09 March 2010

A Carnaby Street Childhood

My great grandfather Jack grew up in the Soho district of London, where his Belgian father worked as a theatrical costumier. The family lived in Carnaby Street during the 1890s.

Click here for one of my earlier blog posts about the family

If you are a dedicated follower of fashion, you may recall that Carnaby Street became famous in the 1960s as a hub of popular culture. I am too young to remember the 1960s in much detail, though two of my aunts were in their teens at the time and remember it well.

About Carnaby Street

About theatre costumes

Jack died at the age of 65 in the early 1950s. He worked for 41 years as a conductor on London trams. In his teens he was a pageboy, perhaps in one of the grand houses in Mayfair, not far from Carnaby Street. I would love to know more about his experiences of growing up.

When I lived in London, in the 1980s, Carnaby Street was a dull and rather tacky walkway. I never knew at the time that my ancestors had once lived there. To me, it was just a short cut on the way to my favourite shop in the city:

Liberty of London

I wonder if Jack's father had any association with Libery of London, in particular its costume department. Edward William Godwin (1833-1886) was a founding member of The Costume Society in 1882, when he was director of Liberty.

The Costume Society

Although I could not afford to buy much in the shop when I browsed there on Saturdays in my late teens, I did purchase a few small pieces of beautiful Liberty fabric, which I incorporated into a hand stitched patchwork quilt during the evenings after work. Perhaps my interest in hand sewing quality textiles derives from my Belgian ancestors.

While my friends would spend many of their evenings in pubs, restaurants and nightclubs around London, I would often stay quietly in my room, making my patchwork quilt while listening to beautiful music. I saved money towards my future travel that way.

And I still have my patchwork quilt, too.

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I especially appreciate historical insights.