Forbesfield Flowers: Beauty, colour and quirk in the Castle Arcade

Just a few days ago I had the pleasure of photographing the absolutely gorgeous Forbesfield Flowers, a beautiful florist in the Castle Arcade.

Anybody who reads this blog with any kind of regularity will know how infrequently I’m able to get my act together and post photos within a few photos of the shutter being released. However, Forbesfield, in its current incarnation, will cease to be in a short while, so I thought I better hurry it along so you can see it while it’s still around.

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Christmas in the Arcades: Magical lights in the Castle and Morgan Quarter

For many people, Christmas means presents, turkeys, Father Christmas and maybe even Jesus. For me, my favourite part has always been the lights. And maybe Mariah Carey’s all-time best song (no, not Dream Lover).

This year, the Arcades are looking as gorgeous as ever, with an array of lights to really heighten the festive cheer of the shoppers inside. I think the Morgan and Royal Arcades have really gone all out this year, and a visit to Cardiff this December wouldn’t be complete without a wander through the arcades to check them out.

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Cardiff Arcades from a totally different perspective…

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of borrowing a Nikon D4 and an 8mm fisheye lens.

What better subject for such a combination than the beautiful arcade architecture?

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Vintage Zizou: Beautiful, colourful, delicious clothes and jewellery in the Castle Arcade

It always thrills me to see a new shop opening up in the arcades, so full of hope and exciting spirit – and none possess this more so than the beautiful new vintage shop which can be found in the Castle Arcade.

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Cardiff Arcades Project Christmas special… Madame Fromage: cornucopia of foodie delights

I know I seem to say this for almost every shop I photograph, but Madame Fromage is one I’ve been exciting about shooting for ages. After trying, and failing, to set up a time for me to go in since March, I was actually kind of glad that I missed any earlier opportunity as it meant going in just as all the delicious Christmas produce was coming in.

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Troutmark Books: Cardiff legend, haven for the written word and possibly the odd geek or two

Since starting this project some months ago, Troutmark Books was high, very high, on my to-do list. One of the stalwarts of the Castle Arcade, it has been present in the city far longer than I have and I’ve often found myself wandering around it on a wet afternoon looking for something to pique my interest.

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Barker: from clothes to coffee – a mini department store in the Castle Arcade

It’s not all that often you see a clothing store combined with a coffee shop, except for perhaps the huge department stores like House of Fraser. But when you think about it, it does kind of make sense – tired from all that hard work trying on clothes and choosing an outfit… pop next door for a refreshing cup of tea and cake. And while you’re sitting down perhaps you’ll decide to get that top you thought was quite nice but weren’t sure of after all – savvy business thinking.

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Claire Grove Buttons: Cardiff institution, craft-lover’s paradise and photographer’s dream

Pretty much since the day I started this project, I’d wanted to feature ‘the Button shop’ as I call it. I often describe it as my favourite shop, and I’m not even too much into crafting (don’t seem to have the skill for it…). But in here, it’s a real Aladdin’s cave of tiny wonders. Just to warn you, if you have a button phobia, you might want to close your browser quick sharpish, right now… if not, read on…

Claire Grove Buttons is one of the oldest shops in the arcade, having been in business in the same unit for around 30 years, after a brief foray in the now defunct Dickens Arcade (now the site of Revolution).

Born in Birmingham but growing up in London and Wales, Claire decided to open a button shop after leaving art college and thinking it would be a good move. Her distant family has a button factory in Birmingham which has been going for a very long time, so you might say it was in the blood.

In the beginning, Claire would design and make the buttons herself, but now sources them from a variety of places, many of them from her favourite country, India. You can see the Indian influence throughout the shop, in the intricate designs of the buttons and the belly dancing outfits adorning the wall.

During her time in the arcade, Claire has seen the majority of businesses come and go, with only Constantinou’s and Barker’s lasting a similar length of time as her. She can remember both Cafe Minuet and Troutmark Books opening, now institutions in their own right.

She reckons the boom time for the shop was the 80s, when craft was very big and more people were knitting. On the other hand, people will always need buttons and she also does big business from tourists charmed by the quirky nature of the little shop no doubt. As crafting starts to come back into the mainstream now, you can but hope that once again there might be a boom time for the shop, so that it can keep going for another 30+ years!

At the start of my post I mentioned button phobics. I have a couple of friends who have this strange fear, but naturally Claire has met her fair share of others in her time too. She told me that it’s usually men, who are forced into the shop by their other halfs and stand there stiff as a board looking petrified. Other times, a friend will be loitering outside while those inside gleefully tell Claire that their companion is too frightened to come in. She’s even seen people use the shop as ‘therapy’ to overcome their fears… the lengths people will go to. Interestingly, or perhaps weirdly, she’s never seen anybody with a fear of beads. Go figure.

Working in the shop during my visit was Elaine, who has been at the shop for a number of years and has also worked at other arcade businesses such as the New York Deli. Elaine makes a lot of the jewellery hanging for sale from the walls, and told me that she is still finds things in the shop that she’s never seen before even after many years.

Elaine also told me that the shop is quite selective about who they let take photos in the shop, so I hope that these pictures have done this wonderful place justice, and if you like them, please feel free to let me know in the comments box below.

Like so many of the shops I have photographed this week, this is a shop which I could run up a huge shutter count for, so you will find more in this Flickr set.


Folk Farm: the most incredibly insane (in the best possible way) shop in Cardiff’s Arcades

Knowing where to start on this post is incredibly difficult. If you know anything about the shop, Folk Farm, or its charismatic owner, Chris Brick you’ll know why. If you don’t… well… prepare for something like you’ve probably never seen before.

Folk Farm is like no other arcade shop. In fact, it’s like no other shop. Certainly I’ve never witnessed anything like this before. Based around the theme of an old country farm, with sprinklings of the American mid-West liberally dashed around the place, this is a clothes-cum-record-cum-god-knows-what shop nestled away in the Castle Arcade.

If you’ve walked past it you’ve probably not really had any idea what’s going on in there. And if you’ve been brave enough to venture in, you’ve probably come out none-the-wiser.

It actually boasts Britain’s, if not Europe or the World’s largest collection of folk vinyl. Put simply there is a LOT here. It doesn’t seem to be in any order, so you will really need to root around if you’re looking for something in particular. There’s incredibly rare stuff here too, I’m not exactly in the know about this kind of thing, but you would hope a £100 record is £100 for a good reason.

On the other end of the spectrum, the clothes are amazing value. You’ll find mountains of t-shirts for £5. Or even £1 in some of the baskets. You’ll find random bits of clothing in the window that you could probably even haggle on the price of. You’ll also find random bits of whatever from all over the place floating around.

This isn’t the first time the owner, Chris Brick, has owned a shop of course. Oh no, far from it. Go in and ask if you want more details, honestly it’s really worth the chat. According to Chris, every 7-10 years he thinks up a new random idea, always based around a certain theme, and goes with it. He’s taken his shops to the US, notably in New York and San Francisco, but now, in what he thinks will be his last venture, he’s back in his homeland of Wales for Folk Farm.

Anyone familiar with his past might know of his previous ventures, Demob in London, Smylon Nylon in New York, Center for the Dull, also in New York and Teenage Millionnaire in LA. If you’re not familiar, now is a good time to get acquainted with the latest project. But even they weren’t his first ventures, he tells me, in his Welsh-American lilt that his initial business projects all collapsed, losing hundreds of thousands in the process. But he always picked himself up, dusted himself off, and got on with the next one. Until people started to cotton on and the shops became successful, a bit weird, a bit different, somewhere people just want to hang out.

He lives up by Abergavenny, the surrounding counties being the places he sources his crazy collection of goods from.  He tells me a lot of things in the shop are designed to evoke memories in customers. The tin bath for example, which you’ll find hanging off the ceiling as you come in the door (of course), reminds him of fireside baths as child.

Unbelievably, Chris says that not that many people have come to photograph the shop before for the press and so on. What?! I ask, probably 10 times during the course of our 2 hour chat. This can’t be possible. Why wouldn’t people want to photograph this? This is the most incredible place I’ve been in for a long time. Stand on one spot in the store and you can take 50, no 100 pictures and they will all be completely different. Honestly, try it out for yourself. Chris won’t mind, he just goes with the flow.

After leaving the States behind to come back, New York was the hardest market to crack apparently, Chris is less bothered about making money these days, so long as there’s enough to pay the rent and the bills and get by. This is clearly just about him doing what he wants to do and not worrying about what anyone else thinks – the best way to be.

His children, having grown up in America had to swap Malibu for the Welsh Valleys, love it all. They probably get their attitude from their father – it’s only his wife who would rather be back Stateside (on a rainy day would you blame her?).

You’ll see that I’ve taken a lot of portraits of Chris – all his idea. What can I say other than this guy’s a natural in front of the camera. He says he picked it up from watching the film extras that used to visit his American shops, but it’s obvious this isn’t the first time he’s been photographed. He asked to see one of the photographs I’d taken. “Look how old and fat I look!” he remarked. “Uh-oh…” went through my mind. “Isn’t it great!” was his next sentence.

Chris Brick and Folk Farm. Incredible guy, incredible shop. Go and check it out, now.

As you can imagine, I took hundreds of photos in this shop, of which I narrowed it down significantly. You can see a selection in this post, but there’s even more over on this Flickr set.

On this post, comments are, more than welcome, please share your thoughts, notes and insanity at the bottom.

Dragon’s Kitchen: Traditional Welsh food opposite a traditional Welsh Castle

It’s probably not a good idea to eat a Brownie for breakfast. But when it’s delicious and comes courtesy of the wonderful Dragon’s Kitchen (Cegin Y Ddraig) I think you can just about be forgiven, right?

Anyway… seeing past my sugar induced haze, I had the delight of spending a couple of hours in this Castle Arcade cafe yesterday morning and having a chat with owner JP.

Dragon’s Kitchen is directly opposite the Castle and sells traditional Welsh food as well as the usual takeaway items such as baguettes, teas, coffees and pastries.

JP has only owned Dragon’s Kitchen since 2009. Prior to that it was Celtic Cauldron before being taken over by a charity not long before JP bought the place and transformed it. The charity took away the kitchen from the downstairs, so this is now an extra dining area and everything that is made on the premises is done so behind the counter.

Although you’ll find an array of traditional Welsh food, such as Cawl, Lobscaws and Rarebit, it’s fairly priced and very much not intended to just be a tourist trap for those coming across from the Castle, but offering something for everyone. JP tries to make everything himself, or anything that he buys in source from Wales.

In the short time I was there, a few other local business owners popped in for a quick chat or to ask a question,  reinforcing the community spirit you tend to see in these arcades, even when the businesses would traditionally be competing with each other. Interestingly, JP tells me that the businesses try not to step on each other’s toes, making sure that they each offer something different. You won’t find pizzas in Dragon’s Kitchen as Cafe Minuet is opposite, and you won’t find Cupcakes as Madame Fromage is just down the way.

To backtrack a little to the history of JP and the cafe, the name Dragon’s Kitchen was to tie in with the tradition of Celtic Cauldron, but signify a departure. After studying catering at University, JP spent years working at Cardiff Airport before joining the Western Mail to work in advertising. After deciding to quit his job, him and his wife went around the world traveling, came back and set up Dragon’s Kitchen. The logo was designed by JP’s Dad, and in a nod to more iconic Welsh culture was inspired by the dragon from Ivor the Engine.

Popping in the day after a long bank holiday weekend threw up some interesting points. The whole arcade was closed on Sunday, but JP says that it wasn’t as busy on Saturday as usual, and Monday, even when most of the other Arcade cafes and eateries were closed was also very quiet. But apparently it’s hard to spot patterns, even during a normal week, which must make it hard, if not frustrating for business owners.

Like many of the businesses in the Castle and High Street Arcade, JP says that the roadworks on High Street and Castle Street were the biggest cause of revenue loss over the past year, and along with the white-out at Christmas, it’s tough this year as there’s nothing to fall back on.

Thankfully, despite the tough situation, JP remains ever positive, embracing social media to promote the business and speaking fo the great reviews the cafe has had on places like Qype and Yelp. It’s fantastic to see someone so enthusiastic about their business, and hopefully this will translate into good returns.

I’ll definitely be popping in to try some more traditional Welsh food – something despite living in Wales for such a long time I’m ashamedly behind on – make sure you pop along too. Have a look below for some more pictures from the shop, and don’t forget you can find Dragon’s Kitchen on Facebook and Twitter, as well as their main website.