It’s Bedlam - Ireland’s biggest curiosity shop

Traders at Bedlam Market, from left, Jacqui Wilde, Mark Kenny, Jenni Doherty, Tina McLaughlin, Junko Okura, Paddy Bradley, Elayne Cowie and Davy Brown. (0504PG30)
Traders at Bedlam Market, from left, Jacqui Wilde, Mark Kenny, Jenni Doherty, Tina McLaughlin, Junko Okura, Paddy Bradley, Elayne Cowie and Davy Brown. (0504PG30)

Situated in the basement of one of the city’s most impressive buildings, the First Presbyterian Church on Great James’ Street, Bedlam has indeed drawn comparisons with the curiosity shops of old. With a stimulating array of vintage clothing, furniture, jewellery, art, crafts, home wares, antiques as well as some superb new stock, Bedlam literally does have something to suit every taste.

Gladrags and Handbags is the first shop to greet visitors to Bedlam and trader Elaine McNicholl is particularly passionate about the stock she sells.

“We sell vintage clothes and accessories from 1900s -1980s. We tend to go towards the higher end, with designer and vintage wear, so when people buy from us, they buy something that will be a challenge to wear because it’s so amazing. They will stand out.”

Elaine has trading in her blood, as she reveals: “My father was an antiques dealer and he ran the Rocking Horse antiques shop at the bottom of Carlisle Road, and my brother also works with jewellery in antiques.”

“It’s extremely difficult to track items down, with our stock coming from as far away as America, France and Spain, and occasionally Ireland. Every single piece is handpicked and has to be in good condition and live up to the vintage label, being sexy, chic and elegant. People can literally feel the difference with vintage, it flatters a woman’s body because they are so well tailored. Clothing seemed to be more of a art-form in the past than it is today.”

“Our whole ethos at Bedlam is that we try to work as a co-operative and everyone has a say in what happens here.We are passionate about about what we’re doing and people are eager to tell the tale behind a certain dress or item and that makes it part of the history that you’re selling,” Elaine adds.

Besides being a well-known singer and promoter, Tina McLaughlin runs the irresistible Kitten Caboodle alongside Tracey Cullen. Revelling in all things kitsch and retro, Tina is in her element at Bedlam.

“We sell what we like here, things that are discovered in people’s attics, or from car boot sales and second hand shops. Occasionally from the Internet. We sell pre-loved clothes, items and jewellery that needs a new home and things which have a story behind them.”

Kitten Caboodle also sells some original art works and a variety of styles and items hand from surrounding walls.

“We currently have artworks by Marlene Bradley from Draperstown and local artist Brian O’Doherty, as well as a having a couple of local people who sell their own crafts through us too.

“I’m happy to be here and happy to be selling stuff,” Tina says. “It’s great for Derry to have somewhere like this again. At Bedlam, there’s more for the eye to look at and more to enjoy than your average shop. There has been such a decline in these types of curiosity shops, but they’re on their way back in again.”

Artist Patrick Bradley runs Beyond Redemption, a shop specialising in all things odd and unusual.

“I concentrate on the offbeat at Beyond Redemption, the weird and the wacky,” Patrick says with pride. “If it’s ordinary, I’m not interested. I like things with a bit of humour to them. The younger market don’t want dusty Victoriana, they want cleaner lines and something more 20th century.”

Patrick gathers his stock from various auctions, car boot sales and from England. “You have to work to get stock, finding each individual item is where the work is, particularly stuff in good condition.”

Patrick has been trading in oddities and antiques for over twenty years now. “I’ve always done this as a sideline to art. Primarily I’m an artist so I approach it from that angle, I find things interesting and hopefully other people will find them interesting too. I also sell a mixture of vintage and modern toys, and a really good seller are old antique Bellows cameras, we get them quite regularly but they tend to sell very quickly too,” he reveals.

The One World Shop was originally located in Shipquay Street but soon relocated to Bedlam when it opened. Specialising in ethnic and handmade goods from all corners of the globe, the One World Shop then ensures that all money made is returned to the creators to help sustain their craft. Some of the items on sale come from as far away as India, Korea, Japan, Bolivia, Cambodia and Thailand.

Geraldine, a charming former teacher from Derry, runs the shop Deisal (meaning ‘towards the sun’) at Bedlam. She summed up the kinds of items on offer from her shop.

“Well, what is most unique about us at Deisal is probably our Irish language books. We collect a variety of Donegal Irish stuff, Irish glass and basically anything of Irish interest that we track down through auction houses and the like. I think we are interested in the things that others are not interested in! Things like wooden buckets, three legged posts and bog oak! We have a lot of business from tourism and the local hostels, as they always want to take a wee bit of Ireland home.

Deisal also boasts a fantastic dictograph phone thought to be over 100 years old, as well as Irish utility phones from the First World War.

“Business is steadily improving and now we are getting regulars as well as people who come along looking for something different,” Geraldine adds.

Mark Kenny is best known to local people as the long-serving proprietor of Flip Clothing in London Street, the city’s original haven for all things vintage and retro. After 20 years in business and now relocated to Bedlam, Mark has never looked back.

“I have been specialising in vintage clothing for over 20 years and this is Flip’s newest incarnation, which I run in partnership with Decky Mullan, as well as two other shops, Rockahula and The Recovery Room. Flip still stocks the very best in vintage and retro menswear, all of which are handpicked styles for every age. We specialise in a bit of everything, sportswear, tweed jackets, tuxedos, lumberjack shirts, flares, Adidas tracksuit tops and everything in between.

“Because its a niche market, it seems the only place you can survive is in a place like this. We moved from the London Street because of escalating rent and rates and the running costs of an individual shop are so high, there wouldn’t be a big turnover, so its difficult. I’m definitely glad I made the move down here to Bedlam. When its quiet, you’re not stuck in the shop by yourself dozing by a heater - this is a special thing for all of us and we can talk to each other and buoy each other up.

Mark also runs Rockahula at Bedlam, which concentrates moreso on vintage and retro women’s clothes, ball-gowns, 70s tennis wear, vintage household goods, kitchen wear, Delph and house wares.

“I wouldn’t see it as a resurgence as such,” Mark says, “Vintage and retro stock is popular with people because it is quirky and good quality and it’s all about nostalgia. The majority of our items have lasted this length of time and will last a long time yet.”

The Recovery Room, meanwhile, contains more mid-century antiques spanning the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. “We’re talking straight lines and sleek,” Mark says, “Our furniture ands house wares compliment a lot of modern stuff and of course, it’s always nice to have a feature piece in your living room, dining room, bedroom or bathroom!”

Other shops at Bedlam include City Irish Art, Little Acorns Bookstore, The Box House, Family Jewels and Hidden Treasures - all of which stock incredible items and add something invaluable to the Bedlam mix.

Wilde and Brown is a joint venture by traders Jacqui Wilde and David Brown which offers a variety of vintage leather, retro clothing, footwear, furnishings, art, albums and unusual collectors items.

“Basically we stock whatever takes our fancy,” Jacqui told the ‘Journal’. “Because we so rarely have duplicates of anything and its so diverse, people come to us for all-sorts.”

Jacqui is proud of the community within Bedlam. “We’re a creative collective here. Some of us had never met before, yet we all get wonderfully. It’s a creative gathering and not just a commercial business. There’s a heart here, and it’s that sense that seems to attract people and has led to us being a permanent fixture here. In times of recession, you can get things to read, things to listen to, things to wear - an eclectic array - and people seem to appreciate finding these items and giving them new life, following in the footsteps of those who have come before them.”

So this weekend, take yourself for a mooch around Ireland’s most loved and welcoming curiosity shop at 35 Great James’ Street, Derry. Bedlam’s opening hours are Friday from 10am - 6pm, Saturday from 10am - 6pm and Sundays from 1pm until 5pm.