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A bit of a busman's holiday...

What does someone who works at a police, fire and ambulance museum do in their spare time? Well, go and visit another police museum of course! That is what I did on a Saturday back in July when I was in London for a friend’s hen do. The festivities did not start till the afternoon, so myself and my friend Helen (not the one who works at NESM; I have an abundance of Helens in my life) took advantage of a free morning (child free for me) and booked our visit. Although not an Instagram influencer in any way, I will say I paid for this visit myself (as did Helen, unless she has some sort of connections there I don’t know about) and so this is not an advert and it was not gifted. This is simply my own thoughts and musings on our visit.

We stepped through the door and were instantly transported back in time; got to love a Victorian building for doing that to you! (There's a great one in Sheffield, but I digress...) We were greeted warmly on reception and made our way over to the dock, because Helen and I are basically children and we wanted to pretend we had been arrested and were on trial. I may have also been playing the role of Mrs Pankhurst, as I stood staring down the imaginary judge. Don’t I look fierce? By the way, Helen and I behaving like children may come up a lot and it gets worse. We aren’t the best influences upon each other…

We moved on to array of objects they have on display after the dock, from the original uniform (what police officer wouldn’t want a sword?) to a wooden police rattle. From there to the police cells, and there was a brilliant recurring use of numbers throughout the museum, with them indicating the different exhibition spaces in the police cells and what happens with an arrest at Bow Street. Each of the cells tells a different story about life at Bow Street, giving you a real insight into what it was like to be an officer, magistrate and an inmate.

Continuing our childishness, we had to test out the cell toilets; not really of course! Luckily a pane of glass and common decency stopped us from doing that, so we just took a seat and a few silly photos. However if you are that way inclined, the museum toilet is inside an old cell for you to use. Famous inmates adorned one of the cells walls; the Suffragettes, Oscar Wilde and Dr Crippen to name but a few.


What became apparent is how much our justice system has changed. Some crimes no longer exist, like ‘gross indecency’ - the offence for which Wilde was imprisoned in 1895. The hearing was conducted at Bow Street but the trial and sentencing was at the Old Bailey. He served two years at Reading Gaol and was released in 1897, retiring to France until his death in 1900. The decriminalisation of homosexuality did not begin until 1967; just imagine how different Wilde’s life could have been if we had reached this conclusion sooner.


In another cell we learned about the women officers of Bow Street and here is where I fully got my museum geek on because we used to have an exhibition in our police cells about ‘Women in Police’, and so it was great to see the differences and similarities between the two exhibitions. Both focus on the change in the role of women and their place in the police but of course Bow Street focuses more upon the Metropolitan Police. We were also able to watch a video detailing officers experiences' at Bow Street and it was wonderful to hear the range of voices that had been encased in the walls.


Inside ‘The Tank’ you are able to use a QR code to hear former Bow Street officers experiences' on your phone. I loved the interactivity of this and being able to hear the stories of ‘The Tank’ as you were sitting there was brilliant. Also because it is on your own personal device it feels they are just talking to you, which is rather lovely. There were also quite a few jokes about having to bring the bride here after the hen do, but that wasn’t necessary. Before leaving we perused the gift shop, my favourite part of any museum, (I purchased a postcard, tempted by a mug, but realised I would have to carry it around London for the rest of the day and hen do) and of course used the cell toilet.

I thought when I went to Bow Street Police Museum I would be most interested in the famous inmates that had stayed there; Oscar Wilde and the Suffragettes, including Mrs Pankhurst herself, for crying out loud! But it was actually the stories of the serving police officers that I found the most intriguing, especially Norbert - the first black police officer for the Met, who apparently then went into undercover work, who holds a special place in my heart. All in all the museum is a little gem in the centre of London, with a great location near Covent Garden, so very convenient for access to eating establishments and other entertainment for your day (if you aren’t going to a hen do). We had a brilliant time and will love to see what they do next.

And it goes without saying if you're not 'down South' but want the full police, fire and ambulance experience, NESM is the place to come!


Rosie Norrell

Learning and discovery co-ordinator

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