The Metropolitan Police crime museum was founded in the mid-1870s, the objects coming mainly from unclaimed items at the Prisoners’ Property Store. Until now it has not been open to the general public. Predominantly for the training of new officers, the visitors’ book reveals journalists and writers such as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle have also mined its treasures. Bizarrely so have a previous Australian cricket team.
The first few rooms set the tone of the exhibition – death masks surround the room, nooses line one wall. Prepare yourself for a dark exhibition. The rooms will likely be bustling with other visitors. The museum seems to have pre-empted its popularity and have created a guide for the first few rooms, making it unnecessary to have lengthy labels next to the objects. Unfortunately, this fails to keep the traffic moving as people try and work out what text relates to the item, or for those who didn’t pick up a guide confusion ensues.
The penultimate room, largest of them all, has a long series of tales recounting murders through the decades and the innovations in policing that led to their resolution. Personally, I found it a bit much reading one after another of these grisly tales. ‘Light’ relief comes in the form of cabinets of murder weapons, both obvious and disguised and a discussion of police procedure, including identification techniques – earprints as opposed fingerprints was a new one to me! There is also consideration of how crime itself has changed, how the major threat is now terrorism, and how policing must continue to push forward if it is to stand a chance against the constant evolution of crime.
Feeling thoroughly depressed and wondering why it is that people are so fascinated by crime, the final room’s discussion of just such a question was timely. A curator from the museum argues that just because it is uncomfortable doesn’t mean it should be forgotten. Professor Leif Wenar claims the fascination goes beyond mere desire for high drama but that it sets out the rules we all have to live by. The final video was valuable in setting the exhibition and its importance in a wider context.
An interesting exhibition, albeit not one for the faint of heart. The focus is very much on murder and you’ll likely leave in gloomier spirits than you arrived in. Worth a visit for those interested in criminal history – seeing murder weapons up close is a disturbing and powerful experience.
The Crime Museum Uncovered runs at the Museum of London until 10th April 2016. Advanced booking is recommended.