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Symbiotic legacies

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By definition, symbiotic relationships exist when groups of people live together and provide the greatest benefits to one another. Through this article, it is my hope that readers will share in the inspiration I have received through recognising the God-given legacies and bestowed benefits contained in the stories of West End Primary School, Somerset Cricket Club and the annual Cup Match classic.

Annually, we are afforded a reminder that the roots of Cup Match lie in the abolition of slavery in Bermuda on August 1, 1834. From that day, August 1 became Emancipation Day. Men from Somerset to St George’s ceased their labour and met in friendly rivalry to celebrate the emancipation of the enslaved, often by hosting picnic gatherings of friends.

The earliest cricket match recorded in Bermuda was on August 30, 1844, when the Bermuda Garrison lost to a British Army team. By 1845, the Bermuda Cricket Club had been formed; and from then the game was being played not only by British troops stationed in Bermuda, but by locals who learnt the game … and learnt to play it well.

Emancipation Day grew to become a day when entire Black families across Bermuda would cease their labour and gather to celebrate. A game of cricket very often featured in the celebratory activities. Over time, the games of great cricket, together with the times of wonderful summer feasting, warm fellowship and great fun, became the highlights of being together.

From the late 1840s, friendly societies and sporting clubs with Black memberships continually emerged across the country. The Victoria and Albert Lodge No 1027 was founded in the early 1850s and met at the Odd Fellows Hall, 84 Somerset Road in Somerset. The Somers Pride of India Lodge No 899 was founded in 1848 and met at the Somers Playhouse, 37 Wellington Street in St George. Both a part of the Grand United Order of Odd Fellowship, these lodges ultimately built and owned their respective buildings … no small accomplishment at all in those times. This speaks to the sacrifices and the high levels of skill of the builders.

In 1901, during an Emancipation Day cricket match between these two Friendly Societies, an agreement was made to play for an annual trophy. Members raised funds. Henry T. Cann, of Somerset, had the honour of ordering the original solid silver trophy from England for the princely sum of 20 guineas. In 1902, the silver cup was introduced and played for annually. Today’s teams play for a replica trophy. The priceless original is kept safely locked away in the vault of a bank.

The exact date that Somerset Cricket Club was founded is uncertain. However, it occurred during those years immediately surrounding the first Cup Match, which took place on June 12,1902. It was held at the former Royal Naval Field, now called the Warren Simmons Community Field, in honour and fond memory of the celebrated Somerset Cup Match captain who was an alumnus of West End School and an esteemed former president of Somerset Cricket Club.

From 1902, Cup Match became an even more special celebration of emancipation, freedom, family, community and the talents of Bermuda’s best cricketers. Today, players choose to play for Somerset or St George’s. For many years, they were required to reside in the parishes for which they played.

During its earliest years, Somerset Cricket Club met at the building on Long Bay Lane, which was called the Foley’s Mineral Water Factory. In the 1930s and 1940s, the clubhouse was the ground floor of The Henrietta Durrant/O’Neil Building at 60 Somerset Road. Originally, this building was The Fairview Hotel (circa 1883)

It was during Warren Simmons’s presidency in 1946 that land was purchased, and by 1948 the existing club was completed. It was designed by Vincent Leroy Lee, one of Bermuda’s recognised Black architects, and the contractor was James Horton.

Especially during the first years of Cup Match’s inception, the occasion was almost reverent. Everyone would, one more year, in dignified defiance, prepare the summer gathering feast; lay down the wishes and work tools of employers for the entire Thursday nearest to August 1; and dress in their “Very Smart Sunday Best” attire to attend “The Gentlemen’s Game”. There was so much pride in personal dignity, family and Bermuda’s communities! The festive “Spirit of Cup Match” then, as now, is like no other! Hosts of related family traditions endure to this day.

The annual event grew and grew. One day of great cricket proved to be insufficient time for the game to result in a great match outcome or a great celebration. It evolved into a two-day event on the Thursday and Friday closest to Emancipation Day. This two-day happening then endured for years. Some have referred to the 113 years of Bermuda’s work stoppages for Cup Match, until it was finally declared a national holiday in 1947, as the longest period of industrial action in world history!

Much honour and a debt of special gratitude is owed to the lodge members, the founders of Somerset Cricket Club and the earliest presidents and Cup Match players. Those gentlemen, all of whom identified as West End School alumni were clearly Black men of courage during those first years. They served the club with hearts of love for the Bermuda community.

There is another particularly important sporting link between West End School and Somerset Cricket Club, which relates to our major league football. The West End Rovers football club was formed. Instrumental in its founding were West End School’s principal, Charles C. Snaith and G. Osrola “Ossie” Philpott, who was also a West End School alumnus and a friendly society member. Until 1952, when this club more closely affiliated itself with Somerset Cricket Club, West End Rovers’ clubhouse was a room at West End School. Even from 1952, because Somerset Cricket Club held its field to be devoted to the game of cricket only, West End Rovers did all of their football practising, and held many of their games, at the West End School field ... all the while becoming a team of highly skilled players. It was in 1964 that the two clubs came fully together. The football club which emerged and was now able to play on the hallowed field of Somerset Cricket Club ... none other than the famed and highly acclaimed Somerset Trojans!

Emancipation Day continues — August 1, 1834-2022 — 188 years to date. The Annual Cup Match Cricket Classic 2022 will be the 120th Anniversary of the two-day national holiday, now fully recognised as Emancipation Day and Mary Prince Day (the latter as of July 31, 2020)

There is a strong parallel, and correlation, between this history of Bermuda’s emancipation and Cup Match, and the history of education for Black people in Somerset.

Sunday schools were the first group-educational opportunities afforded to Black people and Black children in Bermuda ... against a backdrop of racist resistance to the growing anti-slavery movement in the 1830s. Enslaved persons were obligated to work from Mondays through Saturdays. Sundays afforded the only time for proposed group instruction of Blacks. St James' Sunday school for Black children was established by the Anglican Church from 1832, two years before the emancipation. For many years, it was under the leadership of William Tankard, who was a respected, “free Black” man of Somerset, a member of Friendly Societies, a good teacher and an eloquent speaker, who also functioned as a lay minister. It was not until the 1860s that two small Sunday school buildings were built to the south and the north of the main church, adjacent to Somerset Road. The building to the south was for White children only. The building to the north was for Black children. It was this Black St James Sunday school location which became the St James Day School, the oldest root of today’s West End Primary School. It was on the site of the existing St James Church Hall, which replaced it in June 1964.

Shared legacy: the histories of Somerset Cricket Club, West End Primary School and the annual Cup Match classic are deeply intertwined (File photograph)
Shared legacy: the histories of Somerset Cricket Club, West End Primary School and the annual Cup Match classic are deeply intertwined (File photograph)
The final pieces of scaffolding put in place before the annual Cup Match at Somerset Cricket Club (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

The St James Day School opened in 1869 ... the first one-room school in Somerset for larger numbers of Black children. This was only 35 years after emancipation in Bermuda, and only four years after the extremely hard-fought emancipation in the United States. The principal was William Robinson Perinchief, the grandfather of Lois Perinchief, who became the first woman and first Black Mayor of St George. He was also the older brother of Thaddeus Perinchief, one of the early presidents of Somerset Cricket Club. W.R. Perinchief was the dedicated principal for 42 years (1869-1911). He was succeeded by Alex Swan, the grandfather of Izola Harvey, a National Hero as a member of the Progressive Group, which catalysed the Theatre Boycott of 1959, leading to the beginning of desegregation in Bermuda. Mr Swan was succeeded by Portia Bean, who also served with great dedication.

Remembering 1834: emancipation banner at Somerset Cricket Club (File photograph)
Shared legacy: the histories of Somerset Cricket Club, West End Primary School and the annual Cup Match classic are deeply intertwined (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

The year 1869 establishes West End Primary’s roots as some of the earliest of all primary schools for Black children in the English-speaking western hemisphere. Today, West End Primary School’s history as a continuous school, now serving all children, truly is treasure in a global context.

Shared legacy: the histories of Somerset Cricket Club, West End Primary School and the annual Cup Match classic are deeply intertwined (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

It was in 1915 that the Department of Education became a body governing education. All of the many small schools for Black children around the parish, including the St James Day School, were merged at the building called “Flat Top” on Scott’s Hill Road under the name West End School. From 1915 to 1931, it was under the legendary principalship of C.A. Isaac Henry, a staunch educator who came to Bermuda from Jamaica. He was a lover of music, a trainer of senior students to teach, and a keen cricketer! He served West End through the First World War and the pandemic of 1917 to 1919.

Mr Henry was very directly connected to strengthening cricket play in Somerset, which in turn gave support to Somerset Cricket Club and Cup Match. Highly respected educator Maude Bassett, who passed away this year at the age of 102, and other nonagenarians who are West End alumni have given direct testimony to the outstanding role that Mr Henry played in the earliest years of their schooling — and in the community’s life generally. Providing a first-hand account this year, the amazingly sharp-minded Mrs Bassett experienced his leadership and tutelage directly. She said he was an excellent cricketer; and he ensured that all boys, and some girls, learnt the game. He taught them himself. Somerset Cricket Club’s cricketers, leadership and Cup Match players were undoubtedly directly influenced by C.A. Isaac Henry during his tenure.

Jennifer Manders is a retired Bermudian educator and one of many West End Warriors for Living Legacy

The teaching of cricket has been supported by all subsequent department heads, principals and physical education teachers. As a result, West End has always directly served Somerset Cricket Club and Cup Match. Particularly worthy of recognition in this day are dedicated PE teachers Calvin K. Simons, Diane Hunt and Lionel Turner. Mrs Hunt remains an active member of the club. She played softball with the Somerset Cricket Club Bluebirds. Mr Turner is also a member and was a long-serving Somerset Cricket Club coach. Another West End alumnus, former teacher and PE teacher, star Somerset Trojan, international footballer, and former captain of Somerset Cricket Club Cup Match teams is the former Minister of Education and Speaker of the House of Assembly, K.H. Randolph Horton, OBE.

West End Primary School is a strong, major heartbeat, a hub and home of Sandys at 43 Scott’s Hill Road. Huge West End Primary legacies live today. The strong community-family spirit which Somerset has enjoyed for generations has been largely forged in a context of West End Primary School, Somerset Cricket Club and the annual Cup Match classic. This heritage and culture is treasured by all who value that which is excellent.

Does not this brief history from the early 1900s prove the symbiotic relationship clearly, and the need to preserve it?

No Somerset Cricket Club early leaders, no West End School cricket coaching, no large numbers of cricket players, no successive excellent Somerset Cricket Club presidents, no identification and developing of the many young, talented players worthy to play Cup Match. No outstanding national treasure: the annual Cup Match classic; no strong, very healthy sense of belonging within the Sandys and Bermuda community, no iconic national holiday.

I express to the following my deep appreciation for their support and sharing of this invaluable information: Packwood, Cyril O., Chained on the Rock (1975); the Bermuda National Trust; writers for The Bermudian magazine and The Royal Gazette; the West End Primary School Family of 1980, who contributed to the research and writing of West End Primary: Heritage; many treasured senior friends (you know who you are); and all West End Warriors for Living Legacy.

Jennifer Manders is a retired Bermudian educator and one of many West End Warriors for Living Legacy

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Published July 11, 2022 at 8:00 am (Updated July 10, 2022 at 9:39 pm)

Symbiotic legacies

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