For the first time ever, objects from the Metropolitan Police’s Crime Museum, also known as the Black Museum, have been put on display in a special exhibit at the Museum of London. Opened in 1875, the museum has only ever been open to the police and invited guests. It’s a rare opportunity to see and learn about the UK’s most notorious crimes.
When you enter the exhibit, you can pick up a free guide that looks like an old newspaper. It leads you through the rooms with sketches and descriptions of all the objects. The first room contains death masks from Newgate prison offenders and a pistol used in an assassination attempt on Queen Victoria. Other objects include courtroom sketches of famous cases and evidence from interesting cases such as the 1880 Harley Street Murder.
There are also big areas dedicated to more infamous crimes, such as the Jack the Ripper murders and the cat burglar and murderer Charles Peace. These include appeals, seized items, letters and descriptions that lead you through the whole case.
You can also look into the history of the museum itself as they have the catalogue and the visitors book on display. The catalogue contains press cuttings and handwritten entries, and is open on a page detailing objects from a murder case. The visitors book contains all the names and signatures of everyone who visited the museum, dating back to 1877.
On the slightly more gruesome side, they also have execution ropes from hangings dating back to the nineteenth century. For those less interested in the grizzly side to this exhibition, you can also find out about how fingerprint detection developed and how many times the New Scotland Yard sign spins a day (spoiler: it’s 14,000).
The next section of the museum has murder case study boxes all along the wall, detailing the events that occurred and evidence collected from famous cases dating from 1905-1975. This includes the gas mask worn by the Acid Bath Murderer and undoubtedly one of the most interesting objects – a briefcase with a spring-loaded syringe hidden in the side, used in the Kray twins’ trial. Upon seeing the object, Reggie Kray asked “is James Bond going to give evidence in this case?”
Other parts of the exhibition include objects from the Great Train Robbery, a case of concealed weapons, a section which asks you to work out which guns are real or not and more recent case studies such as the Millennium Dome diamond heist and the 2007 Glasgow airport attack.
Overall it’s a great way to find out about London’s hidden past and could well be a once in a lifetime opportunity. You don’t have to have a morbid fascination with murder to go along, there is something for everyone there and afterwards you can always go and look around the rest of the Museum of London for free.
The exhibit is open until the 10th of April and tickets cost £10 for adults, £8 for concessions.