Walsall is often a place that is passed through rather than stopped in for long periods of time, and like many of the medieval towns dotted around the West Midlands it has a specific charm.
I remember first discovering that charm at the famous Walsall Market. There were stall upon stall of market traders, with an abundance of great characters and personality with plenty of good deals to be made.
According to history, Walsall was established as a market town in the 13th century when a weekly market was introduced. Although this culture has dissipated with the ravenous modernisation of many town centres and the online shopping industry, there are still a few people who keep some form of traditionalism in the sell.
Deep in the bowels of Walsall lies many secrets, some of which you can actually go and seek. History entrenched within walls which you might not even know existed until whispers reveal their locations.
And so, driving through the somewhat grey autumnal streets of Walsall, with the old terraced houses and myriad of takeaway shops may lead you to…
The Dog House is a bizarre, yet delightful emporium, sitting just off Carl Street, decorated from front to back with incredible life-size props and merchandise, that will draw you in on a journey into the unknown.
My friend Coops works at the store and so I had the pleasure of spending over four hours wandering around the emporium and meeting the owners of this incredible family run business.
There’s definitely a deep sense of nostalgia, from the smell of the furniture, to the types of china or cutlery from different worlds and eras. Aura’s linger at every corner, at times catching you off guard or inviting you to bask in the energy…whether it’s spooky or not.
In fact, I took out my ghost detector app and fired it up and was pleasantly surprised it picked up paranormal activity in the areas where I felt strange energy! Of course, it could just be how these apps are programmed, but it’s good to keep an open mind…especially as the building was once a church…
Curious to know more about the place, I spoke with owner Faye Rutter and took a deep dive into the history of the Dog House Emporium.
Before we even start the conversation, Faye tells me that her dog has been acting strangely recently…
“For the last couple of months, she comes in starts to shake, runs straight out and sits in the car park and won’t come in.”
Faye then points over to the area where her dogs been acting weird and it’s in fact the same area where I picked up activity on my ghost detector app. She then begins unravelling the haunted secrets of the emporium.
“When we first moved in here and we were waiting for an alarm and security system, we’d pay a guy to come and sleep up here. He absolutely refused and said he’d never do it again. He was convinced it was haunted.”
“We’ve had things fly around the room, I’ve not witnessed it, but my dad has seen stuff fly off shelves. Quite often, at night when things end up on the floor for which we can’t account for. But I’m unsure whether that’s individual pieces of furniture that might be causing this as there’s not a bad feeling throughout the whole of the building.”
“My parents started this business about fifty years ago. We’ve been on this premises for thirty-three years now and it’s very much a family business, my brothers, sister and friends are all involved.”
Like most emporiums or antiques stores, the Dog House has a lot of items, Faye divulges how they accumulate the items in the shop
“People move out of the area or downsize; they might have to sell or swap homes. We take a lot of stuff from bereavements and people going into homes, so that’s how we accumulate the stock.”
“You can’t make a living being antique dealers anymore. This would be pre-1920s goods. Also, if you’re purely antique it alienates a lot of younger people. The word antique is stuffy where as if you use the words ‘vintage’ and ‘collectables,’ it opens up the whole business to include younger people.”
“You can come in here and spend from 50p up to £10,000 on an item.”
There is just so much ‘stuff,’ in the world especially with hoarding culture, you only have to see charity shops with items piled outside the store fronts on pavements. So, I wondered, what’s difficult to sell at the Emporium?
“The things we cannot sell at the moment which I’m sure we’ll find a niche market for in the coming years, is 1940s bedroom suites. We cannot sell them for the love of the money and there are so many on the market at the moment. They were wedding presents from the second world war and of course that generation is dying out now.”
Faye’s answer spurs a question for the curious…what stuff cannot be taken and for what reason, including the weirdest items the Dog House have taken in?
“The weirder the better,’ Faye explains “If there’s something really weird we take it. It’d have to be something really normal and plentiful for us not to take it.”
“We have the odd coffin and have some weird Sinclair C5s. We’ve had Victorian skeletons that were used for anatomical or educational purposes, anything like that is so rare now, but it fetches quite good money.”
“We cleared an S&M parlour once. There was a film company and they must’ve been filming porn and S&M scenes, all this weird and wonderful and they wanted us to buy all of the props! We had stuff from a dentist’s chair, whips and all sorts, so that was interesting.”
“We get taxidermy and grandfather clocks seem to be classed as weird, but I love them.”
“We have macabre memento mori jewellery ‘remember we must die.’ Georgian jewellery, mourning jewellery which is starting to become collectable again. It was very out of fashion because it was morbid and it’s kind of spooky. You have little inscriptions and people’s hair in the jewellery. It’s become very fashionable now but wasn’t for a long time.”
“We have a yellow submarine and a coffin that somebody recently turned into a coffee table. We also had tornado cockpit.”
Clearing out properties or even visiting other people’s homes, lends itself to some unique experiences. It reminded me of when I worked as a Telecare Communications Officer, where I had to do home visits with an occupational therapist. At times, we’d come across homes with yellowing wallpaper, the type that sort of peeled itself off from the abuse of fried food and nicotine. Homes that were fragranced with the smell of urine and mice. Those were the times we’d have to kindly accept cups of tea from residents who as sweet as they were, had thick layers of dirt and crud nestling under their finger nails. We always drank the tea.
Faye is no stranger to visiting homes under unusual circumstances.
“Twenty-five years ago, we had a call from social services about an unfortunate gentleman. He had a heart attack and died in his house. But he’d fallen onto a two-bar electric fire. Electric fires nowadays have to cut out, but this was an old one, so it kind of dissolved him…not all of him but his torso.”
“Apparently, he fell onto red quarry tiles and they’re quite absorbent so it just left an outline of where he died.”
“By the time we got called into do the job, social services had done a clean-up but the furniture…I can’t tell you how awful it smelt and it had a layer of grease. It went into the workshop and the lads had to clean it all down, but it still had the smell. So, we cut up onions, put them in the drawers and inside the furniture because onions absorb the smell. It was a carved oak cupboard.”
“The cupboard found a new home; they didn’t know what happened obviously.There’s been a few things that you think, if a piece of furniture could talk, they’ve seen some things.”
Amidst the pandemic, it’s difficult to see how stores like the Dog House survive, especially with the increasing popularity of charity shops, this and making a living out of other people’s stuff is a quite a skill!
“I think it’s hard to make a living now from just selling antiques and that’s why we do a bit of everything,” Faye continues “We can do whole bags of coals to a diamond. We cover everything, records, China, props, jewellery, the whole lot,” Faye explains
“The big emphasis is on recycling and we recycle everything, if we can’t sell it, we’ll send it to charity. We’d probably end up in landfill if we didn’t restore or recycle. People buy stuff and upcycle too, so I think this business has a way to go yet.”
It’s wonderful to see that the Dog House has a special clockwork which keeps on ticking and that the spirit of the Emporium lives on as does the heart and soul of items that once belonged to living beings.
Thank you for your time Dog House Emporium!
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