Keep up with all the latest news and updates from the museum.
Museum acquires unique personal archive
5 March 2021
NESM has acquired the unique personal archive of the detective who led the hunt for Jack the Ripper - including a book in which he names the infamous Whitechapel murderer - and will make it public for the first time.
The private collection of Metropolitan Police Chief Inspector Donald Sutherland Swanson has been entrusted to NESM by the former detective’s family. The treasure trove lay undiscovered for decades until Swanson’s descendants discovered an enormous collection of over 150 individual objects; paperwork, photographs, letters, drawings and personal belongings.
Among them was what became known as ‘the Swanson marginalia’; a book, annotated by Swanson, in which he names the person he believed to be the infamous killer, Jack the Ripper. The marginalia is thought to be a unique artefact revealing unknown details of the case as well as theories and notes on what evidence the Metropolitan Police had gathered - all from the pen of the inspector charged with solving the case.
The marginalia, along with other items from the collection, will form part of a new exhibition, Daring Detectives & Dastardly Deeds, which will be revealed to visitors when the museum reopens on Wednesday 19 May. The exhibition, housed within NESM’s original Victorian cells, explores the intriguing history of 19th crime and punishment from the bobby on the beat to the emerging science of forensics.
The Swanson collection is thought to be one of the most detailed and significant of its kind. It includes official police paperwork and documents from a number of nationally significant criminal cases as well as Swanson’s own personal findings, theories and evaluations, arrest lists and the resources he used to solve some of his cases.
Holly Roberts, curator at NESM, says, ‘We are so proud to have been given the honour of caring for this outstanding collection, and to help shed light on the achievements of a remarkable man whose story has been largely forgotten.
‘This vast collection tells us an enormous amount about what it was like to be a detective in 19th century Britain. Even more unusually, there is so much of his professional career and his family and personal life, offering us a unique picture of what a prominent 19th century detective did in his work time and his down time. It is an amazing addition to our museum and to our new exhibition.’
Adam Wood, executive editor of Ripperologist magazine and author of the definitive biography of Swanson, helped to secure the collection for NESM. He said, 'During my seven years of research into Donald Swanson's life I realised that he had enjoyed amazing career, much more than just his known involvement in the Jack the Ripper investigation. The 35-year period of the late Victorian era in which Swanson served was one of massive development for the Metropolitan Police, culminating in the dawn of fingerprint detection. Perhaps more than anyone, it was he who epitomised the evolving Victorian detective, representing that era in the force’s history.
‘Although a modest man, he was feted in the national press of the day as one of the country's best detectives – and indeed he rose to become Superintendent of the CID at Scotland Yard, the top detective in the country – so it's astonishing that he is largely unknown today, whereas contemporaries such as Frederick Abberline are familiar names. From the discovery of the archive in the early 1980s the Swanson family have sought proper recognition of their ancestor's achievements, so it has been a joy bringing this to fruition by working with the National Emergency Services Museum to make the Donald Swanson collection accessible to all.'
As well as forming part of the museum’s new exhibition, NESM is also planning to digitise the collection and make it more widely accessible to researchers and historians. It is looking to begin several research projects around the Swanson archive in partnership with researchers and colleagues to understand what can be learnt from the collection and will be hosting a series of workshops, talks and special events to celebrate the Donald Swanson story.
Daring Detectives & Dastardly Deeds
19 March 2021
We are excited to announce a brand new exhibition for 2021.
Daring Detectives & Dastardly Deeds will take you on a journey through the dark and dangerous streets of 19th century Britain as you follow the history of our police force, from uniformed police to detectives and forensics. Wander through our Victorian police cells and be immersed in the smells, sounds and sights of the 19th century, from talking portraits and projections to have-a-go detective games and dress-up.
Get to know the people behind the history, from the men that patrolled the streets to those that found themselves on the wrong side of the law. Discover more than 60 objects on display including exhibits relating to the Jack the Ripper case, a genuine death mask, tools of the detective's trade, uniforms and even a hangman’s noose.
Be brave and get to know the poisoners, forgers, murderers and thieves of 19th century England.
Try your hand at some of the detective and forensic methods used by Sherlock Holmes.
Get close and personal with rare original documents from the Jack the Ripper case.
Try and solve some of the trickiest detective cases of the 19th century.
This exhibition is suitable for all ages but please note there are references to criminal cases as well as objects relating to crime scenes and criminality.
Please note: Daring Detectives & Dastardly Deeds will be available when the museum reopens. Keep an eye out on the website and our social media for more information.
A rollercoaster year
18 March 2021
It's a year ago today that we closed our doors to the public, just before the first national lockdown. We didn't dream then we would still be closed a year later! Since last March we've been able to open to visitors for just eight weeks during the autumn but it feels much, much longer since we were enjoying the bustle of a busy museum. What a 12 months it's been for all of us.
When we closed last March we, like everyone else, had no idea what the future had in store or even if NESM would survive. That we made it through those first six months is down in no small part to the help and generosity of friends, supporters and the local community.
The last few months have been more positive for #TeamNESM thanks to a grant from the Cultural Recovery Fund and other financial support that we've been able to secure. This means that, where the first half of our closure was all about survival, in recent months we've been able to devote much of our energy to making improvements around the museum, preparing new exhibitions and looking forward to when we can reopen.
We have so many exciting changes to show you, that we can't wait to welcome you back. The current guidance is that museums will be able to open from May but we know that could change, so we'll announce our reopening date in due course. We'll keep you updated through our social media and website; you won't miss a thing! We'll also be able to start sharing with you over the next few weeks all the things we've been working on and the improvements waiting for you at NESM. We're definitely coming back #BiggerAndBetterThanEver.
Thank you for sticking with us.
20 February 2021
As announced today, we're delighted to be one of the 44 organisations benefitting from a grant from the Cultural Recovery Fund, administered by the Architectural Heritage Fund and funded by the government's Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.
We're receiving £15,313 to support us in business planning and revival, income diversification and community engagement. Thanks to the Culture Recovery Fund, Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and the Architectural Heritage Fund for their support and for helping us make sure we can still be #HereForCulture.
We have lift off!
13 February 2021
While we've been closed we've been making lots of improvements around our building but this is a REALLY exciting one - we finally have a lift!
This means that when we reopen the upper floors of the museum will be accessible to wheelchair users and those with wider mobility issues for the very first time. We’re also widening doorways and adding ramps (where possible) as well as improving lighting, heating and our toilet facilities, with an all new accessible toilet being installed.
Our building has always been one of our biggest hurdles when it comes to improving accessibility. As a Grade II listed, 120 year old ex-police, fire and ambulance station is certainly not the ideal space for a modern museum. But we're committed to improving the museum experience for all our visitors and this is a really important and exciting development.
Thank you to Wessex Fire and Rescue Service for funding this much-needed improvement at the museum.