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Mr Peter Cyril

Peter Leonard Cyril was born in Ravine Poisson, St Lucia. His family name was Phulgence but it was left off his birth certificate. He moved to Newport in 1961 and, after failing to find work as a printer, worked on the railways for 30-plus years.

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Growing up in St Lucia



Orphaned at three months, he was brought up by his grandmother and cousin.



He attended an all-boys school and was good at cricket, football and table tennis.



While he was still in school he was sent to learn to make jewellery.



One of the popular pastimes was ‘liming’ – sitting on fences and sharing a beer with friends.



Peter played in a steel band and played at many carnivals, including at J’ouvert, a colourful and popular street party, and Road March.  His band would dress as biblical characters, making their own costumes.



Encountering racism in Newport



A time-served printer, Peter expected to find a job easily in Newport. He’d worked on two St Lucia newspapers – The Crusader and The Voice – so didn’t anticipate any problems in the UK.



There was a job going at a local newspaper, but when he arrived for an interview the employer expressed shock that a Black man had turned up.



Undeterred, he found another job, only to have the whole workforce refuse to work with him.



Determined to find work, he applied for a post in London but this time it was the Union who displayed racism.



Arriving in the UK



Two months after marrying Vernester, Peter left his young wife behind to come to the UK – she followed two months later.



He travelled from St Lucia to Barcelona by boat and through Europe to Le Havre by train. The final leg of his journey was by ferry.



The couple chose to settle in Newport because Vernesta’s aunt was already living in the Welsh town.



Peter’s first impression of the UK was that houses were packed very closely together and looked like cages.



Language



Peter’s Créole-speaking grandmother only used English occasionally, but he grew up fluent in both languages.



His intended middle name was Cyril and his true surname was the French name, Phulgence; however when Peter’s uncle went to register his birth, the Catholic priest didn’t write Phulgence on the paperwork.



This wasn’t unusual. Surnames were often changed in St Lucia and many Indian families adopted English names so their children could attend the Catholic school.



Maintaining links with the Caribbean



Peter and his wife Vernester have returned to St Lucia several times, where their Creole comes in useful to avoid being charged tourist rates at the market.



They still eat Caribbean food including curried goat, fish and stewed chicken and still listen to calypso music, including Peter’s favourite calypsonian, the Might Sparrow.


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