I’ve mentioned the possibility here in the past, but now the rumours have been confirmed; Scotland Yard’s so-called ‘Black Museum’, which houses the exhibits from Britain’s most notorious crimes, will go on display once it has found a sponsor and a venue.
The renamed Crime Museum is to raise funds because of government cuts. Until now, only serving police officers – and special visitors by appointment – have been allowed access. The Mayor’s Office and the Met are in talks with the Museum of London to display a selection of its 20,000-plus exhibits.
It has never been opened to the public although it has long faced calls to open its doors. The museum contains items relating to some of the UK’s most infamous crimes, including the so-called “From Hell” letter purportedly written by Jack the Ripper and the pans that serial killer Dennis Nilsen used to boil his victims’ flesh. It houses the noose that hanged Ruth Ellis, the last woman to be executed in the UK, death masks of people hanged at Newgate prison and casts of their rope-scarred necks, and the severed arm of a killer.
The Crime Museum is small at the moment – just a room 101 in the Met’s Victoria Street headquarters. It was once used as a training facility. One of five Metropolitan Police museums, with others dedicated to the mounted branch, its archived historical collection, its Thames branch and old vehicles, only a few of the historical exhibits can currently be seen.
The plan is to be mindful of the museum’s effects as it will be seen by the public rather than trained officers.
Stephen Greenhalgh, deputy mayor for policing and crime, says ‘the fantastic story of the Met Police can be told in their museum.’
Curators are now deciding on the the items they want to display. Officials are yet to discuss the ethical considerations of putting them on show. I imagine that there should be no problem if they are placed in an intelligent context pointing out the importance of victims, not killers, in such tragedies.
London has a long history of luridly exploiting criminal acts in its papers, and morbid public interest runs high. Crime has made up a large part of London’s history, and such an exhibition, housed permanently at the Museum of London, would be an important addition. Although the famous spiked binoculars from ‘Horrors of the Black Museum’ won’t be there, as they were a figment of the screenwriter’s imagination.