A collection of photographs kept as a family heirloom and given to myself before my great grandmother died is how Arthur’s story
begins. This was an exciting prospect because, most of all, I was pleased to have visual evidence to confirm my great grandfather’s Jamaican origins, which was always something mentioned within
the family, but never talked about.
My great grandfather Arthur Pessoa was born in England on 15th December 1910 to a black Jamaican father and white British mother. His father William Pessoa arrived in Britain as a sailor in the Merchant Navy in 1898, first living in London and then moving to West Sussex where he married and had five children, Arthur was his eldest son.
Arthur’s life is an example of being black and British within a rural community in a period when mixed race relations were relatively unheard of. I have often found myself wondering, what was life like for him? Did he have a particular identity? And if so, how would these questions relate to style.
I remember his style vividly, his hair was always parted in the centre and curled at the sides, this used to make me smile. As soon as you entered his home you were hit with the smell of tobacco, because he was always smoking a pipe, his dress was that of an Englishman; trousers, shirt and maybe a cardigan. To be honest I just thought of him as ‘granddad’, only when I became an adult did I realise his origins and begin to wonder about his culture
Granddad led a really interesting life, his first job was working as a gamekeeper for the Duke of No rfolk in the grounds of Arundel Castle. He then joined the Territorial branch of the Royal West Sussex Regiment and found himself called for service the day before war was declared in September 1939. After serving in the Second World War for six years he returned home and found work with the Southdown’s Bus Company, comfortable with his job, Arthur stayed with the company for 25 years.
Arthur is described by his daughter to have been a very sociable person, he attended the local Labour club and the pub and was always talking to different people. A photograph in my great grandmother’s collection shows Arthur as a member of the local football team, also a very family orientated man he appears to have lived quite an English existence.
I think he lived an English identity because these were the influences which surrounded him, in his home, where he went to work and in his social pursuits. It was through popular culture that other interests were reflected, Arthur was a keen singer and dancer, he had strong interests in musical theatre and appeared on the local stage, he also enjoyed the music of Hutch and Nat King Cole was his favourite performer.
It has been through the photographs of Arthur, my great grandfather that I have able to understand more about him and his life. He made himself accepted as a member of his community and stayed in contact with his mixed race origins through popular music and film.
- Lyanne Holcombe