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The legend of Buster Tucker and his very handy market

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Buster Tucker, left, oversees pricing and stacking carried out by Sheridan Cann and Winston Tucker (Photograph courtesy of Sheridan Cann)

In the winter of 1964, my husband was returning to school in New York. It was Boxing Day. At JFK airport, he was captivated by a portly Black man dressed in a suit and tie, over which he wore an ankle-length camel hair coat. Around his neck was a plaid scarf that complimented the outfit. On his head, he wore a dark-brown brimmed felt hat and on his feet were shoes polished to perfection. In one hand, he held a case of inbound Gosling’s liquor and between his lips he puffed a Dutch Masters cigar.

He was the picture of confidence and prosperity. This man was none other than George “Buster” Tucker, owner and proprietor of The Handy Market.

According to 106-year-old Brownlow Place, Mr Tucker was a quiet, sedate man who started his business by selling his produce out of a rented stall in the covered Farmer’s Market, sometimes described as Number 7 Shed on Front Street.

Buster Tucker never missed an opportunity to advertise his produce (Photograph courtesy of Sheridan Cann)

In a 1944 Royal Gazette advertisement, Mr Tucker’s Handy Market was located at Court Street, beside Joe’s Barber Shop; however, most remember him from The Handy Market on the corner of Court Street and Church Street. Occupying the same building but around the corner was the retail division of Mello’s Bakery. Today we describe the property as the HSBC drive-through bank.

Buster Tucker never missed an opportunity to advertise his produce (Photograph courtesy of Sheridan Cann)

There were many small grocery stores in Hamilton, but somehow Buster Tucker’s Handy Market is most remembered. He sold just about everything — fresh fruit and vegetables, eggs, fresh flowers, meats delivered fresh from the slaughterhouse, fresh fish, mussels and lobsters.

Mr Tucker and his wife, Ianthia, lived in Shelly Bay off Studio Lane, where they raised three children and were active members of Bethel AME Church.

In the late 1950s, Sheridan Cann’s godmother, Claudine Richards, who was the book-keeper, secured him a weekend and holiday job. He was just 12 years old. Mr Tucker’s son, Robin, drove the company’s open-back truck and together they would deliver groceries to homes in Tucker’s Town and vegetables to guest accommodations such as Horizons, Newstead and Waterloo House. At the end of the day, they would do the rounds of restaurants collecting swill to feed the pigs at Mr Tucker’s Verdmont Valley farm. Lobsters for the business were collected from the fishermen and taken to the farm to be boiled in large drums. This land, for his largest farm, was rented from parliamentarian N.H.P. Vesey.

Mr Cann’s days were full. He and Robin Tucker would go to the abattoir in St George’s. They would be armed with cleaver and saw. They would collect pigs, slit in half, cover their shoulders with sheets, on to which half a pig would be placed, wrapped up, placed in the van and transported back to the shop, where it would be further butchered. Another part of their day involved collecting stock from Tucker’s Commission House, a prominent wholesale agent on King’s Street, then on to Cosmopolitan Liquors to purchase Mr Tucker’s favourite Dutch Masters cigars and discarded beer cases, which were used to pack and deliver groceries.

Dutch Masters is an American brand of naturally wrapped cigars that have been sold since 1912. The brand has a unique packaging that features Rembrandt’s 1662 painting Syndics of the Drapers’ Guild.

Mr Cann recalled that in November clients began to place orders for pigs’ heads and feet, which were used to make souse. In some countries, this is called head cheese, but in Bermuda and throughout the Caribbean, it is called souse.

A simple description of souse is that the pig’s head and trotters are boiled until the meat falls off. Pickling spices are added, creating a gel-like texture which can be sliced. It is considered a delicacy eaten over the Christmas season.

Christmastime was understandably busy. Outside the shop, imported Christmas trees were sold costing between 10/- and 15/-. At the close of the business day, they had to be removed and secured. There was never an idle moment, but everyone worked together in harmony.

In the year 1959, at the age of 16, Joseph “Joe” Pacheco travelled alone from his home in the Azores to Bermuda. He only knew one person here. For many years, he was employed on Mr Tucker’s various farms but mainly the one at Verdmont Valley. Every day, seven days a week in all types of weather, he rose at 4am to be ready to milk the cows at 4.30am. Then he delivered to Pioneer Dairy for pasteurisation. The pigs, cows and hundreds of chickens had to be fed. Eggs had to be collected and boxed; fields had to be ploughed and weeded, flowers cut and vegetables harvested; chickens slaughtered and plucked.

They grew everything you could think of. A horse and trolley transported grass for the cattle, while the larger animals were transported to the slaughterhouse in St George’s by truck. He described it as, “not an easy life”, but Mr. Tucker and his family were good people.

Harry Lindo had a slaughterhouse at what is now Garthowen Estate. When the area was slated for development, he moved to Devonshire Bay and later to a St George’s location.

As a child, Rose Douglas recalled the slaughterhouse located on Wellington Back Road’s Boundary Lane. She described it as a traditionally constructed stone building with a smooth concrete chute, which carried the blood from the slaughtered animals into the sea below. When it was cleaned and no adults were around, the neighbourhood children, she included, used it as a slide to catapult themselves into the sea. A somewhat dangerous but fun experience.

Yvonne Francis-Pearson was employed to work during holidays and Saturdays in the early 1950s. She was 12 and a relative of Mr Tucker. Mrs. Pearson describes working at The Handy Market as a most enjoyable experience. Her responsibilities were many: working behind the counter, taking orders for delivery, weighing the fruit and vegetables, packing orders for delivery and grinding meat to order. She would weigh the meat and grind it before wrapping it in greaseproof paper, which was torn from a large roll, then tied with string. She developed a love of mental mathematics, as she was required to receive payment for goods and give change. As she recently said, “you had to know your maths, especially fractions.” This was the era of pounds, shillings and pence. Farthings were still in use. A farthing was a coin worth a quarter of a penny. Mrs Pearson, now a retired teacher, continued to work at the market until she went abroad for further education.

Mr Tucker is reported to have farmed 20 acres of land where he employed both local and Portuguese men. Henry “Dee” Trott recalls areas in Shelly Bay and Devil’s Hole, as well as off Clarence Road in Smith’s, including the area that is now the Whitney Institute school field, and across he road from Whitney. Much of the land he farmed in this area was owned by Joseph Spencer, the father of nurse Caro Spencer-Wilson.

One happy family: Buster Tucker, right, with staff members at The Handy Market. From left, Bobby Raynor, Stanley Woolridge, Bishop Douglas, Claudine Richards and Hadley Woolridge (Photograph courtesy of Sheridan Cann)

Many persons were employed at The Handy Market, including Bobby Raynor, Stanley and Hadley Woolridge, Bishop Douglas, Eldon Tucker and Una-Mae Woolridge-Bean, who worked behind he counter. Claudine Richards was the book-keeper with McNeil Warner working as the Saturday book-keeper.

Mrs Bean, also a relative of Mr Tucker, described the business as always very busy. Three times a week she made pork sausages by grinding pork, filling it into casings, twisting and plaiting them. Although they sold some beef, at that time pork was far more popular than it is today. Codfish was sold but also salted bone in “dumbfish”, which was very popular among older Bermudians. Mineral was supplied by Sterling’s Mineral Water Factory and bread from the Bermuda Bakery.

Buster Tucker never missed an opportunity to advertise his produce (Photograph courtesy of Sheridan Cann)

In 1961, when the Bank of Bermuda planned to build, The Handy Market had to move. Mr Tucker had conducted business at that location for 16 years. Fortunately, he was offered a place in the newly constructed Musson Building on the corner of Court Street and Reid Street. In fact, the lower level of the building was designed especially to accommodate The Handy Market — it had more space, adequate refrigeration and a chill room.

Mr Tucker was a shrewd businessman and advertised daily in The Royal Gazette and Colonist dating as far back as 1944. His weekly specials were always popular.

As the years passed, Mr Tucker downsized. Much of the farmland he rented was required by their owners and, sadly, his son, whom he relied heavily upon, had died and he had no business partners. It was then that he decided to move the business to a smaller shop on Court Street beside the Chinese Laundry and Restaurant, where for a few years in the 1970s during weekends and summer holidays, he employed the teenaged Dexter Smith, now Editor of The Royal Gazette. Today, these three businesses are no longer in existence and unknown to the younger generation.

I offer my sincere gratitude to Lawson Mapp, the former Mayor of Hamilton, who encouraged me to research and write about George “Buster” Tucker. His fear was that he had been forgotten.

I also thank Malikah Sheeheed from the Bermuda Department of Libraries and Archives and David Lopes for his vast knowledge of farming in Bermuda. Many thanks also to the numerous seniors who continue to open for me the history books of their lives.

Cecille C. Snaith-Simmons SRN, SCM is a retired nurse, writer and historian

Cecille C. Snaith-Simmons SRN, SCM is a retired nurse, writer and historian

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Published September 27, 2022 at 7:44 am (Updated September 28, 2022 at 12:19 pm)

The legend of Buster Tucker and his very handy market

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