"Belmont"

Written on 26th July, 1988
by my father, Andrew Desmond Sheppard

(transcribed from personal family memorabilia)

It was during the early sixties that my dear wife Betty and I decided to avail ourselves of an excellent opportunity.  An English-styled mansion named “Belmont” in the beautiful parish of St. John became available for rent.  It belonged to the family of the late Dr. Hanschell, whose son Michael occupied the property, where he lived with his family.  Michael was an Agricultural Scientist and he had recently been transferred or accepted an appointment to Belize.  He was in the Colonial Service.  Belmont was spacious, with seven bedrooms and two bathrooms upstairs.  Downstairs contained a front patio which overlooked the beautiful valley and beyond; a large living room and a large dining room.  At the west side entrance there was the hall reception area and in the back was the large kitchen and buttery, etc.  The house was fully furnished in antique mahogany.

In the front patio at Belmont overlooking the valley - early 1960

l/r Valerie, Sonsoles, Betty, Andrew, Carmen (with her arms around him),  Winifred Sheppard who was visiting, on her lap Frances, standing far right is Peter next to a friend.

Outside in the front was a sunken garden with a variety of flower-bearing plants.  On the western side there was an open clay-tiled patio with a building which was used as the doctor’s office and clinic.  A pitch-covered roadway separated the house from the enclosed fruit and vegetable garden within which area was housing for poultry and animals such as sheep, goats, pigs, rabbits, etc.  Behind the house was an area of land with breadfruit and other large trees.

On the eastern side of the house there was a well-kept lawn.  A wall of stone surrounded the property.  A large evergreen tree shaded the house from the afternoon sun.  The monthly rental was $160.00.   Why move from Navy Gardens to this out-of-the-way  place?  Our family was becoming larger and space was at a premium,  Also, the prospect of living in the countryside afforded our five children (at the time) to enjoy the fresh air and wide open spaces.

There was, too, the opportunity of accommodating some boarders for the nearby schools of Presentation College and Codrington High School.  The Brothers of the college were very pleased and introduced six boys to us for board, lodging and discipline.  One from Trinidad, three from St. Vincent, one Venezuelan, one American.

Miss Carter, the Headmistress of Codrington High School, sent three girls to us.  One from England one from Canada, one from St. Vincent.  Apart from these very interesting children, we further obliged the Presentation Brothers to look after little Jones who arrived penniless by air from Venezuela with a note to the Brothers promising future financial and other arrangements.  His parents were American and he worked in the oilfields in Venezuela.  We adopted Jones.  Very intelligent, good looking, cocky and ten years old.  No clothing but what he wore,  There were Sonsoles and Carmen, two beauties who were stranded at the Ursuline Convent at Christmas time and whose mother deserted them.  She was a Spanish Countess and a divorcee who seemed to travel constantly.  We also adopted Sonsoles and Carmen.  

So here we were, properly ensconced in this lovely old house, the only outer sounds being from birds and breeze.  Truly heavenly and so peaceful.

Andy and Betty and their five children, eldest 15, youngest 2, six boys and four girls from overseas.  All had to be provided with beds, including clean linen, all to be served with breakfast, lunch boxes all filled, tea and dinner.  With us two adults, the number of us seated for meals was 14.  Just as well I was brought up in a family of 12 children plus 2 parents and 6 boarders.  A piece of cake!  Poor Betty.  I arranged with the owner of a Volkswagen bus to take the children to Presentation College and Codrington.  He was very reliable and was a driver in my company when I was a Lieutenant, R.E., in Trinidad during the war - Mr. Gill.  Lawrence, the old chauffeur of the Hanschells, drove my Vauxhall car with our children to the Convent in Bridgetown.  I, as Sales Manager of the Barbados Bottling Co. Ltd., had to be at Roebuck Street in Bridgetown at 7.30 a.m.  Yes, we did it, but not without the usual problems and worries attending such a challenge.  It took much planning, thinking and patience, coupled with love and forbearance.

Here was this group of young children, far away from home, the youngest being 8 and the eldest 15.  The eldest girl 15, Susan, plain, crafty and intelligent, was considered by Codrington to be a misfit.  She was English and her father, well placed with Shell Oil in Trinidad, pleaded with us to accommodate and look after her, as the school could not tolerate her as a boarder.  After a period of teasing by the boys and living with such a large family, Susan blended with everyone and became quite popular.  She even improved in her school work.  She is now on the English stage.

Connie was special.  Father American, mother Bajan.  Lived in Venezuela and USA.  Spoilt but quite pleasant with the others.  Got married eventually and has her own family in the USA.

Little Rose.  Her father was Barbadian and was a Judge in the High Court in St. Vincent.  She was a lovely child, well brought up.  No problem. 

 

Sonsoles, pretty, blonde and Spanish, age 10, very talented in singing and dancing.  She and her younger sister Carmen were very affectionate and helpful.  Pity was that their mother did not care enough to even send pocket money and the nuns would not keep them because no money was forthcoming.  

Likewise, Jones.  His parents never communicated with us.  Just left this poor little human being out on a limb, at the mercy of the world.  We loved him, cared and understood him, but he soon became problematical.  A Venezuelan boy from Presentation, much older, tried to persuade him to leave us and go with him.  He was wild.  I had to enlist the aid of the US Embassy here to contact his father and we had to send Jones back to where he belonged, in Venezuela.  We never knew his parents.  Financially, a total loss.

Then there were the boys.  Foremost was Hal, a model student, pure boy, athletic, with a good sense of humour.  He was Betty’s nephew and was a good example to the other children.  Bobby, a dreamer - Trinidadian mother and American father, who worked in the oil industry in Venezuela.  pleasant fellow who produced some peculiar tales.

Victor, Venezuelan.  Father, General Manager of Ford of Venezuela.  Best Scout, good boy, bad temper.  Difficult to handle because of language problems.  Also, he had difficulty in getting along with others.  Last time I saw him, he was a Colonel in the Venezuelan army, visiting Barbados with his family. 


Gregory - always a nice person.  From St. Vincent, of Trinidadian parents.  His dad was an old friend of mine.  Cooperative, pleasant, good student.  Real boy.

John.  Unhappy child.  From St. Vincent of Vincentian father and Trinidadian mother.  Father a wealthy planter.  Never liked to study.  Smoked too many cigarettes.  Hard to reach.  Generally very withdrawn.  A very sad case.  He never improved.  Got worse and worse.  Returned to live in St. Vincent and became very involved in heavy illegal drugs.  One night his father shot him dead.  What a waste of humanity - very sad indeed.  His father was exonerated on the charge of murder as he shot John who attacked his mother for money to buy drugs.

Most important was our family who must have found it very confusing to see all of these strange children invading their privacy.  God bless them all.  They must have understood because they got along very well with their new-found friends.

For entertainment, I hired or borrowed a film projector and films from either the Empire Cinema, Pan American Airways or the Government Information Service, and with a large screen placed at the side of the lawn we showed our young friends a variety of amusing and interesting films.  We always invited teachers and children from the nearby boarding houses.  Hot dogs, Coca-Cola and impromptu concerts rounded off the night.  This was for Saturdays only.  Occasionally we would play music by gramophone and dance and sing, always with other company.  Betty was at the centre of all this, being musical director and dance instructress.

Sundays we went to Church.  Roman Catholics to nearby Verdun, next to Presentation College and Anglicans to Codrington High School Chapel.

Imagine the laundry, bathing arrangements, shoe-cleaning, gardening, cleaning.  I arranged with Mr. Branch, a planter from Claybury, that he would send to cut my grass for his animals and he would give us yams, eddoes and sweet potatoes.  Good deal.  Robert Nurse from the tenantry next door became our gardener.  He was a field labourer but worked for us in his off hours.  He still works for us. On Sundays after Church I would drive them all to Bathsheba or Bath in the tray of the Coca-Cola van which was loaned to me by the Company.  This we all enjoyed.  Got back in time for lunch and afternoon rest.  Some Saturdays I would take the “family” to Drive-In and would reverse the van to the screen.  Some special nights they would charge $2.00 per car load.  They did not specify VAN-load so I was able to entertain at least 12 children for $2.00.  Not bad at all.




 

One of the greatest nights was when I brought “Superman” home.  His real name was Hector Fares.  He was Argentinian and was a professional wrestler and strong-man.  A man of immense strength.  We of Barbados Bottling Co., Bottlers of Coca-Cola, employed Superman in conjunction with the Coca-Cola Company, to promote Coke in Barbados.  I, as new Sales Manager, undertook the project, hired the Kensington Oval for the biggest show ever staged there, and entertained our large, strong and pleasant visitor.  He spoke no English so I acted as his interpreter.  I speak and read Spanish.  So, after the show I had a large party for Superman at Belmont.  We invited many influential people and lots of youngsters.  The children, as well as the adults, were thrilled to meet Superman.  The party was a roaring success.  Susan fell in love with Superman. 

 

At the Oval, to a crowd of over 10,000, Superman performed the following stunts:-

1)  Pulled a Coca-Cola truck fully laden with 300 cases of King Size Coke with a leather bit in his mouth attached to chains which were attached to the from chassis of the truck, he leaning and walking backwards.

2)  Ripped a large American Telephone Directory to shreds with his bare hands.

3) Nailed 2 thick pieces of wood (3” pine) with his bare hand using a 6” galvanized iron nail, then pulled it out with his teeth.

4)  Had 4 powerful motorcycles connected to his neck and arms with strong ropes and the experienced cyclists failed to move him from a standing position.

5)  Two x 4-wheeled jeeps tried to move him by the same method but failed.

6)  The strongest man in Barbados smashed a large stone on his chest with a sledge hammer. 

 

Many other stunts were performed by our genial giant, who consumed 12 eggs and 1 lb. bacon plus 1 sandwich loaf and a jug of coffee for breakfast, 4 large steaks and large quantities of other food items for lunch and at dinner similar amounts of food and drink.  He needed it, poor fellow.  I met him years later in Trinidad and again I sponsored him and his team of large international wrestlers.  He was manager and referee.  A year later I heard that he died in Argentina from an acute heart attack.  He did what he could, when he could.

Many afternoons (5.30 - 6.30) we would take long walks along the peaceful country roads.  It was a real joy - no traffic, cool breeze blowing.  Belmont was over 900 feet above sea level.  Accompanying Betty and me were our five children plus ten boarders.  Also there were our dog “Sums”, who earned his name after his left rear leg was injured in an accident.  He could only put down three and carry one!  “Hornick” the big playful white sow whom the children loved, “Elcock” the red strutting rooster, “Marmie” the tomcat and a couple of hand-held rabbits.

Belmont was a pleasant and interesting experience.  The day came, after 2 years, when the owner died abroad and his English-born wife wished to reside in the U.K. so the property was offered for sale.  For myself, it was not in the best interests of all of us to stay there.  Our boarders returned home and we moved to central Belleville in the city.  I undertook a position requiring me to travel constantly throughout the Caribbean so I was at home on some weekends only.

One night, after everyone had settled to sleep, I sat on the bench on the western patio enjoying the peaceful atmosphere.  “Sums”, my faithful Labrador, was lying nearby.  Suddenly, I heard foot-steps coming up the winding gravel driveway from the public road below, footsteps heavily crushing the fallen leaves and gravel.  As they came closer, I stood up and shone my flashlight in the direction from which the sounds came.  There was nothing to be seen.  And yet the heavy slow steps came closer.  “Sums”, his hair standing on end, cringed and howled and rubbed against me, but did not bark.  I shouted challenges to the unseen thing but there was no response.  In a mood of fear and disbelief I ran towards the sound, flashlight shining, swinging my walking stick and “it” ran ahead of me, going straight through the closed iron gate on the northern side.  I gave up.  Poor frightened Sums, our faithful brave barking dog, was silent and tried by scraping the front door to the house to get into the safety and warmth of the big house.  I quickly followed and got under my blankets.  When I related this incident, I was told that it must have been the “old master” taking an after-dinner stroll.  This was meant to imply that I had heard and felt a ghost - or what was it?

On another occasion, in the rear bedroom, Betty’s sister Clem, visiting from Canada, shared a double bed with our daughter, Valerie.  Clem heard a noise and, quite naturally sat up and looked, to see this old, grey-haired man seated at the bottom of the bed, with a smile on his face.  She called to us and we rushed in to find Clem hugging Valerie tightly.  They had both seen the nice old man - who disappeared.  They both shared our bed with us for the remainder of the night.  He strolled leisurely throughout the house on many other occasions.  The “old master”.  Just checking.

After we left Belmont, it was rented to an English potter and eventually was sold to Lt. Col. Herbert Dowding, Parliamentarian and Commanding Officer of the Barbados Regiment, then General Manager of the Barbados Agricultural Development Corporation.  He altered the internal structure for comfort and convenience, added a lift and modernised the old kitchen.  He sold Belmont later to Mrs. Julien, a wealthy Grenadian widow who spent a great deal of money in installing a swimming pool and other elaborate "improvements".  She eventually sold the property to Mr. Philip Goddard, who still lives there.

“Belmont” was constructed in 1730, as inscribed on the chimney above the kitchen.  This was shown to be by the late Mr. Michael Hanschell on one of his rare visits.

To my family and myself, “Belmont” remains a fond memory.

(Note:  For reasons of privacy,  I have omitted  surnames of the children as written by my father in his handwritten story.)