Vintage Inspiration – My Great Grandmother

As a child I spent many an hour sitting in my Grandmother’s shop in Pimlico. The shop sold all sorts of curiosities, antiques, bric-a-brac and lots of Victorian lace items and clothes. The shop had been passed down to my grandmother by her mother who had been a market trader, then shop owner and avid collector of Victorian clothing.

Gertrude Lee, born 1886 my great-grandmother had a very interesting life. She started her working life as a variety artiste, singer and dancer on the stages of London in the 1910s and continued on the stage until after the first world war. She used the stage name ‘Betty Lambert’ I have this early picture of her with the other stage girls, it’s so fascinating to see her and be related to her.

One of the most amazing pictures we have of her is this postcard from the first world war, which was sold to raise money for tobacco for the men on the front line.

Following the first world war Mrs Lee supported her family with her love of costume and antique clothing by trading under the famous clock tower in Caledonian market, and in the markets of East Street, London.

By the 1950s she had expanded her business and was running three London shops in Camberwell, Covent Garden and Pimlico. The shops specialised in fine lace from Honiton and Bruges as well as antique clothing, and costume from stage and screen.

Here is a picture of her in her shop in 1953 with the actress Jean Marsh, who later starred in Upstairs Downstairs

And another picture from the 1950s

She was a hoarder and as well as running the shop she owned a massive collection of Victorian and Edwardian clothing, some of which was later donated to the Victoria and Albert museum, where funnily enough my brother now works!
She continued to run the shop until 1977 when she died at the age of 91! She only took time off for a trip to Soviet Russia in the winter of 1966 for her 80th birthday, and to travel to the United States and Mexico where she crossed the Atlantic Ocean on the world’s largest ocean liner Queen Elizabeth 1.
Here she is outside her shop
After her death my Grandmother Marjorie and her husband Jack took over the running of the business until she retired in 2006 well into her 80s!
I think having the influence of these amazing women is the thing that fuelled my love of vintage and inspired me to collect and sell it. I only wish her collection of clothing had stayed in the family as I would have loved to have seen it.
I will try to dig out some more pictures of her and put them on here as soon as I can.
These pictures may not be reproduced under any circumstances without my prior written permission. Thank you.


    • vintagefrills March 25, 2012 / 7:20 am

      I know! We’re so lucky to have these amazing pictures of her.

      • somersaultingthroughlife March 25, 2012 / 10:25 am

        Yes! You’re lucky they survived, especially because of wartime and everything – they must have been through a lot.

  1. mitzicuri December 15, 2012 / 7:25 pm

    Hi Catherine! I’m so glad you stopped by my blog and left a comment. I will definitely link to this post in the future, and mention your wonderful story! Your grandmother was a beautiful and amazing woman. I wish you had inherited some of her clothes too, but at least you have these fantastic pictures to share!

    • vintagefrills December 17, 2012 / 1:08 pm

      Thank you for commenting. These pictures are a real treasure to me. We recently unearthed some more pictures which we’d never seen before.

      • mitzicuri December 21, 2012 / 11:22 am

        Catherine, would you allow me to post one of the pictures from this blog post in an upcoming post of mine, linking back of course? I want to tell my readers about your story and how we connected.

      • vintagefrills December 21, 2012 / 11:44 am

        Of course, that would be lovely. xxx

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