The Crime Museum Uncovered

 

The Museum of London has a good track record for putting on blockbuster exhibitions that have been a real hit with the public. The recent Sherlock Holmes exhibition brought in a new audience and The Cheapside Hoard exhibition in 2013-14 sold 130,000 tickets – the most ever for the museum.

The Museum of London’s next exhibition is The Crime Museum Uncovered opening on 9 October 2015. This exhibition will display never-before-seen-objects from the Metropolitan Police’s Crime Museum, on public view for the very first time. Using objects previously only accessible to police professionals and invited guests, the exhibition will reveal the secrets of the Crime Museum which was established by the police in the mid-1870s. The visitors’ book from the Crime Museum will also be on display.

Counterfeiting and Forgery: Implements used for counterfeiting seized by Metropolitan Police © Museum of London
Counterfeiting and Forgery: Implements used for counterfeiting seized by Metropolitan Police © Museum of London

The Crime Museum Uncovered will also seek to dispel some of the myths that have been incorrectly associated with the Crime Museum over the last 140 years. For example, Jack the Ripper’s ‘From Hell’ letter resides at the National Archives, and not at the Crime Museum. Similarly, the rope used to execute Ruth Ellis – the last woman executed for murder in the United Kingdom – is not part of the collection. Yet the Crime Museum does hold the weapon used to murder her racing driver lover, David Blakely, in 1955.

There will be no glamourising of crime or criminals in this exhibition and all of the victims, or victims families, have been consulted. The exhibition intends to help us understand how crime and policing has changed over time and the police’s role of fighting and detecting crime. This won’t be a history of crime in London but more an insight into a usually private world showing the Metropolitan Police’s commitment to more openness. There was even talk of one day having a Crime Museum open to the public permanently but that’s for the future.

The exhibition will focus on 25 cases ranging from 1905 to 1975 – explaining the story behind the objects including the people involved. Each case has had a fundamental impact on society. Some have changed the way in which crimes are investigated and solved or how the capital is policed, whilst others have directly led to changes in the law. And yes, the infamous Jack the Ripper murders are included.

Jack the Ripper appeal for information poster issued by Metropolitan Police, following the 'Dear Boss' letter sent to the Central News Agency, 1888. Reads: "Metropolitan Police...Facsimilie of Letter and Post Card received by Central News Agency...Any person recognising the handwriting is requested to communicate with the nearest Police Station." © Museum of London / object courtesy the Metropolitan Police’s Crime Museum
Jack the Ripper appeal for information poster issued by Metropolitan Police, following the ‘Dear Boss’ letter sent to the Central News Agency, 1888. Reads: “Metropolitan Police…Facsimilie of Letter and Post Card received by Central News Agency…Any person recognising the handwriting is requested to communicate with the nearest Police Station.” © Museum of London / object courtesy the Metropolitan Police’s Crime Museum

Then there will be themed areas grouping exhibits under headings such as Terrorism, Drugs, Espionage, etc, and the final area will have a film and a space for reflection which, rightly, was considered important for this exhibition.

The collection going on display is an eclectic array of nearly 600 objects and many are rather ‘everyday’ objects with extraordinary stories. I’m looking forward to seeing how the museum gets these stories across as I’m lucky enough to go to previews and chat to curators but I’m intrigued how the public will uncover the personal tales. I understand good captioning will be used but audio and video was mentioned too.

Some of the objects look more like James Bond film props such as a talcum powder tin found in a bungalow in Ruislip, west London, that was found to contain microdots from a Russian spy.

Espionage: Talcum powder tin used to conceal microfilm by the Krogers, members of a Russian spy ring, 1961 © Museum of London
Espionage: Talcum powder tin used to conceal microfilm by the Krogers, members of a Russian spy ring, 1961 © Museum of London

Other highlights include a laptop computer recovered from a car involved in the 2007 Glasgow Airport terrorist attack. Although badly burned, police were able to recover 96% of its data, crucially helping the investigation.

And this curious pin-cushion embroidered with human hair by Annie Parker in 1879, a woman who, in her tragically short life, was arrested over 400 times for alcohol-related offences.

A curious pin-cushion embroidered with human hair by Annie Parker, a woman who, in her tragically short life, was arrested over 400 times for alcohol-related offences (1879). © Museum of London / object courtesy the Metropolitan Police's Crime Museum
A curious pin-cushion embroidered with human hair by Annie Parker, a woman who, in her tragically short life, was arrested over 400 times for alcohol-related offences (1879). © Museum of London / object courtesy the Metropolitan Police’s Crime Museum

While I wondered who would be the target audience for this exhibition I could see the excitement from the Press at a recent preview talk at the museum and knew I wouldn’t have to worry as so many find detective tales fascinating. And while the cases may relate to the worst of human nature there’s also the humanity and dedication of a team who solved the crime. Do note, none of the items going on display are from crimes that are still open cases.

The Crime Museum Uncovered runs from 9 October 2015 to 10 April 2016 and will be accompanied by a publication and programme of talks and events. Tickets are available already from £12.50 online or £15 on the door. On Wednesdays only tickets will be from £10.

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