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Mr Linford Isaacs

Linford Isaacs was born in 1935 in a little village called Craig Head in the parish of Manchester, Jamaica. His family was of Jewish origin. Linford is popularly known as ‘Fred’ or ‘Ferdie’. He has vivid dreams, which he always records.

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A Jamaican childhood

Fred remembers a happy, carefree childhood filled with swimming, cricket and roaming freely with his friends and cousins.

He came from a very close family where the importance of kindness and sharing were emphasized. His father Samuel was a farmer and handyman, who could turn his hand to anything. 

His mother taught him how to cook and clean and iron. She took him to the riverside to show him how to wash clothes on a stone and hang them out on the leaves to dry. 

Like most children back then, Fred went to school bare-footed; however, his teacher [he remembers her being like the snobby Mrs Bouquet from the British television ‘Keeping Up Appearances’] forbade her young charges from entering the school with dirty feet and would give them ‘a hiding’ if their feet weren’t clean enough.

The children loved the snowball cart – a solid block of ice from which pieces were chipped off and placed in a glass with syrup.

Coming to the UK

Fred sailed from Jamaica on the Arosa Star’s maiden voyage in 1958 – he was just 22 when he left everything he had ever known.

The £75 voyage was frequently frightening; with waves so high that Fred often expected them to engulf the ship. On the whole, Fred enjoyed the twelve-day journey though and thought the Jamaica passengers were well looked-after by the German crew. One of the stewards shared his first name – Fred – and took good care of the young Jamaican. 

The Arosa Star docked at Southampton on a sunny August day and Fred caught a train to Newport. 

He remembers the train passed a white horse carving in Wiltshire and being impressed by its size.

Early days in Newport

Fred’s sister Eulah and her husband James White were already living in Newport so it seemed natural for him to go to Wales.

He found work on the railways for £6 a week, first as a sweeper and then as a tube cleaner. It was horrible, dirty work, which involved Fred squeezing his body through an arch to reach the steam engine.  Once inside, his job was to scrape the ashes off the clinkers.

In 1958, there were very few Caribbean people living in Newport and many locals were openly racist about taking in Black lodgers, so it was fortunate that Fred was able to move straight into a house in Raglan Street, Pill, with his brother and other Caribbean friends. He paid £1 a week for a bed and shared a room with three others.

It was Fred who ‘kept’ [held] the first reggae party in Newport – selling bottles of beer bought at cost [9d] from Simonds Brewery on Dock Road to partygoers at a profit [1/-].  The reggae records were played on Fred’s brand new radiogram, which had to be plugged into an overhead light bulb socket.

London

In 1961, Fred decided to move to London. His young family followed soon after and Fred and Phyllis married in the capital in 1963.

The couple had a three-tier wedding cake costing £12 – one tier was sent to Jamaica, one to Barbados (Phyllis was Bajan) and the last tier back to Wales for family who hadn’t been able to attend their wedding. Their musical wedding album was £15

Phyllis didn’t like living in London so the couple soon returned to Newport where their second child Angeline was born in 1965.

Back in Newport

Fred soon found work in the new Spencer Works, but the work on the coke over was just as dirty and hot as the railways. It was also dangerous – on several occasions Fred burned his beard.

The Silver Sands

It was Fred’s sister Eulah and her husband James White who set up the now legendary Silver Sands restaurant at 155 Commercial Road, Pill in the early 1970s.

Mrs White, as she was generally known, was working as a cook at Llanwern steelworks and her husband had a job at Uskmouth Power Station.

The Silver Sands was the first Caribbean restaurant to open in Newport – and Fred was responsible for its name [Silver Sands is the name of a beach in Barbados].

The restaurant was on the ground floor, with a bar on the second floor and dancing in the basement. The living accommodation was on the top floor.

Visitors enjoyed chicken, rice and peas, fish, roast beef and curry then danced to Calypso, blue beat and rumba. 

Despite its popularity with people of all nationalities – including the merchant seamen arriving at Newport Docks – the Silver Sands was a regular target for police raids, including some with police dogs.

Fred believed the raids were discriminatory and wanted to get in touch with the Daily Mirror, however back then, there was no law against racial harassment. His brother-in-law also thought it would make things worse if they publicised what was happening. 

The Silver Sands finally closed after an incident when two policemen claimed they had caught the restaurant selling drinks after hours.  Fred said the allegation was untrue, but James White was subsequently fined £40 for selling alcohol after hours.

Soon after it lost its licence, the Silver Sands closed. Newport’s Caribbean community – and music-lovers from all backgrounds  – had lost their meeting place for good. 
 

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