Human skulls, executioner's axes - pay a visit to Bournemouth's little shop of horrors (From Thisisdorset)
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Human skulls, executioner's axes - pay a visit to Bournemouth's little shop of horrors
How deliciously appropriate that Memento Mori is sited just a few hundred yards from the place where Robert Louis Stevenson had the dream that inspired Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.
If the great man was alive today no doubt the self-styled ‘Cabinet of Curiosity’ would have become his favourite local store, with its aforementioned skeleton, its executioner’s axe (£2,000 worth since you ask) and a variety of macabre merchandise, from a human skull, to an Edwardian wheelchair and a surgeon’s post-mortem kit.
The shop is the brainchild of Matt ‘Mattaeus’ Ball, his partner Starla James and far from being an adventure playground for freaks is a serious attempt to collate and sell items connected to that part of life that no one wants to talk about.
Even as I arrive a cheery gentleman from Somerset is paying for a surgeon’s kit, which he’ll use when giving talks and, says Matt, he has had inquiries from all over the UK about their official opening.
“I’m a photographer, my partner is a theatrical wig-maker and we didn’t want to do run-of-the mill jobs,” he declares, by way of explanation for the venture. “We literally thought ‘what can we do that will bring in money and that we’ll enjoy doing’ and we came up with this business.”
While he refurbished their premises, just off Robert Louis Stevenson Avenue in Westbourne, Starla searched out the right kind of stock.
“At the moment I have one piece of mourning jewellery,” she says, explaining these were items worn by the Victorians who virtually created a cult of death. “The minute I put them up on our Facebook page they sell.”
They’ll also be selling works by Vincent Castiglia, the artist who paints in his own blood: “He’s doing us 16 limited edition prints,” and by another artist who paints animals dressed as humans.
Starla’s eye for the grotesque developed at a tender age. “We lived in America for a while and my father drove us around in an old 1950s hearse with a coffin in the back,” she says. “I’ve always been interested in the macabre.”
She shows me a stuffed baby rabbit and a blood-letting kit. “I like taxidermy but Matt’s more a bones person.”
You can say that again. He shows me Starla’s Christmas present, a flower made from bones, and then explains how he makes tiaras from the bones of dead American mink which have been lawfully killed as vermin.
“We are very heavily into recycling,” he says. “If something gets killed for vermin a lot of the times the carcasses are discarded.”
Starla loves them and is no slouch herself when it comes to a bit of deft handiwork; she made her spectacular glitter-and-skull Victorian boots and she has also constructed four Sibyl wigs for the touring production of Fawlty Towers.
But talk of bones brings us to the elephant in the room or, in their case, the skeleton which isn’t in the cupboard but which is displayed, Havisham-style, in a glass haberdasher’s counter, surrounded by dried and desiccated flowers.
It’s important to point out at this stage that strict rules govern the possession and sale of human body parts and Matt and Starla adhere to them.
“We are mindful of the Human Tissue Act,” says Matt, explaining that the Act dictates that before you buy or sell human remains you must have a certificate of provenance to prove where they came from. “This is an ex-medical skeleton which is completely legal for us to own,” he says.
They are also in regular contact with the local police and with Bournemouth University, to ensure they are in full compliance with the Act.
Because the skeleton – which they have named Lizzie – is over 100 years old they are able to display her in public. However, human medical tissue which is younger than this can only be placed on private display although it can be bought and sold with the correct proof of provenance.
And Matt and Starla are mindful of public taste and decency. For instance: “I have a medical human leg bone and foot which I would like to eventually display in a ballet pose,” says Matt. “That would be OK but you wouldn’t display a human hand, say, with the middle finger stuck up, it would be disrespectful.”
He also declined one man’s enthusiastic request to sell him a human skull after discovering: “He wanted to put lights in its eyes and turn the top of the cranium into an iPod dock,” says Matt.
Even for them, some things are just too weird...
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