The history of Archlyn Villa
Lillian Minors, my godmother, has always described herself as a “mover and a shaker”. Her early years were as busy and industrious as her later years, and her skills as a businesswoman were identified very early in life.
Lily, as she was fondly known, was born in 1911, the middle child of nine children. Her mother, Mary Joaquin, was originally from the Azores while her father, Thomas Byron, was from St Kitts.
It was at Silk House School, run by Mary Louise Williams, where Lily began to show her entrepreneurial skills. She sold taffy to her schoolmates for one penny a piece to assist with the household expenses.
When she was 14, she sadly found that her parents could not afford to send her to the Berkeley Institute. Not one to sit and complain, she quickly found employment. Over the years, she worked in domestic positions and often as a cook. She changed jobs frequently, as she simply could not resist the challenge of progress.
During the Second World War, she was an Air Raid Precautionary, keeping a watchful eye for people whose lights could be seen after “blackout” time. Bermuda was used for convoys escorted by submarines on the North Shore to Europe.
In 1932, she married Archie Minors, a printer from St David’s. Together they were able to build two houses in Warwick.
The last cooking position she held was for Harold Williamson, the American Consul to Bermuda. He arrived here in 1937 and resided at a house named “Miamba”, located in Point Shares. When she applied for the job, she discovered it was a live-in position and declined the offer. To her surprise, Mr Williamson offered accommodation to the couple. They put their home in Warwick on rent and moved in. Archie printed the notices and the three daily menus for the Elbow Beach Hotel. It was a fruitful period in their lives. According to Aunt Lily, the only time they went into Hamilton was to bank their money!
Eventually, they saved enough to fulfil their dream of pursuing further education. They left for America from the American Consul’s residence. In Harlem, she studied at the Orchid Beauty School and planned to open a business here. Archie attended the Mergenthaler Linotype school in Brooklyn, New York. Often in America, she washed dishes for a private caterer, and this gave her the idea for another business.
Upon their return to Bermuda, Archie applied for a position with the Mid-Ocean News. He was fresh from studies in America with new skills and enthusiasm. The newspaper did not employ him but he was able to purchase the printing business of R.O. Clifford on Water Street in St George’s.
One day, while out on a friend’s boat, Lily saw a house for sale and felt it was the ideal setting for a guesthouse. Bermuda was racially divided and did not cater to Black tourists. They had many friends who were interested in visiting but there was nowhere for them to stay. Lily was confident that the number of domestic positions she once held had prepared her for managing a guesthouse.
They sold both their houses and purchased the two-storey, waterfront property in St George’s for £600. It was a six-bedroom two-bathroom house located near the St George’s Cricket Club. The name for the new guesthouse, Archlyn Villa, was suggested by their friend, Myrtle Edness. They were unaware of the need for a guesthouse licence until Terry Mowbray, of the Trade Development Board, turned up to issue one. It was renewed yearly.
Guests stayed between seven and 14 days. There were no government taxes and gratuities were not included but staff received generous tips. It was not until they moved to the new Archlyn Villa that they were forced to take gratuities.
Lily Minors was an astute businesswoman and a familiar figure about Hamilton. She frequently visited Parliament dressed in hat and gloves. During the era of segregation, she also catered to the private dinner parties of the Black elite.
Archlyn Villa was the only guesthouse in St George’s at that time. Often she catered to Black diplomats on their way to the United Nations. Whenever there was an overflow, neighbours were happy to accommodate her guests. This was a grateful addition to their income. Lily was the cook and manager. All meals were taken at the guesthouse. To give herself a night off, she hit upon the idea of taking the guests to Clarence Borden’s Mount Area Restaurant in St David’s for lobster dinners.
Guests would rent bicycles, as there were few taxis. They also travelled by train. The stop for Archlyn Villa was on Wellington Back Road. Some evenings she presented a slide show or a swizzle party on the lawn. There were barbecues and buffet dinners on Sunday nights. They sometimes had dinners at Horseshoe Bay or boat rides to Cathedral Rocks on Mr Henries’s cabin cruiser with entertainment by Sidney Bean. She even took them to the Easter Floral Parade. She provided the guests with entertainment to keep them occupied, as Black visitors were even barred from tours put on by the Department of Tourism. Mr Minors produced the brochures of all the tours his wife organised.
One of the guests, Carl Murphy, a noted American owner of The Afro-American newspaper, loved to fish and this encouraged her to arrange fishing trips. She rented a boat, owned and operated by Joe Pearman. At the end of the day, Mr Pearman took a few fish, but as the guesthouse had only one refrigerator and most people did not own one, fish were shared among friends and neighbours. As soon as Lily began to drive a car, she shared fish with the Sunshine League.
Archlyn Villa was never full at Christmas; however, whenever there were guests, she took them into Hamilton to shop with her. She always threw a party before Christmas dinner and every place setting was festively dressed with a hat and Christmas cracker.
Guests were presented with a printed menu every day. Breakfast was cooked as soon as guests ordered. There was fried fish, fishcakes, sausages, bacon, ham, eggs, pancakes, omelettes and muffins. At lunchtime, the meal was always light: sandwiches, salads, ice cream and mineral. She had to be skilful not to repeat the dinner menu for guests who stayed for more than one week. There were beef pies, ham with pineapple, roast lamb with mint sauce, roast beef with Yorkshire pudding, roast chicken, seafood platter, and calf’s liver with bacon and onions. The use of bone china cups was discontinued when the guests began to pilfer them. She then decided to purchased 50 of everything matching from the Woman’s Shop basement.
Laundry provided a challenge. At first she used a cedar washboard. Nothing was drip-dry. There were four clotheslines and when the weather was inclement she had to hang laundry in the cellar, then iron it. Sheets and pillowcases were changed every other day. Eventually, she was able to purchase a washing machine, but there was no dryer. When the guesthouse moved to Cox’s Hill in Pembroke, the laundry was done by Mr Harford, whose business was located behind St Monica’s Mission. It was collected every morning and returned the next day.
The Minorses recognised they faced changes in the monopoly they enjoyed, when the Imperial Hotel was sold to a Black group. Tourists now preferred a more central location. In 1953, they found a suitable house called “Virginia Manor” on Cox’s Hill. They sold the property in St George’s, changed the name of the Pembroke property to Archlyn Villa and embarked upon an expanded and more financially rewarding business.
They borrowed £25,000, added eight bedrooms with baths and purchased the cottage next door. They were making “good money”. They were even able to add a swimming pool, moongate and buttery.
All guests came as a package deal, which included breakfast and dinner. Lunch was separate and available only to guests.
The guestbook was eventually discontinued for a more progressive idea of confidential guest cards. This decision was made when guests began to search through the book to see who had previously visited. They also sold postcards of Archlyn Villa.
The couple always attended the hotel and motel conventions in America, where they acquired information on decorating, linens, food and much more. At one of these conventions, they met Bodo von Alvensleben, who was representing the Princess Hotel. He had always sent Black guests who were denied accommodation at the Princess to Archlyn Villa, yet they had never met him before. The St George’s Hotel quickly followed suit. These guests were told that Archlyn Villa was owned by the hotels and requested the Minorses give them whatever they wanted, except alcohol.
At first, the furniture was second hand from Benny Rego’s Store. Later, furniture for 16 rooms was selected from a catalogue at Chesley White’s.The telephone was located in the upstairs hall and there were reverse-cycle air conditioners.
Room service was provided but there was no bar. Six staff members made up the team; four were waitresses. Usually, there were about 30 people for breakfast. They were served as quickly as possible so that the waitresses could assist the room attendants. This teamwork enabled them all to finish work at the same time.
In 1974, they were featured in Who’s Who in America. Some of the guests were Langston Hughes, poet, playwright and a leader of the Harlem Renaissance; Jimmy Edwards, star of the 1949 film Home of the Brave; Jerry Majors, society editor for Ebony magazine; singers Patty LaBelle and Gladys Knight; and most of the Black entertainers performing at the Forty Thieves nightclub.
Mr and Mrs Minors were community-minded people. They formed the Socratic Literary Society and were credited as the first to start the Black tourist trade in Bermuda. Later she founded the Sunshine Garden Club and was one of the original members of Keep Bermuda Beautiful committee; it was her idea to have a tag day. She was also a founder of the Business and Professional Women’s Club. Mrs Minors was a devoted member of the Church of Scotland in Warwick and the grateful recipient of a letter from one of the governors for her contribution to the community.
In 1981, Archie and Lillian Minors retired and in 1990 Archlyn Villa was purchased by the Bermuda Hospitals Board. At long last, the Minorses were able to travel extensively.
Before her death in 2010, Lillian Minors, my godmother, requested that I record the details of her extraordinary life while she was still competent and able to do so. She believed that to be successful in tourism you must understand that people have different dispositions, and it is always necessary to exhibit great patience and, above all, to be kind.
• Cecille C. Snaith-Simmons, the mother of Sandys South MP Jamahl Simmons, is the 2020 winner in the Adult section of the Dr Stanley Ratteray Memorial Christmas Short Story Contest