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Mrs Iris Cave

Back-a-Yard

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Iris Cave was born in Grenada in 1923. An only child, she grew up surrounded by her extended family in Windsor Forest, St David’s, where her grandmother ‘Mother Jule’ delivered most of the village babies.

Growing up in Grenada

It wasn’t that the young Iris minded going to school, just that she was happier climbing mango trees, fishing, planting vegetables and soaking sugar cane.

Deliberately getting soaked in a downpour was a good ploy – most children only had one school dress and no parent would send their child to school the next day in wet clothes. 

Her family was hardworking, loving but strict, but a good look from her policeman father or her grandmother was sufficient to stop her in her tracks. 

Her village was lush and green, with cocoa trees. Food was plentiful, with most of it coming straight from the garden or from the local river.

Potatoes, carrots, peas, pumpkin, black-eyed peas, gungo beans and calloloo were just some of the homegrown crop, which were added to meat and crayfish. Iris’s own favourite was ‘all in one’ a soup with peas, vegetables and bits of meat.

At Christmas, the family would get a cow or a pig to kill and cook it outside in a brick oven.

Mother Jule

With her own mother away working on Trinidad, Iris was left in the capable hands of her grandmother, Mary Duncan, the village midwife widely known as Mother Jule.

Mother Jule delivered her first baby at sixteen and worked as a midwife for many years, attending many births in the area. She carried around a large bag stuffed with various paraphernalia, making local children to believe she was carrying a real baby inside and prompting them to call out ‘Mother Jule, bring a baby for me’.

Mother Jule might have become the first matron in Grenada had she been about to read or write. As it was, she was unwilling for one of her children to attend to the written requirements of the job, so she continued in her village midwife role.

Slavery

Back in the 1930s, most children were left to pick things up as they went along and there was little mention of slavery. 

Occasionally, when Iris was walking through the bushes, she would find a piece of old rope or chain and realise that it must be the chain they used to chain slaves.  It was only when she came to the UK as an adult, however, that she learned more about slavery on Grenada and how so many slaves had perished in their fight for freedom.

Moving to Trinidad

Iris’s mother – Monica – had moved to Trinidad in the early thirties to find work as a cook, leaving her young daughter in the capable hands of Mother Jule. She travelled on the ill-fated Island Queen, which was later to sink without trace in 1944 with the loss of 67 people.

Iris left school at about sixteen, and spent a couple of years being taught to sew by two local seamstresses.

In 1944, she left Grenada to join her mother in Trinidad.  Iris immediately loved her new home where she saw trains, trolley buses and tramcars for the first time.

Shop jobs were difficult to find, so Iris went into domestic work.

Grenada – island of spices

Most islanders with a plot of land had a nutmeg tree or two growing on it and most were eager to sell whatever fruit they could for export.

Grenada might have been one of the top nutmeg producers in the world, but there were no nutmeg factories on Grenada in the 1930s and so the nutmeg was shipped elsewhere to be ground and dried.

Iris recalls nutmeg being boiled up with a piece of ginger and used to bring a high temperature down.

Cinnamon and cloves were other popular Grenada spices.

Coming to the UK

Iris backed her husband’s decision to come to the UK in 1961 and followed him by sea eight months later. The excitement on the ship was tangible with regular parties on the upper deck.

Iris loved Newport from the moment she arrived – a nice, small town with a good provisions market and plenty of shops.

Her husband was a builder and his first contract was with McAlpine who were building the vast Spencer Works in Newport (Llanwern Steelworks).

The couple bought a house in Tunnel Terrace and Iris found work at Crompton Batteries and later at the Royal Gwent Hospital where she remained until retirement.

The importance of religion

Iris was brought up as a Roman Catholic.

Harvest was a favourite time when the whole community would gather to raise money for the church, bringing homemade produce like coconuts, vegetables and cakes. Ice cream was churned in an old tin can and sold in a little glass for a halfpenny.

During her early days in the UK, Iris was too busy with work to attend church. She knew Mother Jule would not be impressed so around Easter one year, she plucked up the courage to go back and is now a regular at St Michael’s church in Pill.

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