Legend has it that Hoxton Street Monster Supplies has been located in the same spot on Hoxton Street in London since 1818. If you walked past the shop a few years ago and thought you saw a job center, that’s just because the shop—purveyor of all things horrific and terrifying—has only been visible to humans since 2010, when it also started working with charity Ministry of Stories. Ministry of Stories helps kids in east London get involved in storytelling and writing, and was founded by Nick Hornby, Lucy Macnab and Ben Payne. All of the Monster Supplies’ profits go to the initiative, which provides free after-school and school workshops (a similar set up to the 826 literacy programs and stores in the United States).
“Ministry of Stories wants kids to think of writing as something fun and pleasurable,” says Emily Murdock, HSMS Shop Coordinator. Children’s shrieking voices from behind closed doors in the store isn’t evidence that the monsters have gotten loose, but rather a sign that a writing workshop is in progress. And the store itself, which is decked out like a sinister 19th century apothecary, encourages kids to use their imagination and create their own stories. Its well-designed products (by London design studio We Made This, include Cubed Earwax “made the traditional way, in copper pans above a gas flame,” tins of Escalating Panic that are “particularly effective in crowds” and bottles of Salt made from Tears of Sorrow, “collected only at moments of complete misery.” Entering the shop lends the sensation of coming into a parallel universe, one where customers have to be informed that the store doesn’t accept human sacrifice as payment.
Though Hoxton Street Monster Supplies is understandably busiest around Halloween, it’s open all year and also has a webshop. Customers from all over the world come to sample the products—among the bestsellers are tins of A Vague Sense of Unease and Creeping Dread. Apart from the spooky products (such as Black & White Humbugs and American Hard Gums) each tin also contains a scary story by a famous author. Zadie Smith and Charlie Higson are among the literary names that have contributed to the shop’s offering.
The store gets new products in a couple of times a year, and its collaborative spirit is very much in evidence. The latest product, “Your Story Starts Here,” is a notebook containing advice from kids in the workshops to other children who want to write. At any given time, the store and Ministry of Stories itself has a couple hundred active volunteers, evidence that its combination of excellent design and a good cause are a success. And what other shop can brag that its customers have been coming to them “for centuries… indeed, some have been coming for considerably longer”?
Images by Cajsa Carlson