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Frances Elizabeth (Betty) Sheppard née St. Hill

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Betty, my Mother at Sweet Sixteen

As I begin to write this on 8 June, 2021, my Barbadian-born mother, Betty St. Hill is in her 96th year.  Everything that I know about her has been related to me by her during her long life.  She speaks of a very happy childhood, growing up in a family of five and loves to recall those times.  Barbados was a British colony back then, and life for her was simple, filled with family occasions and always, always - music.  School days segued into working days and then into a marriage which would take her to live in the neighbouring island of Trinidad and away from her parents and Bajan way of life for the first time. 

Betty and all her siblings came into this world at their family home "Ypres", 1st Avenue, Belleville, in the parish of St. Michael.  She was born on 16 September, 1925 to Esmee Ione D'Azevedo (Lobo) St. Hill and Henry Garnet St. Hill.  She was the fourth of their five children and bears the names of her maternal great-grandmother, Elizabeth Frances Stoute.

Like her mother and sisters, my mother's schooling was at the Ursuline Convent in Collymore Rock, which was just a short walk away from their home.  In my mother's case, it was more of a hop, skip and jump away from home.  She recalls being told by one of the nuns that it was not befitting of a young lady to be frolicking in the street, and one afternoon she was watched from the window of the convent to make sure that she walked every step home like a proper young lady!


Betty was bright and musical from a young age, and took part in all the school plays and concerts, starting when she was just four years old.   Not only did she tap-dance, but she played the musical saw and the piano.  She was first taught piano lessons by Miss Adele Barnes, and later Miss Alice Armstrong.  Miss Armstrong wasn't a music teacher, but young Betty begged her to teach her the swinging style and chord progression that she loved - and she did!  Similarly, Mum saw Mr. Ben Gibson perform at a concert and was mesmerized watching him play the saw.  She asked him to teach her and so said, so done.  He would come to their home in Belleville to teach her how to play the saw.   Like most middle class homes of that time, the piano was a central feature of family life in the drawing room.   From a very young age, she took part in shows organized to raise funds for deserving causes in Barbados, such as the Girl’s Industrial Union, The Girls’ Friendly Society, The Old Gentleman’s Home and Madam Ifil’s Baby Crèche.  It was at those concerts that she met Miss Armstrong and Mr. Gibson who were also performing, and she asked them to teach her.

My mother learned to play the musical saw so well that she performed on stage with this unusual instrument.  Hers was an ordinary carpenter's saw, and she never used a handle (as is used nowadays)  to bend it, she just held the end of the saw with her fingers. It requires a strong hand and a perfect ear for music. All the while playing, one of her legs was creating the vibration to create the sound. I still remember that her parents had a green cloth case for her saw in the exact shape of the saw made for her, with a pocket to hold the bow and another little pocket to carry blocks of rosin that she would rub up and down the strings of the bow. . Her name "Betty" was embroidered in red by her mother on the front of it.
One of her favourite songs to play was "The Moon of Manikoora" - a 1943 hit. How I wish we had a recording of Mum on the saw. 




My mother's Lobo grandparents lived at "Raeburn", Hastings.  It was a large,traditional Bajan home situated on the beach, very close to the Ocean View Hotel.  Her grandfather, Isaac Clement Lobo was of Sephardic Jewish descent and worked in the shipping business.  Her recent childhood recollections of visiting her grandparents, in her own words:

"Grandad Lobo would dress up with gold studs, straw hat and his cane, and with Grannie  we would go down to the Ice House in Bridgetown.  Victor Goddard was the eldest one, he was in charge then and there was the grocery on the basement.  And then there was the cold storage counter where they had plums and grapes. He would say 'Bring Betty over let her choose something.' He would slide back the door and say 'What would you like, dear?  Have a plum or an apple or a peach'.  Victor and his wife - that’s the old Goddard parents - were very friendly with  V.B.C Hart."


Vivian Bertram Clyde (V.B.C.) Hart was married to Millicent Louise Boyle (Millie).  Millie was my mother's great-aunt, her grandmother Lillian's sister.  He was the Proprietor of Chelston Lime Works  on Culloden Road, a member of St. Michael's Vestry and, for a time, Churchwarden. He was also an officer of the Barbados Volunteer Force for over twenty years.  They lived at a house called 'The Shrubbery' in Collymore Rock.  My mother went to stay with Aunt Millie for a couple of months, and fondly recalls one of her treasured dishes belonged to Aunt Millie - a heart-shaped dish for serving stuffed eggs. "Millie loved anything at all that had a heart, all her linen was embroidered with V.B.C. and a heart.  Aunt Millie was very ah … well in those days… I wouldn’t say she was wealthy but she was well-to-do.  She had a car and a chauffeur to drive her out at night and she would put on a Spanish shawl.  She lived in 'The Shrubbery' - as you came out of George Street."

After leaving school, my mother got a job as an operator at Cable & Wireless.  "The wireless station was in Fontabelle near Mannings.  I used to have to work at three places - Dover where the cables came in, Bridgetown office where the cables and wires were received and sent out, and the wireless station where the wireless was received and sent on if it had to go by wire   I didn’t do wireless I did the cable line at the wireless station.  I was only 16 and working with big men like Louis Weatherhead (Peter's father), and Harold Bowen - all big grown married men. I got the job through Uncle Colin.  He was the Officer in charge of the town office and was friendly with Mr. Douglas who was the General Manager for Cable & Wireless.  Minnie Alleyne and me - her father was the Officer in charge of Dover.  I worked the Port of Spain circuit at Dover."

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"In 1942, a young army Trinidadian lieutenant on holiday in Barbados attended a rehearsal at the YMPC (Collymore Rock) for a variety show to be performed at the Empire Theatre. His eyes caught an attractive 17 year old with shapely legs practicing her tap dance routine

. . . love at first sight. It was wartime. After a short courtship through letters, Andrew Sheppard & Betty St. Hill married at St. Patrick’s Cathedral (1943), later producing 7 children." (Excerpt from Rosemary Parkinson's epic book "Barbados Bu’n-Bu’n").

In later years, Mum played the piano at the Ocean View Hotel and for those memorable afternoon teas at the beautiful Casuarina Hotel in Dover. Perhaps she is best remembered by hundreds of locals and visitors who enjoyed the lavish Sunday Planter’s Buffet lunches at Fisherpond Plantation House, St. Joseph. There “Birdie” as she is affectionately called, became the sweetheart of everyone, playing special requests of oldies and goldies in her own sweet style. She played by ear and had the gift of smoothly segueing from one tune to the next, guided by her heart. Mum continued to play lunchtime gigs at Fisherpond up until she was 87 years old.


Betty at Fisherpond Plantation House with great-granddaughters Mahlea and Kayla Archer

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