A welcoming West Indian tradition

A welcoming West Indian tradition
by Emma Midgley
BBC Berkshire Reporter

West Indian Living Room
The West Indian living room contained family photographs and items

A place to display souvenirs, read the bible or socialise with friends: for many West Indians in the 60s and 70s their front room was a precious space.

A typical West Indian front room was on display in the town of Reading, southeast England during Black History Month celebrations in the UK.

The exhibition showed how important a single room in the house could be to the Caribbean community.

The front room became a place in which the family’s most treasured possessions were kept.

‘Best’ furniture

It included the most advanced hi fi, the family radio, the “best” furniture, which was not to be used except on special occasions and treasured photographs and art work.

Sunday rituals would revolve around the room, which was only entered when visitors came by to listen to music and admire the room’s focal point of the mantelpiece and a cabinet containing prized objects.

The replica of a typical front room of the 60s and 70s was created by the West Indian Women’s Circle in the Asantewa House in Fobney Street, Reading.

Family fotographs in the Front Room
Photographs of family members were often on display

Speaking to BBC Radio Berkshire’s Louise Chandler as she looked around the exhibition, Sherwin Springer, a volunteer from the West Indian women’s circle said the room evoked many memories.

“This is a 674 Murphy radio,” she said: “These radios had medium wave and long wave in those days.

“There was Jim Reeves and Glenn Miller, or West Indian music.

“At home this was the radio they used to listen to on Sundays.

“The radiogram, that was something the dad operated.

“Ours had a glass bit where the records were stored. It was kept spick and span.

“This radio I think is more than 60 years old.”

Visitors only

The room also featured the home’s best furniture, often covered in plastic to keep it good as new.

“We didn’t have the plastic on ours,” said Sherwin, “You would have the beautiful cushions you didn’t use to sit on. Even now I have cushions and I tell people “don’t sit on the cushions!”

“In those days the sofa cost quite a lot of money. The only time we got to go in there was when visitors came.”

Family fotographs in the Living Room
Treasured objects adorned the room

The focal piece of the West Indian living room was the mantelpiece, often decorated with a mirror and photographs.

Sherwin said: “The rest of the house was the place that you lived in.

“The front room was a very special room where our parents had all their memories.

“A lot of people had left their families behind to come to this country.

Precious memories

“To go in that room, where they maybe had a picture of their mum or their dad, or even their siblings they had left behind, was very precious.

“In those days photos were very scarce, so to have photographs cost quite a lot of money.

The mantelpiece was the focal point of the room

“It was about keeping the family together.”

Sherwin said: “I asked people what they remembered about the front room.

“People said things like “What I remember about the front room is how we had to clean it. We never had the chance to sit in it.

“Other people said they went in it to read their bible.

“You couldn’t eat in the front room, it had all the best china, all the wedding photographs.

“It was just a special room in the house.”

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