All some people want to do on a Saturday afternoon is drink craft ale surrounded by pickled vertebrae and scrota, listening to pop-punk Christmas carols, and selecting just the right, lovingly hand-crafted, stuffed crow diorama for their weird Auntie Mabel. Is that really too much to ask?
At Barts Bazaar – no, no it is not.
Given that we’re among those people, Weird Metal Blog took advantage of a rare public opening of Barts Pathology Museum, St Bartholomew’s Hospital, for which the three-floor space was filled with stalls selling all manner of pathology-themed goods for the Christmas season. The museum, located a short walk from Barbican Station, was opened in 1879 by the then Prince of Wales who later became Edward VII, and houses over 5,000 medical specimens.
Trust us, it beats M&M’s World.
But first: the bazaar. The stalls that fill the main space offer a pretty unique mixture, including: kitchenware, soft furnishings and household objects decorated with medical drawings; highly realistic animal skulls made from Belgian chocolate; jewellery featuring animal bones and images; and stuffed creatures in display cases.
The sellers are a glamorous and colourful bunch – all stylish goth, kitsch and rockabilly – and they’re happy to answer people’s questions about the process of making their wares, or about anything at all really.
Remnant Black, an ‘alternative textile artist’, specialises in ‘darkly stitched delights’ such as pin cushions, pillows and dolls, embroidered cards and notebooks, all decorated by free-hand machine embroidery with images inspired by Gray’s Anatomy.
Lozzy Bones Art sells prints and woodcuts capturing ‘macabre moments using stark, clinically precise monochromatic imagery’.
Conjurer’s Kitchen is where you go for dark chocolate death masks, parrot skulls for nibbling on and all manner of shocking and sweet treats.
And now: the bizarre. The Pathology Museum itself, an oval shaped tall room, divides its grizzly items into roughly themed areas: skin conditions, cancer, bones, diseases of the bladder and testicles, brain/nervous system etc.
The shelves that line the walls around the space are filled with medical specimens, mostly displaying cross sections of human body parts in rectangular/cuboid containers immersed in murky yellow preservatives, although it does also feature animal specimens linked to specific human conditions. For example, one plaque flatly details a jar containing the preserved body of a scorpion that fatally stung an unfortunate, unnamed ‘Dutchman’ – in the perineum no less.
Other specimens – memorable as they truly resemble the matter of nightmares – include a calcified calf foetus or ‘stone baby’, and a foetal skeleton with ‘water on the brain’ (below, left). It’s difficult to imagine that the small face-like object seemingly carved in stone – akin to one of Lovecraft’s horrific bas reliefs – was almost a creature of flesh and blood; or that the grotesquely swollen skull with demonic features, precariously perched on top of stick-thin legs, once belonged to a developing human baby .
Also around the room are large watercolour illustrations that detail the symptoms of conditions such as ‘child’s back with eczema circinatum – 1892’, which highlights the fact that ‘the causes of eczema remain unknown’. Each drawing is its own horror story, especially ‘girl showing the effects of congenital syphilis – 1875-1882’, which depicts the poor patient’s face, deformed by ‘pegged teeth’ and a ‘flattened nose bridge’, among other things.
These exhibits encourage the visitors to exchange stories of injury and disease. “I had a friend who broke her pelvis,” one man informs his companion, “…fell off her horse on Dartmoor,” although none that Weird Metal Blog heard are enough to rival the suffering implied by the museum’s artifacts themselves.
Barts Bazaar is for those who are spiritually opposed to dragging themselves through overcrowded London megastores, stuffed with garish Christmas decorations and an underlying sense of despair. It’s for those who want the butterfly on their necklace to be real, and for those who like discussing unusual forms of gout whilst supping mulled wine.
The first Barts Bazaar which ran in August 2015 proved so successful, with long queues running out of the building, that the museum decided to open its doors again for this event, this time ticketed – Weird Metal Blog very much hopes they will continue.
Explore the Barts Pathology Museum website for details of future events, more information about the museum itself and to discover the Sherlock Holmes connection.