This article was written for Annabel & Grace, which is now part of Rest Less.
Now that we all trying to go green, I am reminded of an old friend of mine who is probably one of the first Greenies. She hasn’t flown in a plane for 40 years, grows her own vegetables, recycles everything and revolutionised second hand clothes with the very first posh pre-loved clothes shop which was located in Beauchamp Place in London. Her name is Bertie Golightly…
I first got to know Bertie in the very early 60’s. She was a friend of a friend and she needed somewhere to stay in London – and she was a stunt girl. Always in need of more cash, I rented the bay window in my bedroom in Chelsea to her!
This slightly hair-brained scheme worked terribly well. I was in a West End musical so was never at home in the evenings and more often than not went out after the show, so seldom came home before 4am. Bertie however, as she was working in films and doing the inhospitable hours film folk do, had to go to bed early and was just leaving to go to work at 4am! We passed like ships in the night, borrowed each other’s clothes and never got on each other’s nerves. Thus began a life long friendship.
Bertie first got into stunting because she was an excellent horsewoman and unusually she could ride side saddle. Her first film was Tom Jones and from then on her career took off. She tumbled down stairs, jumped from horses to railway trains, hung from ceilings, and floated naked down the Thames as a dead body for Hitchcock’s film Frenzy. A varied life and unusual way to earn your daily crust. However it was the Sixties and we were all having a ball.
She was paid handsomely but as time went on … 20 years of tough stunting all over the world , she realised that her body could not take the knocks for ever! Amazingly, although she has been hospitalised many times, she has never actually broken a bone.
Somehow or another Bertie needed to find a business that she could start from her home. She lived in Bradford on Avon at the time and she certainly couldn’t afford much outlay.
Before stunting. Bertie had always been part of the horsey set, and because of it she moved in a good cross section of posh county folk. At the time, the girls still had coming out balls and cocktail parties to go to so Bertie came up with the excellent idea of running a clothes exchange. After all you could not possibly wear the same dress to more than one party!
Her little house in Bradford on Avon became a Mecca for not only the “gels“ but also the mums and aunties and mothers of brides. The clothes poured in and Bertie, being hugely discreet, never allowed anyone to know who the previous owner had been. She was also very careful that clothes never got ‘over exposed’ or seen too often in one county!
She was a huge success, the business grew and so did Bertie’s little black book. She bought the previous year’s collections and added new designer clothes as well. Of course she then went into hats and shoes, so you could get your entire wedding or Ascot outfit all at one time. Even better, once worn, you recouped as it could be sold again!
Soon Bertie moved to Beauchamp Place. It was all absolutely wonderful until the parking wardens arrived. Suddenly the chauffeurs couldn’t just stop the car and bring in armfuls of clothing – the only way to deliver was by taxi and that was no fun for people coming up from the country with hat boxes, ball gowns and shoeboxes. Bertie ended up working day and night, selling all day and driving all over the country to collect. It couldn’t go on so, as a large number of her customers came from the royal triangle – Bath, Cotswolds Wiltshire – she bought a shop in Marlborough with easy access to the M4. London one way, and Highgrove and Gatcombe the other. The business rolled on and I honestly think Bertie fitted out half the posh weddings and parties.
I have been buying from her for years. I even bought my third wedding dress from her and then wore it on the Oriental express a week later! She is a mine of information and, if you are lucky, she might even tell you some stories from her stunting days or our double dating story. She and I found out a particular guy had been double dating us so we procured rotten cabbages from friends who worked in Covent Garden fruit and veg market and Bertie climbed the scaffolding which was outside the offending man’s mews house and chucked rotten cabbages through his skylight! He never knew who had done it, but it rather backfired on us as we couldn’t get the smell out of Bertie’s car! He never double dated again so… mission accomplished!
Sadly, Bertie shut up shop when Covid reared its ugly head. We have had two years of no Bertie but the good news is she is opening again. This time it is by appointment only. So if you live in the area, phone and book ahead explaining what you are looking for, she will do the rest. Suitable dresses and/or accessories will be waiting for you when you arrive at her shop in Marlborough, Wiltshire. There is an altering service and Bertie will instinctively find the right thing for you. So if you don’t fancy travelling to London or paying fancy prices, give Bertie a go. Phone 01672 513318. You can browse her website here.
More from BackPacking Granny can be enjoyed here.