said to my auntie ‘You see Alice? They   look at them with contempt.’ And I thought  contempt? I was  always into words. I had a dictionary that belonged to my cousin so I looked up contempt and I thought ‘ that’s it, that’s how they see us’ with contempt you know?

In the school there were all kids from the docks, from Tiger Bay and so you were there, and you celebrated St David's Day and we were told on St David's Day,  St David's Day is tomorrow, you can wear your national dress.  I asked my mother ‘what costume can I wear?’  and she said you’re Welsh so I put on a  Welsh costume but I was dying to put on something…  That was my national dress. Some of the kids who were from Yemen did, it was the father's usually,  the father's were from Yemen, and I would have loved to have a costume I could have worn.


My mother was born in Cardiff. Her Mother was born in Cardiff. Her father was born in Jamaica, so my grandparents married in Cardiff in February 1900, so my grandfather must've left Jamaica, because he was 23 when they got married, so he’d been here a while going to sea so he must have  left Jamaica a long time ago 1800’s.  My father was from Belize which was then British Honduras, so I don't know much about my father's family. I went there in 2000, I celebrated the millennium there and met some of them, but that’s all  I know. He talked about it as paradise, when his boat came in he would take us there, but he died. He was 56 when he died so we didn’t get there.

My parents split up when I was about five. Well, yes, but he left Cardiff when I was about five. My father did a few trips but no, he wasn't a sailor,  my father was a gambler, more than anything else. My mother,  people are all surprising, I’ve only got one brother because the  house was always full of kids as my mother was a foster mother,  and not an official foster mother until quite late but my mother took kids in as they put it, so the house was always full of children and my mother used to clean offices in the early morning and then she’d come home. I cannot remember going home without food being ready or the fire lit and didn't move a cup from one place to the other,  so my grandmother used to say let  them be children they’ve  got enough  drudgery in front of them, so we didn't have to do anything and all our friends came to our house, the house was always packed.



I’m not very specific in sort of time things, but I knew I was in South Church Street school that means I was under 11, and people coming down the street and they knocked each door as they went and they’d have a suitcase, sometimes with them, sometimes  a man and a woman, and sometimes it was a woman on their own. I’ll come back to that woman on their own thing. And they’d say ‘Do you have any rooms?’  and I remember one day this woman coming and my nanna saying there is not enough room for us living  here. So I remember that. And I remember two doors from us was a house that was let out in rooms and the families that lived there were either from the West Indies as it was known, or Italian and they lived  there and one of  the women that lived there,  years later, we were talking about her, and she said they had learnt to, they would knock the door first, a woman because they wouldn't be so angry when they saw the men there. She said it wasn't like that in Butetown,  but we didn’t  know that so at least she said when she knocked on the doors that people were civil, not in other areas they just slammed the door in their face, or swore at them and told them to move away.  As I said two doors away from us because it was migration we had Italian families move in, they’d stay in rooms until they got jobs and got things, and they stayed in the rooms longer sometimes then they had two rooms and they stayed there until they could afford to move  and then in a lot of the families who came from the Caribbean got caught up in the redevelopment, which started about 1956 and the whole of Butetown,  sorry the whole of Tiger Bay was demolished under the Slum clearance act and and that's never stopped, they’ve been re-developing ever since.



But they started knocking street by street, so a lot of those families were rehoused and they ended up going into the new Estates of Llanrumney. Ely wasn't a particularly new Estate then, but Ely  was growing and they had terrible times there, as I understand it, lots of racism and stuff so yes the kids particularly didn’t have an easy time, whereas here we all stuck together so we moved in a pack type of thing so you protected one another, and it wasn't to do with the colour of your  skin, It was you were from here. If you are from Tiger Bay you are a bay boy or you are a bay girl and we stuck together and fought your  way out of trouble if need be.

It wasn't normal because migration previously been about men,  but this time it was men and their wives and mothers and fathers and their children, so the impact was different, and to see you know, Cornrows. I didn’t have my hair in cornrows, my mother could plait, she couldn’t cornrow, so to see that the kids and then ,  I talked about this the other day. The front rooms. My friend rented a room and we used to sneak in  to see what there was and my overriding memory was that there were doilies, and antimacassars  all on the settees, and there was always a coffee table - now this was one room they had -  coffee table and ornaments and as they got more affluent, so the rooms would  be fuller and fuller until they  could get another room and stuff  and that was different. So, because in Butetown you had your front room, y’know the Welsh parlour for special occasions only, not in our house because every space was  used up so we didn’t have any special front room you know,  but you had your front and you had just  certain things in it. 



So what changed to was about, there was always music and one of the items for these new arrivals is a gramophone, so gramophone caught on and  everybody had these gramophone switches. I was constantly reminded, it was a piece of furniture too, and a nice piece of furniture too.

The other thing I found was that we in Tiger Bay ate a variety of food. My theory is that these recipes, the men said I want rice and peas,  but they were married to Welsh women. They didn’t know what  it was so they  guessed,  so the dish that we ate as rice and peas  was quite different and the meats with the rice and peas was always curried, because the Arabs  ate curry and I remember going to a friends house and she had stewed chicken  and I said ‘that chicken was nice but it wasn’t curried’  so she said ‘Well how do you do it? ‘  but my grandmother used to do  the chicken like this, when you make a soup you put the chicken in to boil  that that's how we had the chicken to go with the rice and peas not browned, and stuff, and they gradually learnt that this is the proper way, because before they didn't have any body to show them the  proper way so it was a shift in culture y’know?  Not music because we always had music calypso  and stuff like that cos remember the men  went to sea and they brought back music. We always have the latest music in Tiger Bay, because of the men coming back from sea, or  some of the young girls going out with the Yanks, so we had the latest  music from America but culturally there was a change.



What was interesting as well as My grandmother used to say well look at that, they haven't been here two minutes and they can buy and sell us because they moved and bought the houses and it's only in retrospect, you know, because black people in Britain  have never had an easy time and I have this theory about institutional racism before it was called institutional racism, which is about containment and I think that's what happened to people in Butetown so our aspirations, my grandmother and mother's generation,  they didn't have an aspiration to own the  house and speaking very generally because lots of people did, but these new arrivals, the come with a hunger, they’re  here to better themselves and lots of them came from good families, as they say with professions and stuff, they weren’t going to make do with what was on offer for us and that was not understood by the black population that was here previously, so that in terms of learning as well, that aspiration was something I think that we learnt from them as well.



Quite a few people we interviewed back in the 1980s said  ‘boy things are hard and they said  boy you better go to Tiger Bay, there are good people there and they will look after you’  so it had  a reputation because they knew there was a settled community here, so they  came and they did find shelter and  quite a few families came here  with nothing and they were supported by people who their families knew back in St Kitts and Jamaica and they said look em up and they will look after you and they actually supported them by housing and feeding then until they got on their feet. So there was a welcome here and the reputation of Tiger Bay. Yes, my cousin bumped into somebody in a bar in Australia and he said  ‘Where you from?’ and he said ‘Tiger Bay’ and he said ‘Oh I’ve heard about that’ so yeah, it has a worldwide reputation.  Some of its good and some of it bad.


I think that there's a lot of discussion about identity stuff. I have created my identity, so I am Welsh. I can’t pretend anything else because when I go other places they know I'm not from there,  but I don't know how accepted I am as Welsh by the white wider  population, but I have decided that I am black, Welsh, and that is my identity, ethnic origin, and I mean if I got into all that  detail  for the for the sake of the form filling  its about it makes no sense,  So I usually put Afro-Caribbean for my ethnic origin and and I am black Welsh, there  is no nationality for it, my nationality I’m  British that’s what it says on my passport, but I have developed that, and I have developed it through questioning myself and looking around me,  looking at the society that I grew up in that I come from.  I’ve taken the values that I learned as a child, the good and the bad, actually,  but to make the best out of them and say, well, this is who I am, this is what I am you take me or leave me I really don't care,  but I am very comfortable in my own skin. The community I grew up in no longer exists, and I'm sad about that. We recreated gatherings, funerals,  dances, we recreate that when we meet, as groups of friends when we reminisce about childhood memories how many times your mother battered you and what she hit you with the regime in your house if there was one, so we recreate that, so we keep it going. But that community is very scattered and the community is no longer Tiger Bay, it’s now Butetown. I think it's become quite polarised and I think it's a shame because one of the things I didn't talk about in terms of growing up , we moved as a group I said, but in that group,  there were blacks and there were whites,  there were Arabs and there were Greeks. We went to the Greek church, we went to the Mosque school. We walked in Eid, Arab Christmas, so we learnt about some houses you took your  shoes off,  no pork in the house other houses it was Friday, they would have fish so I didn't realise that I was learning about religion and culture, but I was imbibing it just by being, just through my friends, so it taught us respect. Respect for other people, respect for  difference and for difference in religion and lifestyle, and it was very welcoming and I personally, have then, because I was interested have learnt more about the different religions I grew up in, and the different customs,


I laugh now, but I laugh now because before I used to grimace, every time I hear this word diversity. What is  that about? Sets the hairs on the back of my neck because I don't think they know what it is about. So growing up here, there were all sorts of people, good people and bad people. The first trans person I saw lived across the road from me. I was a kid and Johnny was just Johnny and when he went out every now and then he went out, he had make-up on and stuff and we used to laugh at him, and say ‘can we wear some of your lipstick?’ , but he was accepted, there were lots of people who you didn't judge people for what they did only for what they were and how they operated and I just think that's such a valuable lesson.


I would say just asking honest questions, kids, children in particular, they’re curious and you know, I would say ‘why is your hair like that?’, you tell me about it ,in an honest and open way, but I think under the name of diversity, you don't ask questions you make assumptions and you put people into that little box that fits the bureaucracy that you are operating in. I just think it’s sad they’re not with you on your journey. I think we  have become much more insular in the way we operate now and I think schools have a huge part to play in making these insular lives and they should have a big part in opening up lives, opening up the way in which children view the world as a whole, but they don’t. I’ll change the world, put the world to rights.