Fancy a bespectacled rat at home? Of corpse you do! Meet the taxidermist delivering macabre Battersea classes

The Great Plague of 1665 wiped out vast swathes of Londoners with the blame for the rampant spread of the disease placed squarely at the feet of the capital’s rat population.

And now a mere 400 years later it seems that Londoners are turning the tables on these critters by skinning, stuffing and manipulating them into macabre, yet bizarrely sweet, human poses.

Meet Margot Magpie the enthusiastic tutor who transforms rat corpses into quirky anthropomorphic artworks.

** Warning: graphic images below**

magpie class

The London-based former veterinary nurse runs regular workshops all over the UK instructing her new pupils in the finer arts of preserving and breathing new life into their latest companions.

Taxidermy isn’t merely confined to stags heads adorning country estates these days you’re just as likely to see foxes snarling from microbrewery pub walls and anthropomorphic mice dancing in art galleries.

Battersea taxidermy class

Margot took time out from reanimating the dead in the elegant surroundings of the Edwardian Battersea library space to chat to SWL about the appeal of taxidermy and its growing popularity with crafty UK amateurs.

She said: “Taxidermy gives people the ability to create life from death.

“I started as a veterinary nurse because I’ve always been interested in animals and I saw so many go to waste – I always thought that something could be done with them.”

dead rat unskinned from Andrea Kilby

The animal-loving artist has been running classes for two years and revealed there is no ‘standard’ student with everyone from doctors, lawyers and teachers coming along to roll their sleeves up and dabble in the unusual skill.

Like most people Margot first encountered taxidermy at the Natural History Museum and was awestruck by the way creatures from the past were brought to life.

from Andre Kilby skinned rat

She explained: “I really like the way people created animals like the sabre tooth tiger, made from tiger skins and false clay teeth.

“They were creating something that had never seen and only imagined.”

dead rat insides removed

“The workshops require a lot of craft, taxidermy is a definite skill. People like them so much because they’re learning something unusual and there is a morbid interest in death and dead things.

“It’s also a chance for people to get away from the digital world – there’s a lot of interest in making something that lasts forever.”

rat skin preserving in cup from Andrea Kilby

SWL met some of the intrepid amateur taxidermists who were stepping into the macabre world for the first time.

Andrea Kilby, a banker from Battersea, told SWL: “I love the art of Polly Morgan, she inspired me to come to this class.

“It’s a cool thing to do and it’s been as interesting as I thought it would be. I might get more adventurous and try a giraffe next time!

“Taking the skin off wasn’t as bad as I thought. It was a bit smelly but there wasn’t much blood!”

rat taxidermy parcel

Her new classmate, Katy Mason, a psychiatrist from Brixton agreed. She said: “I was worried it was going to be gory, I came prepared to leave!”

The beautiful library space seemed an apt setting for those quietly concentrating on preserving and then posing their rats with a variety of doll-sized props.

taxidermy props

The final artworks looked more like soft toys than stuffed animals with some carrying miniature parcels, others reading tiny newspapers and one nibbling on a little lollipop.

Margot explained that she enjoyed characterising animals rather than merely stuffing them.

rat with glasses and book

She said: “I prefer the animals as characters instead of straight taxidermy. The first one I ever made was a squirrel on the telephone.

“People dress up their animals, you see a lot of dogs in fancy dress! This is an extension of that, giving them characters and telling stories.”

taxidermy class final product

Andrea and Katy seem pleased with their new and impeccably-behaved pets, Roland Rat and Toad, who were delicately transported home in striped paper bags more ordinarily stuffed with boiled sweets.

Katy added: “I might take him out on the tube to see what reaction he gets. I might even try stuffing my husband next!”

For more information about Margot Magpie visit her blog here.

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