The Prisoners Property Act of 1869 gave authority for police to retain certain items of prisoners' property for instructional purposes, but it was the opening of the Central Prisoners Property Store on 25th April 1874 that provided the opportunity to start a collection. The store was housed in No. 1 Great Scotland Yard, which was at the rear of the Commissioner's Office at No. 4, Whitehall Place.
The idea of a crime museum was conceived by an Inspector Neame who had already collected together a number of items, with the intention of giving police officers practical instruction on how to detect and prevent burglary, and it is certain that by the latter part of 1874, although it was not described as such, a museum of sorts was in existence. It was later that year that the official authority was given for a proper crime museum to be opened.
Inspector Neame, with the help of a P.C. Randall, gathered together sufficient material of both old and new cases to enable a proper museum to be opened. The actual date in 1875 when it opened is not known, but the permanent appointment of Neame and Randall to duty in the Prisoners Property Store on the 12th April suggests that the museum came into being in the latter part of that year.
There was no official opening of the museum, and two years elapsed before we find a record of the first visitors. This was on the 6th October 1877 when the Commissioner, Sir Edmund Henderson, KCB, accompanied by the Assistant Commissioners, Lt. Col. Labolmondiere and Capt. Harris, visited with other dignitaries. By now there was a steady increase in the number viewing the displays and the first visitors book, which spans some eighteen years from 1877 to 1894, reads like a current 'Who's Who'. Certainly not all visitors were asked to sign the visitors book but, as instruction in the museum was part of CID training, the museum was in constant use.
In 1877 the name 'Black Museum' was coined, when on the 8th April a reporter from 'The Observer' newspaper used the term after being refused a visit by Inspector Neame. However the museum is now referred to as the Crime Museum.
In 1890 the museum moved with the Metropolitan Police Office to new premises at the other end of Whitehall, on the newly constructed Thames Embankment. The building, constructed by Norman Shaw RA, and made of granite quarried by convicts on Dartmoor, was called New Scotland Yard. A set of rooms in the basement housed the museum and, although there was no Curator as such, PC Randall was responsible for keeping the place tidy, adding to exhibits, vetting applications for visits and arranging dates for them. The museum was closed during both World Wars, and in 1967, with the move of the Metropolitan Police Headquarters to new premises in Victoria Street, S.W.1, the museum was housed in rooms on the second floor. In 1981 a new, redesigned museum was opened on the first floor.
The present museum is in two parts: the old room, which is meant to capture the 'feel' of the old room as it was in about 1880, and the new museum room. The old room contains an extensive collection of weapons, all of which have been used in murders or serious assaults in London, and displays items from famous cases, generally prior to 1900, such as 'Jack the Ripper' and 'Charlie Peace'. A morbid display, which attracts comment, is the display of the death masks of people hanged at Newgate Prison which adorn a high shelf and look down on visitors. The new room contains cabinets under the following categories: Famous Murders -Notorious Poisoners - Royalty - Murder of Police Officers - Bank Robberies -Espionage - Sieges, Hostages and Hi-jacking, as well as cabinets on particular cases. Famous cases shown in the museum include Ruth Ellis - John Reginald Halliday Christie - The Stratton Brothers - John George Haigh - Neville Heath - Dennis Nilsen - Dr. Neil Cream - Mr. & Mrs.Seddon - Dr. Crippen - Craig and Bentley - and many, many others. The museum is not open to members of the public.
The museum is now used as a lecture theatre for the curator to lecture to police and like bodies in subjects of Criminology, such as Forensic Science, Pathology, Law and Investigative Techniques. The list of famous people who have visited the museum includes: Gilbert & Sullivan - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle - Harry Houdini - The Prince of Wales (later to be Edward VII) - Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy - Jerome K. Jerome - E.W. Hornung - members of the Royal Family.
Stories from the Crime Museum