Memories of Stoke-on-Trent and North Staffordshire’s Caribbean Community
Wednesday 19th October 2011 - Stoke-on-Trent Film Theatre.
The film Caribbean Voices got it’s premier tonight at Stoke-on-Trent’s Film theatre. The film which is the brainchild of local woman Monienne Stone.
As the public arrived they were entertained by the Lyrical sounds of Volcano Lava Man whilst they mingled and took refreshments.
The Film Theatre was full when Ray Johnson introduced the film, stating this was actually a preliminary screening, and that the whole project was still currently in an unfinished state. He told the public that the project had received some funding from the BBC, and that one of the conditions of the funding was that the finished film needed to contain archive footage. Just as well then that Ray Johnson has access to reels and reels of Stoke-on-Trent’s history captured on film.
He went on to explain that the aim of the film was the marrying of new interview footage, with the old archive footage to give context to the stories being told. The other major aim of the film was to create a new archive of footage featuring Stoke’s Caribbean community.
The film began and we were introduced t0 several prominent characters from Stoke-on-Trent’s Caribbean Community.
Lorna told the ironic story of how it was Enoch Powell who went to the Caribbean to encourage people to come to work in England. Later of course, he was to find notoriety for his “Rivers of Blood” speech, which called for repatriation of immigrants from the West Indies.
Lorna went on to tell how her mother had come from Jamaica to work as a nurse, gradually working her way up in the job, she went on to become deputy matron in the hospital in Walsall. Lorna told of her first memories of Stoke-on-Trent and the nights out at “The place” nightclub. As the film showed archive footage of the famous reggae nights that used to be held there. Today Lorna runs her own Hat company called Elite Headwear
Hyacinth Stone first came to Stoke from London, she stayed with her aunt, and had a variety of jobs. She told how friendly the people of the Potteries were towards her compared to people in London.
“People would practically take you where you wanted to go, when you asked for them directions”.
William Nelson told of a hard life in Jamaica working in the plantations. He came here in 1955. Mr Nelson recounted how his father had plenty of money saved up at that time, due to saving his wages whilst working in America . After his father returned to Jamaica Mr’s Nelson’s father wanted to try England. They came to London first. Mr Nelson, came straight to Stoke on the Train and was working in Shelton Bar Steel works a few hours later the same day. Describing discrimination in the workplace, he told of how, at first no one at work would talk to him, he described it as the loneliest time of his life. His workmates nicknamed him “Moonshine”.
Maurice Williams told of how the Queen came to Jamaica to promote the U.K as the place to come and work. He, like many other Jamaicans at the time thought that England was paradise, so thought he’d take a chance. He described the way school children were taught in Jamaica..to think as England as the “Mother Country”.
After arriving in 1957 Thinking that the streets were paved with gold he recalled that one day it was so bitterly cold in Burslem one day….that it made him cry and he thought ..”what have I done?”. He took his first job in Stoke down the pit at Sneyd Colliery.
Harry Nicely came to England in 1962, he headed to Birmingham first, but having friends in Stoke on Trent he made the move to the Potteries in 1963 . Mr Nicely worked at the Michelin tyre company or 30 years. He recounted how at one point, he and his wife were both working different shifts, he and his wife were “like ships that pass in the night”. Later in life he became painter and decorator, getting involved in community work he took on the roles of Youth Warden and community leader.
Talking about the riots that spread across English cities in the 80s. He worked with government agencies to help calm things down with local youths. Following this, he and his colleagues pushed the LEA to provide premises for a Youth Centre in Cobridge. They managed to secure a Local government grant for a place in cross Heath and then later moved to Cobridge. The money they had received was just enough to purchase the premises but not enough to carry out essential repairs.
They worked tirelessly to raise money to refurbish the place but before the renovation could begin, the building was set on fire by arsonists. Luckily a company needed such a site and paid £100,000 for the site which enable the community to buy the Cobridge Community Centre which opened in 1991.
Amos Mullings arrived in September 1960. He got a job a few days later. He was a trained builder in Jamaica, but the people at the Labour exchange told him there was a colour bar in the Construction Industry, so he went to work in the mines. His wife Claudette Mullings Came from Westmoreland Jamaica. She came to England as a trained dress maker. Fancying a change she worked at Several local companies. Wires and cables, and then mr Kiplings Bakery and Johnson tiles in stoke.
Local Musician Legendary Lonnie. is not from the Caribbean, he is a White Englishman, who had a hit with “Wineglass Rock”. He recalled how his friend Payton Morris who lived on Sheppard st, Stoke began playing guitar together. Panton would use a beer glass on the strings to create a Slide Guitar effect. Lonnie recals how he thought that his friend “Should have been a big star”.
The film went on to feature some of Stoke’s famous black sons.
Former Lord Mayor Doug Brown who’s father came to England from Ghana had a short feature. Doug Trained as a physiotherapist during WW2, helping injured soldiers, Later in life she became a physio for Stoke City under their famous manager Tony Waddington. Later on he went on to start the famous football groups, Lads and Dads and Match Mate.
Archive footage showed former England Goalkeeper, Gordon Banks training youngsters at the old Victoria Ground. Banks was explaining that he was hoping for big things from some of the local lads. A very young Garth Crooks featured, showing an admirable amount of modesty in his aspirations. Other famous Black Stoke players featured in the film such as Mark Chamberlain and George Berry.
The Reverend Radcliffe Henry told how when he first came to Stoke there were no black churches around and sometimes you were not welcomed in White churches. He..began by delivering bible studies in people’s homes whilst looking around for a place to worship. After finding a building for worship he eventually managed managed to buy the building and begin long term renovations.
Pamela and Mike Dokerty were appalled at some of the living conditions black people were facing in Stoke-on-Trent, so set up a company to assist the housing situation for black people in the city. They researched to prove to the Council that there was a need for a black led housing association. After getting approval Pamela and Mike Founded the Blue Mountain Housing Association.
Shifting it’s focus from the older generation, the film featured Hughie Lawrence of norsaca. Mr Lawrence spoke of the events that Norsaca and CCCA work have done for old and young alike such as the Youth Club; POW (Peoples of the World) , the Luncheon Club, Computer Club and the Six Towns – One City Carnival. throughout the film the theme of unity was promoted stating that these organisations are open to everyone, and the upshot is that everyone is working together with no regard for colour.
After the film I caught up with some of the Audience, and participants to get their reaction.
Speaking to the Organiser Miss Monienne Stone, I asked her what motivated her to create such a film.
She tole me that she had always had an interest in documentaries and had been frustrated that there seemed to be no archive footage of Stoke on Trent’s African Caribbean Community. She wanted to address that issue, and plans to continue filming to add to the archive for the 50th anniversary of Jamaican independence.