My Jamaican paradise on London Road, Sheffield

Barry of Barrys Bar on London Road
Barry of Barrys Bar on London Road
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Jamaica celebrates 50 years of independence this month and Sheffield is taking part in the celebrations. Rachael Clegg talks to Jamaican Sheffielders about their memories of starting new lives in the Steel City.

EUNICE Billings remembers well her very first day in Sheffield.

Eunice Billings

Eunice Billings

It was a freezing cold February 25, 1965. The city’s wintry streets were blanketed in deep, white snow - and the 30-year-old mother of three, from Clarendon, Jamaica, was dressed in her bright Jamaican summer clothes.

“I didn’t even own a coat,” she laughs. “It was so cold and damp - and I had never even seen snow before.”

Eunice, now 77, who lives near the city centre, was travelling alone. Her three children - all under the age of seven - were still at home in Jamaica with her husband and family.

But she had a friend in Sheffield who had arranged for her permit to work at the Harris Miller cutlery works.

“I was working on knives and putting the handles on - you wouldn’t realise the work that goes into a knife,” she says. “I didn’t really like it, but it was work.”

Eunice, like many other Jamaicans at that time, had travelled to Sheffield in search of a better life.

“I wanted a change of scenery and more opportunities for my children - we had to pay for them to go to school in Jamaica,” she says.

Eunice had worked on a citrus farm back home - a world away from the gritty steelworks with which she would become so familiar.

“Sheffield was so murky when I first arrived - the sky was so dark because of all the smoke,” she recalls. “I remember staying in bed really late thinking that it couldn’t be time to get up because it was so dark.”

Eunice first lived in a shared house on Cowlishaw Road at Sharrowvale.

“I couldn’t believe that people had actual fires in their homes!” she says. “I’d never dream of having a fire in my house in Jamaica - it was so warm we’d never need it.”

As English is the main language spoken in Jamaica, Eunice had no problem communicating with people when she arrived.

But the Sheffield dialect was - to a 30-year-old Jamaican - almost a foreign language. “People would say ‘thou’ and ‘thee’ and I wondered what on earth they were saying,” she says.

Added to that, in 1965, Sheffield was yet to become the multi-cultural city it is today - and race relations were far from diplomatic.

“I remember queuing in a shop to buy some boiled ham for my sandwiches at work one day.

“I was at the back of the queue but the shop assistant singled me out and everyone moved to one side.

“It wasn’t very nice.”

Eunice had left Jamaica just three years after it gained independence from Great Britain. “When we became independent in 1962 there was a huge party in Clarendon with music, a maypole and food. There was a lot of merry-making.”

Eventually Eunice’s husband and children joined her and they are all now settled here, and with families of their own.

Another Jamaican Sheffielder who made that long journey across the Atlantic was Barrington Spence, who now runs Barry’s Bar on London Road.

Barry, now 60, was just 12 - and travelling alone - when he came to Sheffield.

“My father was already here and he had a job in the steel industry,” he says today.

“I flew on my own and I remember it being quite exciting. Dad picked me up from Manchester airport as he was already settled here and he had already bought me all the clothes I needed for a life in England because we didn’t have any warm clothes, being from Jamaica.”

Since moving here as a young boy, Barrington - ‘Barry’ - has seen Sheffield change.

“Now it’s more multi-racial, much more than it was when I was a boy, although I never had any racist comments made about me even when I was young,” he says.

Barry was later joined by his mother and siblings.

Barry’s certainly happy with his lot in Sheffield, five decades after making that brave move.

“When I was a boy we watched a lot of American TV and films - that’s what a lot of kids would do in Jamaica.

“Our ideas about the world were influenced by that.

“But I would have never thought I would run my own business.

“What more could I ask for? You could pay me a million pounds and I still wouldn’t move from London Road.”

Barry, along with Eunice and many other Jamaicans in the city, will be taking part in the 50th anniversary celebrations of Jamaican independence across the city. SADACCA is running a series of events - visit or call 0114 275 3479 for details.

Jamaica factfile

Jamaica became independent in 1962.

In the 1950s and 1960s thousands of Jamaicans emigrated to the UK for ‘a better life’.

Jamaica is officially known as the Commonwealth of Jamaica.

It became an English colony in 1655.

Its main industries are agriculture, mining, manufacturing, tourism, and financial and insurance services.

It is the world’s fifth largest exporter of bauxite, the main source of aluminium.