An excerpt from the Bermuda Historical Quarterly, Winter Quarter 1960.

I am going to tell you what we St. David’s Island folk used in our homes many years ago when we had very little money and ‘made do with things in a way that is almost forgotten today.

Seventy years ago there was no electricity and few oil stoves nearly everyone cooked in open fireplaces, and did their baking in brick ovens. Some poor people who lived in frame shacks, had fireplaces built of loose stones in their yards. No coal was used in the self heaters; we made coal from the cedar we burnt.

Nearly every family kept a cow which gave us milk, fresh butter and also cottage cheese. Scallop shells from the beaches were excellent for skimming cream.

There were no herbs sold in the stores; but we could go out and pick parsley, thyme, sage, tansy and sweet marjoram for kitchen use. When prickly pears were ripe, we used them for making candy.

Pawpaw leaves were wrapped around meat to make it tender. While small loaves of bread were often baked on a banana leaf.

To grate cassava, a piece of heavy tin was bent in the shape a grater and holes punched in it. Large kerosene tins were then used in which to bake the cassava.

I can just remember when coffee beans were beaten by hand with pestle and mortar.

Pumpkin stew or pumpkin pie was food fit for the gods. Line the black gypsy-pot with pastry, put in cut-up pumpkin, potatoes, salt pork or beef, with plenty of seasoning, then pastry on top. That was a delicious dinner for a cold day!

At times, we were very isolated on the island. But when, in a storm, the ferry could not come and bread couldn’t be brought over from St. George’s, we children were delighted. It meant that mother would make baking iron bread; she would take out the old baking iron, roll out the dough the size of the iron – and how we children loved that bread!

Then it was time to wash dishes; in many homes dock leaves were used instead of mops for this purpose.

For cleaning in general, the most homely articles were utilized. For instance, a piece of “bamboo” cactus leaf, about eight inches long, crushed, was used for scrubbing floors; this made them beautifully white.

Cedar “brush” was used to clean mould from hams; also to wipe the self-heater before ironing.

The brasses were cleaned by rubbing with ashes.

Cloudy milk-bottles were cleared with sandy stones from the yard – where we also sharpened knives on the brick steps.

Long bamboo canes were used for ceiling brooms.

As for our water supply — large palmetto leaves were put in the tanks to purify the water. I don’t think we St. David’s Island people knew very much about goldfish. But we could always find plenty of little mullets to eat the mosquitoes in the tanks, in a little pool in the mangroves at the Stocks in the extreme west end of the Island.

Of course there were no refrigerators and it was extremely difficult to get a piece of ice; so a length of mosquito-net was tied over a box-frame and hung by the gutter of the tank in the yard to act as a safe to keep meat or fish from the flies.

As for the furnishings of the house, I remember that corn bags, washed clean, made kitchen mats. In the bedrooms, there were none of the expensive eiderdowns one sees in the stores to-day. Most people  made their heavy bed-spreads by quilting them: Friday afternoons were set aside for parch-work-quilting parties. The poorer class of people, mostly from the East End of the island, used bedgrass for stuffing their mattresses. They always considered that the best grew at Sam’s Point and Mrs. Lowe’s Hill. Banana leaves were sometimes used for this purpose. We had no hot water bags, but used, instead, an old brown jug.

We had no barometer in our home, but there was a good bottle of shark-oil; when it became very thick we knew we were in for bad weather. Also, we could tell by the undertow and by waves breaking over Castle Point, when a hurricane was approaching.

Thermos bottles were unknown. When we went on a picnic we took the old black tea-kettle and boiled the water over a blazing fire in the open. We would see the fishermen who always tied up fish for sale with strips from a palmetto leaf, and coloured their lines with a dye from long mangrove shoots.

There would be five or six oil lamps to light at night. An old woman would put her five lamps on a stand at dusk, and use one match to light the five. The matches themselves were precious for they had to be home-made. An old aunt of mine made matches from sulphur.

Calabashes were cut to use as boat bailers; the Zuills at Orange Grove were always kind in giving Island people calabashes from their trees.

Those who kept chickens would put horehound or wild mint in the nest when setting a hen as this was supposed to keep maywings away. And, in the spring, a lump of aloes was put in the chicken’s drinking water as a tonic.

Several of the islanders were experts in the Bermuda craft of making hats from palmetto and in whitening hats with sulphur.

(Bermuda palmetto hats had been famous from the time of Queen Anne.)

There was very little bleach on the market in those days; consequently, whatever needed bleaching was laid out on the grass in the sun and kept wet by sprinkling with water.

As children in school, we used slates for writing; not until we were quite advanced were we allowed ink to write in exercise books those unforgettable sad poems: “The Burial of Sir John Moore”, “The Loss of the Royal George”, “The Schooner Hersperus,” “Little Jim,” and “Lllewellyn and His Dog.”

But our simple fashions meant a good deal to us. White lace was dyed ecru shade by being dipped in strong coffee. And, many years ago, when hoop skirts were worn, one St. David’s Island young woman wore such a mammoth one to the Chapel-of-Ease that she was unable to squeeze into her pew and had to retire down the aisle!

Umbrellas were often re-covered on the Island. A Mrs. Higgs was an expert and would use the same frame many times.

When I was a child, it was not only unfashionable to have a tan as people do to-day, but it was considered a disgrace. Whenever I went out of doors I was made to wear a shady hat; I even wore a sun-bonnet that an old aunt made for me.

We knew nothing about such modern refinements as Breck’s Shampoo. We would make a journey to Joe Fox’s Hill at the East End for rosemary, steep a bunch of it in hot water, cool, and wash our hair in it.

Two or three times a year, I remember old Swan would come from the upper Parishes to St. David’s, with his wheelbarrow full of tinware. As he went from house to house, one could hear his tins jingling a long way off. He would sell a flour-sifter for sixpence, nutmeg grater for threepence. A rolling pin cost a shilling, while a tape measure was only fourpence.

There was neither doctor nor trained nurse on the Island — an Island that at that time was totally isolated from the rest of Bermuda. When there was sickness, friends and neighbours would lend a hand. And when a dear one passed away, nowhere in Bermuda was more sympathy shown than on St. David’s Island. The old custom of sending out announcements regarding the Funeral died out about fifty years ago. But when my mother passed away, thirty-four years ago, and old Aunt Patty Hayward nine years later, we went back to the old custom of our forebears: announcements, written on black-edged paper, were taken around by a boy on foot.