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Spooky goings-on ... and on, and on

By Web Monster, March 4, 2018 - 2:42pm
New Dummies shipped in for the shop window (Christmas card 2003)

In March 2018 we celebrate 15 years in our wee shop at 84 West Bow (Victoria Street). Now, to avoid any confusion, this anniversary is for our shop not the walking tours as they've been running for almost 35 years - founded in 1984.

Prior to moving into our tiny but imperfectly formed shop, we used to hide behind the scenes in dusty rooms taking telephone bookings for our tours. The only time we'd meet the public was when we arrived outside The Witchery restaurant on the Castlehill to conduct our evening walking tours. Our first Edinburgh office was at Merchiston Avenue, before we moved to Belford Terrace, then Upper Bow and, penultimately, the floor above the restaurant itself. (Our ghosts got a bit flabby having such a short commute from base to tour, but being able to "jump-oot" right next to the group was a good start to the tours - and the aromas from the Witchery's pastry-kitchen just below us were tantalising!)

The three flights of hairpin-tight ancient spiral staircase up to the office kept us from getting many visitors, however, and by now we boasted a growing range of things besides tours to sell, including our publishing empire and other merchandise. It became our goal to find a place to grow, and to bare our wares (as it were) to the public. As shops rarely appear on the market in the Old Town of Edinburgh, we jumped at the chance in 2003 when we spied a 'For Sale' sign on the frontage of a former curio shop at 84 West Bow. We were successful in our bid, and the task to create a suitably ghostly retail space was underway.

The shop as we first found it was best described as a bit of a "fixer-upper", but thanks to the professional work by the gifted practitioners at Inscape Joinery, the space was brilliantly revamped and we were serving a keen public before you could say "jumper-ooter". One of the first things we did in the shop was to commission a unique, life-size painting which goes by the name of Monk's Close. It was painted by contemporary Scottish artist David Martin (born 1975), not to be confused with the other Scottish artist called David Martin (born 1737).

The rest of the shop's interior decor was the product of a mix of surreal creativity and simple expediency: when you've been purveying a range of macabre-themed touristic, stage and film performances over a (by then) almost twenty-year period, you do find you've accumulated plenty of eye-catching conversation-pieces; and every such item we could festoon the shop with, meant one less squeaky toy rat, basket of severed limbs or coffin to cram into what little space there remained downstairs in the Ghosts' Lair (where the tour staff comb their teeth and eat baked potatoes before tours).

Having a lot more space to fill meant figuring out what else we should start selling. The process was what one might call a learning curve -- recalled with a roll of the eyes are early brainwaves like the "Wow! Mug" that changed colour when filled with hot liquids (for about a month, then didn't), or the tiny shortbread (most of which was eaten by the counter staff). Bit by bit, the catalogue started to take shape thanks to interest from local artists such as Keli Clark, feedback from visitors (we simply had to start stocking tarot cards for example, as so many people said we "seemed like the sort of place that should") and eventually, dare we say it, a growing intuition on our own part of what "worked".

It's fair to say our shop and its contents have developed somewhat over the years from the early days of selling postcards and books to today's full array of ghoulish gifts most of which can also be purchased online. We also house the William Burke Museum, which displays only one exhibit, a calling card case made out of the skin of notorious Edinburgh "bodysnatcher" William Burke.

So, today our wee shop is a morbid mix of tours booking office, gift shop and museum. If you're passing by, do drop in and say hello and if you're feeling brave you can even purchase a severed finger.