Whether a crime fiction aficionado or a someone with only a passing interest, you will still no doubt have heard of the Metropolitan Police’s “Black Museum”. This collection of macabre exhibits has been used to teach Police officers about crimes and criminals and has been in existence in one form or another since the mid-1870s. For the first time a selection of exhibits have been put on display giving members of the general public an opportunity to learn from them too. “The Crime Museum Uncovered” is at The Museum of London and ends in April 2016.
There has obviously been a lot of consideration given to what should and shouldn’t be put on display and efforts taken to avoid sensationalism and respect those who have been victims of crime. To that end the items have been curated to avoid more recent crimes where there may be victims or their families who might be distressed.
The exhibition is split into two main areas. In the first the focus is on crimes and criminals from the 1880s and the 1900s. Laid out in two rooms they are inspired by illustrations of the Crime Museum, or the Police Museum as it was then known. There are a vast array of exhibits, with death masks, courtroom illustrations and weapons. There is a free guide to these rooms, providing some background to the crimes, many of which were notorious at the time but are less well known now. There are also some strange items included, like the sampler cushion made by Annie Parker who embroidered it with her own hair. Possibly the most sobering in this section are the execution ropes, although one of the displays I found most interesting was the case (Execution box No.9 from Wandsworth Prison) used by the hangman and sent around the country to wherever an execution was to take place.
The second half of the exhibition features 20 displays dedicated to specific cases, some which demonstrated a leap forward in methods of detection, such as the 1905 “Mask Murders” the first occasion when fingerprint evidence was used to secure a conviction. The are also some more well known cases included, such as Dr Crippen, The Krays, Ruth Ellis and the Great Train Robbery. While it’s inevitable that there is a gruesome fascination with some of the items, it also serves to demonstrate some determined action on the part of the police in investigating these crimes.
There are also some specific displays relating to particular areas of policing such as counterfeiting, espionage (which I found fascinating) and terrorism.
If you went to the “Forensics: The anatomy of crime” exhibition at the Wellcome Collection this event is bound to interest you and despite the entry fee it’s a fascinating glimpse into crime, criminals, but most of all the dogged detectives who have gone to enormous lengths to get their man (or woman).