Woman spends her life collecting 10,000 carrier bags: ‘They are my babies’

‘I’m not supposed to add any more according to my husband but I just can’t resist’ (Picture: Media Wales)

They might just be bits of plastic to you, but to Angela Clarke, her carrier bags are her ‘babies’, and some are even worth hundreds of pounds.

Angela, from Aberdare, Wales, stores an impressive 10,000 of them in purpose-built storage at her husband’s factory.

She’s been building her collection for 40 years, ever since she was 11 years old.

It began 1976 when Angela, now 55, and her family were getting ready for the Queen’s Silver Jubilee.

‘Everybody was putting the union flag everywhere and everything was highly decorated, more so than we’ve seen from the past couple of Jubilees,’ she recalled.

‘So most of the shops brought out carrier bags with the union flag or the Queen on.

‘I just thought they were brilliant, so my mother encouraged me to get them so we could decorate our windows. It was quite a cheap way of getting a union flag and putting it in your window.’

Angela also remembers her father coming home with a black carrier back with a silver crinoline lady on from his travels to Jersey with a present in it.

She liked the bag so much she hung it up in her room as a poster, and her collection grew from there.

Both an affordable hobby and one which focuses on items very easy to come by, Angela said the bags ‘were modern art of the time.’

In a year, she had a 200-strong collection, with some from various stores such as F. W. Woolworth which isn’t around anymore.

Impressive (Picture: Media Wales)

There was a popular BBC Children’s programme airing at the time called Multicolored Swap Shop. The show asked if anyone had any unusual hobbies or collected any unusual things, so Angela wrote in and told them all about her carrier bags.

She ended up travelling from Aberdare to London to feature on the show, and said her collection ‘snowballed from there.’

‘The BBC had hundreds of bags sent in for me,’ she said. ‘I had bags sent in autographed by designers, bags sent in from the House of Lords by someone who actually took the House of Lords carrier bag from the gift shop, signed it and sent it to me with a letter.

‘Somebody went abroad for the Olympics and remembered that I’d been on Swap Shop and got in touch, so I started having bags from abroad. This was a time when package holidays weren’t as popular as they are now.

‘Aberdare was a small place, everyone knew everybody and people would go away on holiday and bring back a carrier bag for me, so I started getting bags from around the world.’

One lady sent Angela a collection of small bags that her mother had used in her sweetshop in the 50s and the 60s, along with recipes for the homemade sweets that used to go inside them.

Angela quickly began to feel that her collection was becoming a snapshot of history.

She even has a bag from the Twin Towers (Picture: Media Wales)

She said: ‘I’ve got Tesco’s throughout the years, right from the Silver Jubilee. I’ve got Asda bags when it first started and from places from abroad like JCPenney.

‘I’ve got Disney throughout the years. You’re highly unlikely to get a Disney bag now because they’ve shut all the stores.

‘I’ve got a bag with the Twin Towers in New York. It was sent to me. I’ve got bags from Hong Kong when it was a territory of the British Empire.’

Her oldest carrier bag is from 1954 – a pink and white striped bag that holds her mother’s veil when she married that year.

‘I’m not supposed to add any more to my collection according to my husband, but I just can’t resist,’ said Angela.

‘If I see something and think that’s unusual, I’m going to add that to the collection. I used to collect every different one, but now I only add unusual or special ones like at Jubilees.’

To store all 10,000 bags, Angela and her husband built a space in her husband’s factory.

‘He’s used to me now, we’ve been married 47 years,’ Angela said.

Even though it’s been many years since Angela was on Multicolored Swap Shop, the memory still sticks in people’s minds.

She said: ‘Even now, I meet up with friends, and we’re in our 50s, and when they introduce me to other people from our age group they always say “you remember Angela because she was on Swap Shop”.’

Despite the fact that vintage plastic bags can be sold for as much as £225, Angela said she’ll never part with her collection

‘They are still mine, they are my babies,’ she said, ‘but I do joke with the kids that it’s up to them what they do with them.’

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