He calls it, with a certain peasant drollery, The Society For The Protection of Unwanted Objects, otherwise known as the Emporium. Much a theme and place to scribble about here at Phoenix Ark Press and the unofficial Society For The Protection of Unwanted Authors! It is a little jumble shop up in London’s Herne Hill, at 125 Dulwich Road, run by James Castle, a gladly rediscovered mate from yesteryear, when he liked gate crashing my parties (always strictly uninvited by demand) and treading shamelessly all over my strewn manuscripts, being rude about the Upper Classes. Now he specialises in house clearances and reclaiming the curios that go in and out of fashion with the ever changing tide of times.
I went up to see James partly out of necessity regarding an antique pipe and partly drawn by the place itself, Herne Hill. I know, I know, who on earth would want to risk the scruffy outskirts of hill bound South London, hard by Dulwich Village, despite the apparently leaping house prices and the new pedestrian zone by the station? Gastro pubs seem to be breaking out there like a rash of the Black Death. Except of course for the fact that it appeals because Herne the Hunter is a key figure in my novel Firebringer, and it must have been over the likes of Herne hill that the rebel Jack Cade marched from Blackheath into Southwark to stay at the White Heart Inn in July 1450, hard by the Tabard and old St Margaret’s church, apropos of work here on the Canterbury Road and Edmund Shakespeare. It was also in Dulwich that the great Elizabethan actor Ned Alleyn lived, to found that College of God’s Gift, later to become Dulwich College school. Then Alleyn’s father-in-law was the ubiquitous Phillip Henslowe, famous for his diary and accounts books, Master of the Game, Keeper of the Royal barge house, landlord, Southwark Cathedral warden, brothel keeper and the owner of the Rose, Fortune and Hope theatres. They both made a great deal of money together in that riverside world of the Liberties. Besides, I might be living there soon, if I’m not careful.
No lost manuscripts or Elizabethan jewels in James’s cluttered shop, sadly, but instead three fine hours spent sipping some wine, watching James work, irritating him by suggesting a make-over and wondering where the hell my life has gone to. It’s gone to Herne Hill Society! Despite accusing him of living off the profits of dead men’s clothes, or wondering how I could make it all more designer bijoux, it is actually James himself that makes the place and defies the critics by being so proudly what it is, an old fashioned jumble shop. It is the same passion that finds a true charm in objects that others would immediately consign to a skip or run over in a Ford Mondeo and makes little bits of gold by cleaning up an old pair of scissors, to find that sterling name Singer, and a price tag of £10. So the Ladybird edition of The Shoemaker and the Elves hangs in the window – unwanted books can be the most painful waifs and strays of all, like childhood memories – along with a handmade WWI wooden airplane, a couple of quality shirts, unused, and a whelter of oddities and curios. Not quite Mr Magorium’s Wonder Emporium and yet, little bits of magic…. James has other strings to his bow but it is something he devotes more than half his time to now. There is very little reason to the place but a lot more rhyme, since it has turned into a decent small business, that thrives on James’s enthusiasm not just for objects, unwanted or wanted anew, but for the stories they carry and the connection they bring with real lives around him now, going up or going down. Then, as Wilde quipped so splendidly, “we’re all in the gutter, but some are looking at the stars…”
James is good with people, neither deferential nor rude, but was funny about what he does and being hard nosed too about making a living, as he resisted my attempts to clamber across a railway arch of clutter to get to the lute sitting in the back room and sing drunken madrigals. He wasn’t at all amused by my suggestion a storyteller could hold an open day and weave fabulous tales around the objects and so give them an instant price-hiking provenance. He says he now has enough stock in the background to last a lifetime, as he darts towards his mobile to check out prices ‘out there‘ and do half favours for the folk struggling around him. James sometimes worries if he is too kind, as I accuse him of being low life pond swine, and he mixes work with helping people out. He makes it clear he is not a charity and yet clearly likes being fair and also sets off in his van to deliver things to places like The British Heart Foundation. The problem with those charities is that nowadays you seem to have to have things Dry Cleaned by Delphic Nymphs before they will actually accept them and in fact most Charity people do not know the trade, as James does, and so the potential value of everything and anything. A snapshot of customers ranges from the mentally challenged, the irritating know-all, the sweetly browsing tourists and the couple buying a frame to create a revealing picture for a gynecologist flatmate, to passersby wondering where the photo man is or if their motor will get a ticket. All just grist to the mill at The Society For The Protection of Unwanted Objects.
You can visit the Emporium at 125 Dulwich Road by taking a train to Herne Hill, or hopping the number 3 bus: 125 Dulwich Road, Herne Hill SE240NG London, United Kingdom. 14:00 – 19:00. Phone 07817 538872 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org