#52 ancestors: Fire

Philomena Florenco (abt. 1890 – 1972)

My Great Aunt Philomena was a partner of a dry goods store called Searchlight Stores in Georgetown, Guyana. It sold clothes, shoes and fabrics; lots of imports from England. According to one of my uncles, Philomena knew the business and his dad, Alexander, was the ‘money man’, the accountant  My Mum worked in the store in the 1950s and my uncle’s family lived upstairs in 4 rooms.  The whole family worked in the store at one time or another.  The store was on 231 Camp Street, a couple of doors down from Harlequin Bakery. 

The political climate in Guyana during the 1950s and 1960s was very volatile, partly due to the country’s fight for independence from the English and partly due to the rise of the Communist People’s Progressive Party (PPP). Protests against the PPP came to a head in February 1962 when rioters and looters destroyed much of Georgetown, including my aunt’s shop. Friday 16th February 1962 became known as Black Friday.

This photo was taken by my Uncle Bertie, who was in Guyana at the time.

I have no way of knowing how my family coped with the destruction of their home and livelihood but my uncle told me one story about the events of that night. Looters had deliberately burnt down the shop next door which was owned by an Indian family. The fire quickly spread to Searchlight Stores (most of the buildings were made of wood).  As the looters were leaving, they stopped to apologise to my uncle’s dad for burning his shop down too.

The following newspaper article and images gives some idea of the devastation.

Sunday Argosy, 25 February 1962

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