Monday, 11 November 2013


If you were to visit Victorian England, especially one of the large towns, it wouldn't be long before you saw a police officer clad in blue (nicknamed 'bluebottles'). They had the unenviable job of trying to keep order on the streets - a job which was tough, dangerous and definitely not for the fainthearted. As a fan of Ripper Street, the BBC1 TV series, it's been fascinating to find out more about the methods used by Victorian detectives in gathering evidence, finding witnesses and tracking criminals.

That's why I was so interested in an article I recently found in the periodical Living London (1901) about New Scotland Yard. In it, mention is made of the Yard's Black Museum which was 'more than a collection of grim and ghastly curiosities [or] the relics of celebrated crimes'. It was described as a place where 'the detective police officer, anxious to improve himself professionally, will find much useful information'. This was because he could study the methods of criminals through the implements and tools which formed the exhibits:

'Here are the "jemmy", the screw-jack, the rope ladder (Peace's), light and easy of carriage under an overcoat, the neat dark lantern made out of a tin matchbox, the melting pot and ladle of the coiners, with mould and other apparatus used by them; together with relics that reveal the more elaborate processes of the banknote forgers, such as copper plates, burins, lithographic stones, and so on.'

I can just imagine the real-life versions of Inspector Reid, Sergeant Drake and Detective Sergeant Flight visiting the museum in the early stages of their careers (the Black Museum was opened in 1875). They might have seen the ingenious burglar's folding ladder:

Burglar's folding ladder. From 'Living London' (1901)

Or the burglar's pockets for holding his tools:

Burglar's pockets for holding the tools shown below them. From 'Living London' (1901)

Or the knuckleduster:

Or the coiner's moulds and tools:

Coiner's implements including rack for holding coins during plating process, melting pot, ladle, polishing brush, etc. From 'Living London' (1901)

Coiner's moulds showing spring to hold them together. From 'Living London' (1901).

Finally, as the Black Museum was open to the public, they may also have seen other visitors. Here's a view of a couple examining the display cases, with a police officer on hand to tell a few stories, no doubt. There is a row of death masks at the back. One of the ropes on display was used by cook Marguerite Dixblanc to drag the corpse of her murdered mistress into the scullery.

No comments:

Post a Comment