I belong to Burngreave: George Curtis, a man of many parts

A woman stands and smiles at the camera with her arm around an older man to her left
George with his daughter Dr Sharon Curtis

Story by Jim Jamison

Photos by Anwar Suliman and from the family album courtesy of Wayne Curtis

George Curtis has been part of the Burngreave Community for well over 50 years – some of you will know him as George, some as Ben, and both are his given names. If, like me, you have (or have had) a vehicle needing attention, you may have first met him through his business – Curtis Motors (Accessories, Parts, Servicing, Repairs) on Burngreave Road, near Vestry Hall.

George’s journey to present day Burngreave started a long time ago and far away. He said:

“I’m originally from Jamaica and arrived in Southampton on 13th August 1960, at the age of 24. The ship was diverted because of a hurricane but a few days’ delay caused a problem. We ran out of food!”

George Curtis (far right) in 1960 aboard the ship which brought him to England

George made friends on the boat, one of whom ended up in Bradford and they have stayed in contact throughout the years. His first stop was London, and a bonus that he discovered was that Guinness was a lot cheaper, but on the downside, yes, the weather was colder! I asked George why Sheffield? The answer was simple – work.

“I always wanted to be an accountant and that’s why I came to England. I told my mother that I would be back in three years – she came to find me after nine!”

George found a variety of jobs, starting off in the goods yard in the Wicker before moving onto the buses, firstly as a conductor and then as a driver. George then became the first black man to have a black taxi in Sheffield. In 1976 George managed to buy his current business.

George is grateful that he had some good supervisors at work, who helped him at important times in his life. But what about racism, especially in the earlier years? George has sadly been the victim of direct racism in relation to the workplace and accommodation, and avoidance by influential community members. Some people were, however, intrigued to see and meet a black man and look for cultural similarities. George feels that his upbringing, with its emphasis on the learning process, being active rather than passive and exploring different things, has helped him deal with the difficulties he has faced and integrate into the Burngreave Community. “Burngreave is always changing itself.”

George has always been a man of faith and regular churchgoer. Since his first visit to St Catherine’s on Burngreave Road to give thanks for his safe arrival in England, he has been a member of the congregation there. George became a Eucharistic Minister in 1990 and many parishioners have benefitted, and still benefit from his unstinting help.

George is now in his early eighties and is supposed to be retired, but finds plenty to do with his time. He belongs to a walking group, taking every opportunity to participate, and his work on behalf of the Church keeps him busy too. He also enjoys taking the occasional holiday!

I am very grateful to George for talking to me about his life.