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Introduction: The Contradictions of a Collection: Dr. Lambshead’s Cabinet

Introduction: The Contradictions of a Collection: Dr. Lambshead’s Cabinet

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A photograph of just one shelf in

Lambshead’s study displaying the

“overflow” from his underground

collection (1992). Some items were

marked “return to sender” on the

doctor’s master list.



To



his dying day, Dr. Thackery T.

Lambshead (1900–2003) insisted to

friends that he “wasn’t much of a

collector.” “Things tend to manifest

around me,” he told BBC Radio once,

“but it’s not by choice. I spend a large

part of my life getting rid of things.”

Indeed, one of Lambshead’s biggest

tasks after the holiday season each year

was, as he put it, “repatriating well-



intentioned gifts” with those “who might

more appropriately deserve them.”

Often, this meant reuniting “exotic”

items with their countrymen and women, using his wide network of

colleagues, friends, and acquaintances

hailing from around the world. A

controversial reliquary box from a

grateful survivor of ballistic organ

syndrome? Off to a “friend in the Slovak

Republic who knows a Russian who

knows a nun.” A centuries-old

“assassin’s twist” kris (see the Catalog

entries) absentmindedly sent by a lord in

Parliament? Off to Dr. Mawar Haqq at

the National Museum in Kuala Lumpur,

Malaysia. And so on and so forth.

He kept very little of this kind of



material, not out of some loyalty to the

Things of Britain, but more out of a

sense that “the West still has a lot to

answer for,” as he wrote in his journals.

Perhaps this is why Lambshead spent so

much time in the East. Indeed, the east

wing of his ever-more-extensive home in

Whimpering-on-the-Brink

was

his

favorite place to escape the press during

the more public moments of his long

career.

Regardless, over time, his cabinet

of curiosities grew to the point that his

semipermanent loans to various

universities and museums became not so

much philanthropic in nature as “acts of

self-defense”

(LIFE

Magazine,

“Hoarders: Curiosity or a New



Disease?,” May 19, 1975). One of the

most frenzied of these “acts” occurred in

“divesting myself of the most asinine

acquisition I ever made, the so-called

Clockroach”—documented in this very

volume—“which had this ridiculous

habit of starting all on its own and

making a massacre of my garden and

sometimes a stone fence or two. Drove

my housekeeper and the groundskeeper

mad.”

Breaking Ground

This question of the cabinet’s growth

coincides with questions about its

location. As early as the 1950s, there are

rather unsubtle hints in Dr. Lambshead’s

journal of “creating hidden reservoirs



for this river of junk” and “darkness and

subterranean calm may be best for the

bulk of it,” especially since the

collection “threatens to outgrow the

house.”

In the spring of 1962, as is welldocumented, builders converged on

Lambshead’s abode and for several

months were observed to leave through

the back entrance carrying all manner of

supplies while removing a large quantity

of earth, wood, and roots.

Speculation began to develop as to

Lambshead’s intentions. “If even Dr.

Lambshead despairs of compromise,

what should the rest of us, who do not

have the same privilege, do?” asked the

editor of the Socialist Union Guild



Newsletter that year, assuming that

Lambshead, at the time a member, was

building a “personalized bomb shelter

with access to amenities many of us

could not dream to afford in our

everyday lives, nor wish to own for fear

of capitalist corruption.” In the absence

of a statement from Lambshead, the Fleet

Street press even started rumors that he

had discovered gold beneath his

property, or ancient Celtic artifacts of

incredible

value.

Whatever

Lambshead’s motivations, he must have

paid the builders handsomely, since the

only recorded comment from the

foreman is: “Something’s wrong with the

pipes. Full stop.” (Guardian, “Avowed

Socialist Builds ‘Anti-Democracy’



Bunker Basement,” April 28, 1962)



Floor plan found in Lambshead’s private

files, detailing, according to a scrawled



note, “the full extent of a museum-quality

cabinet of curiosities that will serve as a

cathedral to the world, and be worthy of

her.”

Throughout the year, Lambshead

ignored the questions, catcalls, and

bullhorn-issued directives from the

press besieging his gates. He continued

to entertain guests at his by-now palatial

home—including such luminaries as

Maurice Richardson, Francis Bacon,

Molly Parkin, Jerry Cornelius, George

Melly, Quentin Crisp, Nancy Cunard,

Angus Wilson, Philippe Jullian, and

Violet Trefusis—and, in general, acted

as if nothing out of the ordinary was

occurring, even as the workmen labored



until long after midnight and more than

one guest reported “strange metallic

smells and infernal yelping burps

coming

up

from

beneath

the

floorboards.” Meanwhile, Lambshead’s

seemingly preternatural physical fitness

fueled rumors involving “life-enhancing

chambers” and “ancient rites.” Despite

being in his sixties, he looked not a day

over forty, no doubt due to his early and

groundbreaking experiments with human

growth hormone.

Why the secrecy? Why the need to

ignore

the

press?

Nothing in

Lambshead’s journals can explain it.

Indeed, given the damage eventually

suffered by this subterranean space,

there’s not even enough left to map the



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