I was born in Carmarthen, but lived in Scotland until the age of six before coming to live in Cardiff. I lived in Rumney, where my parents owned the Monkstone, a private club catering for weddings and evening events. Although my education and time spent with all my friends in the local schools was very normal, I have always remembered that my childhood was slightly different to my friends, because of where I lived. All my friends had normal family lives during the early sixties, but my early life was surrounded by parties, music, and late nights while my parents worked. Obviously I was always meant to be sleeping….but my memories of this time (good and bad) have stayed with me all my life.
Eventually in 1967 I left home at the age of 17 and went to Cardiff Art College in the old Friary. I was free to live my life as I pleased, and the sixties were a perfect time to do it! During my time in art college I studied fashion and textiles…although I could have worked much harder, I chose not to….and just enjoyed life as much as possible.
During the sixties we had many coffee bars and small venues where they played great music all night. I particularly remember The Kennard Rooms in Roath, The Victoria Ballrooms in Canton, The Estonian Club in Charles Street, The Scene Club, Whisky a Gogo, The New Moon in the Hayes, and The Casablanca in the Docks. The regular place for meeting then was upstairs in The Kardomah in Queen Street. All the mods would meet there regularly on a Saturday…. we would get to know about parties that were happening that night….sometimes huge numbers of mods would turn up on scooters at some unsuspecting home most often in Cyncoed or Lisvane.
Music was at its best for me at this time … Dylan,The Stones, The Beatles, The Who, Yardbirds, Kinks, James Brown, Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd … too many to mention. I feel very privileged to have been able to see all these amazing groups and singers in their early years performing live in Cardiff mostly at The Capitol, Sophia Gardens or Top Rank … and at very little cost. One memorable event for me was at The Stax Tour seeing Otis Redding singing just a few feet away on a small stage in Top Rank in 1967 just before he died. The event was amazing to see … with Arthur Conley, Sam and Dave, Booker T and the MGs, Eddie Floyd and The Markeys.
Life changed for me when I married and had my daughter, although, our life style always remained unconventional. We opened Wild and Woolly in 1973, selling our own designs, hand made using Liberty Print Fabrics. We had a range of ethnic clothing and jewellery from Peru and Afghanistan. In later years we introduced what was then called secondhand clothing. I had always worn and collected “vintage” clothing since I was a student and now we had hit on something new….and it was very successful. Second hand and antique clothing was easier and cheaper to find in the seventies, but times changed and we had to move with it, to Jacobs Market which is still trading there now and worth a visit.
Eventually in 1985 my husband and I both worked in the television industry at HTV, freelancing in the costume department, but we continued designing, making and selling to various fashion outlets in Cardiff.
I am very nostalgic and miss the old Cardiff that used to be. I miss all the old streets behind Queen Street and St Mary Street, all the old pubs, cinemas, and cafes. I miss the individuality of all the local department stores and shops of that time. I find it quite hard to accept that we (society) are happy to destroy so much of our past so easily, only to replace it with something that has no relevance whatsoever and now most cities look the same. Having said that, I think that Cardiff is still a beautiful city. Luckily we have kept our arcades and of course our castle and civic centre makes Cardiff as special as it is. We are lucky to be a few miles from the sea, close to the country side and the mountains are just a short drive away.
My life now is as busy as ever. I’m still buying and selling vintage clothing, under the label http://www.artofvintage.com. More recently I have started another small venture http://www.artofvintagesouk.com, importing Moroccan kelims, cushions and unusual artisanal goods. I love Morocco and travel there regularly to many different areas, including the desert and south Saharan coast, sourcing interesting items for the business.
I continue to design and make costumes for television and private commissions, and if that wasn’t enough I work on weekends in The Albany Gallery helping to organise exhibitions and selling art!! All my work combines to enable me to remain reasonably free and independent, a way of life that interests me and keeps me active.
If I had friends coming to visit me in Cardiff for a weekend, because my house is too small for guests I would first send them to stay at The Lincoln House Hotel in Cathedral Road where they would be well looked after by Kath and Neil. There are so many great places to go in Cardiff. I would obviously take them to see the art in The Albany Gallery in Albany Road. We would probably have coffee in one of the many new cafes in Wellfield Road. We would visit the new Cardiff Made shop in Lochaber Street. I expect I would take them to the Pumping Station in Penarth Road, or I would take them to Chapter for casual food and drinks and chats with loads of familiar faces or to see a film. We would possibly go down to the bay to the original old pub The Packet, my favourite pub. If it was the right weekend, we would go to Cafe a GoGo in Gwdihw for some soul music, a regular event there.
I would take them to the Zio Pin Italian restaurant, not expensive and consistently good food and friendly staff. I’m always checking for live music events that are on in St David’s Hall or The Millennium Centre. Just sometimes there will be a rare performance on of some good music, and the next one I would recommend is Tinariwen, nomad musicians from Mali, in July in St Davids Hall. Not to be missed!
Elizabeth Lee has lived in Cardiff for nearly 45 years, though she still feels only 25 inside. See her current venture at www.artofvintage.com. She currently lives in Cathays.
Elizabeth was photographed in her workshop by Joe Singh.