Vintage Wedding

‘There’s always a backstory’: How fascinating indie clothes shop became part of Derbyshire pit town community

Lydia, 47, has been part of the growing Clay Cross indie community for eight years.

Her vintage clothes shop, Lady Peacock, has its own fascinating backstory, as does Lydia herself. A strong character, with honest delivery, she mirrors exactly the business she’s created: a colorful statement of choice.

“From the age of 13 to about ten years ago, as a goth, I was wearing black all the time. Never had a color on me at all. So the whole Lady Peacock thing, it was like going from this dark shadow, to you know what, I’ve got to a certain age now where I actually don’t want to be in the shadow anymore. I want to be out there living it, enjoying life, dressing how I want to dress, not being judged for anything. I can be who I want to be. I think I hit my 30s and thought, that’s it, that’s who I want to be.”

Lady Peacock

Lydia smiles when she says this. You can tell by the look on her face that this was a big step in her life. But her journey to the Lady Peacock shop took a more methodical approach.

“Over time I’ve gone in small steps, so, small premises with affordable rent. A little bit bigger as more income was coming in, and the need became more. From trying it out as a stepping stone to see how it would fit within the community, how I could settle in here, because I’m not from here originally, I’m from Manchester.”

And has she become settled in Clay Cross? “I’ve become very rooted here. People know me extremely well now. I’m the vintage lady. I did have people saying to me ‘Oh what do you want to do that in Clay Cross for? And my answer was always: why not? Something a bit different, something I can offer to the community, that will be used as a sort of hub, and that’s what’s happened with each of the premises. I don’t just run it as a business, I run it as a community space as well.”

In her eight years within the community, she has curated several hubs with the intent of gathering people together, her choice of venue always “somewhere quirky, with a bit of background to it. I don’t do new builds or anything like that. Because of what I do, it has to have an atmosphere. It has to have some sort of connection and roots to the community.”

Lydia Watters

“I started with a tea room. At the top of Clay Cross in the old Victoria building, called the Vintage Community. Afternoon teas, cakes… and I was also doing workshops, so I was teaching ‘make do and mend’, really going back to traditional making and creating. And because Clay Cross has got quite a following of creative people, I wanted to be part of that.”

This ‘make do and mend’ philosophy seems to be in the very middle of Lydia, connecting with both her love of the historical, and the creative. This also connects to her other work as an art and design teacher in a Nottingham school.

“I’m doing my best to bring back traditional skills,” she says, nodding. “I’m always proud to say I’m working class. When I’m working with children, they see it that if you’re a teacher you must be privileged, and I say to them no, I come from the same place as you, and I’ve worked really hard at it. I’ve had to crawl my way, bit by bit.”

When asked where this ethos of making the best of what you have comes from, she smiles, thinks for a moment.

Lydia in her shop

“My step-mum was a machinist, and she used to have a big industrial Singer sewing machine in the back room of the house. There were always piles of fabric everywhere. I was always cutting bits up and pinning bits together, making stuff, trying the treadle on the machine without it being plugged in just to see how I could do it.

“My step-mum used to make pillows and cushions, and my dad was a market trader on Salford market, and he’d sell them. And even though I think it’s strange looking back, I made the connection between my dad who had a little market stall in all weathers, and the making. Lady Peacock didn’t start with the shop, it started by reviving things, making and repairing.”

And here is where Lydia links her own life experiences with her fascination of the historical, the grass roots ‘make do and mend’ of the 1940s.

“When people had nothing, and how inventive people were. Not just what they could and couldn’t have at the time, the rations that they had on food, but also clothing and the social aspects of it. People had to use the skills they’d got. They didn’t have money to throw at things, and now we’re such a throwaway society. Back then, they’d take a dress from the thirties and go ‘well, that hem line has changed so we’ll change it, that collar has changed so we’ll change it’. It got a new life, it didn’t just get chucked away.

Vintage handbags

“And when we had that time of the new look into the 1950s style, people were still a little poor but were starting to build up. We were growing. It’s almost like we took it back to the basic bones and then built a new generation. New building design, new clothing design, new car design, everything. It became a time where people didn’t just go ‘oh well, I’ve got nothing left’. No. I’m going to build. I’m going to die.”

And build and make is certainly what Lydia has done. Walking into her shop is an experience. The visual wow of textures and colors, the soft swirl of swing jazz, the scent of cloth and history, a room packed with bygone stories and new beginnings. A glance isn’t enough. It feels impossible to take it all in with a two-minute browse. Each rail a treasure of difference. Each shelf a find of particular. Each drawer a packed trove.

Dresses, suits, shoes, hats, gloves, braces, skirts, blouses, cravats, ties, belts, trousers, jackets, jewellery, shirts, collars, coats, cufflinks, perfumes, compacts, lipsticks, handbags, undergarments, scarves, stockings… all collections covering the 1920s up to the 1970s for both women and men.

“It might sit in here for years until that one person comes in. There are things that make me cry in here, that make me really emotional. If someone’s got an outfit on that looks perfect, you do get that moment of…” Lydia pauses, claps her hands together, says with a big grin, “Oh my god it looks fantastic! And also I know that journey of how I got those pieces, where they’ve come from, so it’s nice to be able to pass that on.

“So if it’s a 1930s wedding dress, I’ll try and get the wedding photograph as well to show who it was that had it, how it was worn. And then people are not just buying a dress, it’s had a life of its own before. It’s gone through a war, it’s gone through someone’s lifetime. So it’s not just a piece of clothing, it’s not just a piece of fabric. It comes with a story.”

Even Lydia’s fitting methods mirror the old-school, fitting “the person to the piece”, guiding the customer with items that go together by style and era, the accessories, and even tips on vintage appearance. “Can I get some ideas? Of course! Come and pick my brains! I’ve got books, I’ll show you the ideas. This is the make-up you need, this is the hair style they would have had at the time…”

Vintage perfumes

And if Lydia had to choose one favorite outfit, what would it be? She breathes in, shakes her head, laughs, and looking around the shop says it’s a very difficult question.

“I love the forties, but I’m not the shape of a forties woman. I’m more the shape of a fifties into sixties… but for me it would have to be the fifties. So it would have to be swing dresses, nipped in at the waist, free size off the hips. And they’re pretty, and they’re lovely. And a lot of people say well the fifties, that’s when women were tied to the cooker and all that, but it wasn’t. It was also a time of liberation, of being able to wear what you wanted to wear and not have those restraints. Each fashion era sees people being closer to being independent.”

Independent is certainly what Lydia Watters, aka Lady Peacock, is.

Chiffon headscarves
Vintage accessories
Lady Peacock Vintage HQ
Hats, clothes, and necklaces
Men’s vintage accessories
Vintage hairstyles
Bags, hats and shoes