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Drawing of the Crime Museum, aka the Black Museum, which may open for the first time in 150 years (via Metropolitan Police)

London’s infamous and off-limits “Black Museum” of macabre crime artifacts may finally open to the public as the Metropolitan Police faces budgets shortcomings. According to an article published in the Independent last week, the police are collaborating with the Mayor’s Office and the Museum of London to display selections from their over 20,000 objects.

New Scotland Yard, current home of the Crime Museum (photograph by ChrisO, via Wikimedia)

The “secret” museum dates to 1874, but only police and rare special visitors have viewed its collection. As the Metropolitan Police site explains, it “is not open to members of the public but is now used as a lecture theatre for the curator,” although notable visitors have included Harry Houdini, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and, for reasons not disclosed, Gilbert & Sullivan.

The morbid allure of holdings like Jack the Ripper’s “From Hell” letter, death masks from those executed at Newgate Prison, the poison pellet shot from an umbrella that killed writer Georgi Markov, and nooses that hanged infamous criminals like Ruth Ellis has long captivated the curious, and it’s finally tight finances that may reveal the grim trove. Officially called the Crime Museum, the plan for public access was briefly mentioned in a report from the Guardian earlier this month on the sale of New Scotland Yard where the museum resides in two rooms. An Abu Dhabi investor is purchasing the headquarters for £370m ($576m) to turn it into, what else, luxury apartments, and with downsizing, part of the sale may go to displaying part of the collection.

It’s a collection that could very easily turn into a sensational show with its relics of crime and serial killer tools, like the kitchen pans used by Dennis Nilsen to boil down flesh. Yet when the idea was considered last year for a Met Police museum that would include a broad selection of artifacts currently in storage, Crime Museum curator Paul Bickley told the BBC he thought it important people view it with an “academic mind.” Hopefully a balance can be achieved between sharing this collection in a sensitive way to the public and respecting the horrid history it evokes.

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Allison Meier

Allison C. Meier is a former staff writer for Hyperallergic. Originally from Oklahoma, she has been covering visual culture and overlooked history for print and online media since 2006. She moonlights...

One reply on “Secret London Crime Museum May Open for First Time in 150 Years”

  1. What a well-written article! Some gems I particularly enjoyed: nooses that hanged … has long captivated the curious, and the final, perfect line, “respecting the horrid history it evokes.” Just so well done!

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