THE tattooed skin of a would-be killer that was used to bind a Victorian pocket book has been discovered at a car boot sale.

The grizzly find came with a letter stating: “I have only this morning discovered the long-lost pocket book made out of the skin of the man who shot your father!”

Although it is unclear who the man was whose skin was used for the practice of anthropodermic biblioplegy, he had an anchor tattoo, indicating he was a possible sailor.

Research has shown that the spooky remains belonged to the Egerton family of West Stafford in Dorset – but mystery still surrounds the exact reasons for its creation.

The letter that came with it was addressed ‘Dear Frankie’ and signed ‘Blanche’, who has been identified as Caroline Egerton.

She came across the pocket book while clearing Stafford Rectory following the death of her father, Canon Reginald Southwell Smith, in December 1895.

He had been rector of West Stafford for virtually the entire Victorian period, from 1836 until his death.

The piece of skin was at some point preserved in oil in a small bottle, which was how it was sold at the car boot sale.

Caroline Blanche Southwell Smith was born in 1855 and married Colonel Caledon Philip Egerton in 1884.

In 1909 she recorded ‘Some Recollections of Early Days’, an unpublished manuscript, now preserved in the Dorset Archives in Dorchester.

In it she wrote: ‘Behind the green and beige doors of the bookcase of my mother’s bedroom was one of the most gruesome of all her possessions.

‘It was a pocket book made out of the skin of a man, who had attempted the murder of my uncle, Major Simpson, in the Chinese War'.

Rodney Legg, who is a Dorset historian and author, found the piece of skin at a car boot sale at Shepton Mallet in Somerset.

He said: “I saw it at the sale and bought it out of interest for a couple of pounds.

“There is the faint trace of an anchor on it and it also shows female and male figures facing and greeting each other, and initials below for MS and ED.

“The man is smoking a long-stemmed churchwarden pipe.

“The scene is probably British and certainly European.

“It seems that the man was killed and flayed after attempting to shoot Major Simpson dead, but when and where it happened is unclear.”

The present head of the family, 95-year-old Major-General Sir David Boswell Egerton – 16th baronet in a line created in 1617 – told Rodney Legg that he had no knowledge of the pocket book.

Speaking from a residential home in Weymouth he said: “I can’t think why anyone should want such a relic.”

Historian Howard Pell, who has researched the gruesome piece of skin, said: “The Chinese War mentioned in the memoirs is the First Opium War of 1839 to 1842.

“Major Simpson, who served with the Madras Rifles, returned to Calcutta on the Tennaserim from Nanking after the signing of the treaty there in 1842.

“The following year he sailed to Suez on the steamer Atlanta. By 1851 he had been further promoted and served as aide de camp to Major-General Gough who had led the British campaign in China.

“The following year Major Simpson, who had been made Commander of the Bath, married in Somerset, and started a family at Walcot Gate, in Bath.

‘Dearest Frankie’ of the letter was his third son, Francis Blake Simpson, who was born in 1859 and went to Harrow School and followed his father into the Army.

“By 1896, Francis – or Frank – was the oldest surviving child of Major Simpson, and the obvious next owner for the pocket book that Blanche Egerton had found.

“The book itself was presumably falling apart as the tattooed section of skin was taken off and preserved in oil in a medicine bottle.”