Christine Butler, a self-described ‘Yorkshire lass’ with Caribbean heritage, has led an interesting life. Since 2002, she has owned Ashwater Barton Farm in Devon.
BB: Thanks for talking to me, Christine. Can you tell me a bit about your family?
CB: My father was born on St Vincent, part of the Leeward Islands’ Richards family who’d once been slaves. My great-grandparents took over the plantation when the owners left. There were mountains covered in bananas – when I went there, the banana boat had come in. I sat at the base of a 12-foot banana mound, eating them. At that time, many people couldn’t afford bananas in the UK.
My mother was a Yorkshire lass, whose family were Huguenot Protestant Methodists from France. My father was also a Methodist. He arrived in the UK with only a suitcase having sold land to his brother to pay for his new life. At church, he’d sit in the congregation, staring at my mum. One day it started snowing. He’d never seen snow before and wouldn’t leave the church! My mum took him by the hand and led him home.
BB: What was your childhood like?
CB: We didn’t have a fridge, phone or car. We rented in an area with a criminal reputation. I was clever, but I wasn’t encouraged. During that era, black people weren’t seen as leaders or given credit for our achievements. My mother had been ostracised for marrying a black man. I didn’t allow those attitudes to hold me back – I did things for myself.
I achieved four top A-levels at 17 – revising in a cemetery as I had no bedroom – and went to Edinburgh University. The exam assessors didn’t see my appearance – perhaps if I hadn’t had an English name, things would have been different.
I met my now ex-husband, an Oxford scholar, at a conference – we both edited student newspapers. We moved to Birmingham where we both ran organisations. I’ve experienced all levels of society – my friends in Huddersfield had very little. When returning home in Birmingham, I’d often see my ex-husband and people I socialised with on the TV.