Tattooist creates huge animal skeleton museum at the back of his Doncaster shop

At first glance, Alan Turner's Doncaster tattoo shop looks like any other shop of its sort.

Wednesday, 1st August 2018, 7:04 pm
Tattooist Alan Turner with some of the skeletons he has in his shop at Dunscroft, Picture: Dean Atkins

Walking into the shop, past the reception area, Alan is creating a complicated sleeve design on a customer, in a room which looks just like any other tattoo studio

But even on the shop frontage, on Station Road, Dunscroft, there are clues that this is a tattoo shop with a difference. In the window, those looking closely will spot a few animal skeletons. And in smalller lettering, just below the main tattooist sign, are the words 'skeleton museum'

Tattooist Alan Turner with some of the skeletons he has in his shop at Dunscroft, Picture: Dean Atkins

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And just beyond the room where Alan is carrying out his craft, is the reason for that sign. With lights of the studio's back room off, you would never tell. But a flick of the switch, and the electric light reveals an unexpected collection of hundreds of animal skeletons.

The range from small birds to the giraffes. The giraffes are too tall for the room, so only the head and neck and legs are on display.

There are also what could perhaps be described as 'celebrities'. A polar bear skeleton, Alan reveals, is that of Yukon, a bear that lived to be 42 before dying of old age, and which appeared with John Cleese in the film Fierce Creatures. A lion skeleton is the bones of an animal which appeared in a advert for the chocolate snack Lion Bar. Another skeleton is that of a hyena which appeared in a public information film in the 90s warning people against car crime.

They line the room, tightly packed, put on public display by their proud owner. There are birds. There are mammals. There are reptiles. Some large. Some small.

Some of the skeletons Alan Turner has in his shop at Dunscroft. Picture: Dean Atkins

Alan recently had a group of photographers as his first visitors. He has not thought about charging to see the museum, and says his main reason for the collection is so that people get to see the skeletons.

Alan, aged 52, has always enjoyed making things and painting. About 10 years ago, he bought a skull to paint as a sort of still life. Skulls are a common element of a tattooist's art, and it gave him a chance to practice.

From there, he went on to get a rabbit's skeleton, which a friend had discovered at an antique fair. He drew that too. But he also put it on display at his shop. It fascinated visitors, who could not work out what animal it was from its bones alone.

He got another animal skeleton, and as time went on it became a hobby. He would order skeletons on the internet, and, when they arrived as a bag of bones, spend hours putting them together with wire and glue. Now, the current count is around 220.

For a while he put them on display at his home. But then he decided to move to a bigger tattooist shop and put them on show there, where people could pop in and view them.

Alan said: "A lot of them have come from zoos. In some parts of the world, zoos are allowed to dispose of the animals that had died how they choose. The skins go to taxidermists and the skeletons get sold too.

"Most of the skeletons I have collected over the last four years. I built 70 last year, but I've only done five this year because I've been moving shops.

"When you get the skeletons, you don't get any instructions. You just get a bag of bones. I've had to learn how to put them together. The first one I made took me six weeks, doing it in evenings after work. Now I can do familiar animals in 20 to 30 hours. Sometimes I have to consult vets, which I do on social media.

"I used a drill, wire and glue to fix them together."

"I love building things, and I love natural history.

"I've been in talks about getting a rhino with a Spanish zoo, but there is a process to go through. They can't sell it commercially though.

"I would really like a dinosaur, but I wouldn't have room for a big one. I saw an Allosaurus advertised. It was 9ft and called bi Al, which is my professional name. Sadly, it had a reserve price of £300,000, which is rather beyond my means!"