Museum of London’s Crime Museum Uncovered: 5 of the most interesting exhibits

The Crime Museum Uncovered was created by the Museum of London, using the Metropolitan Police’s Crime Museum collections. Founded in the mid-1870s the Crime Museum was used as a teaching collection for newly trained officers.

Illustration: Inside the Metropolitan Police’s hidden Crime Museum at Scotland Yard, c.1900

Though not a comprehensive review of all crime in London, the collection serves as a reminder of the capital’s most notorious crimes and those that have changed the way police work is done in London.

Out of the many fascinating pieces on display, I’ve chosen to highlight these five:

1. Pin-Cushion embroidered with human hair by repeat offender Annie Parker, 1879

Annie Parker appeared over 400 times before Greenwich Police Court on charges of drunkenness. She made this small sampler cushion while in jail, decorating it with hand-crocheted lace and embroidering it using her own hair instead of thread. She presented it to the Reverend Horsley, chaplain of the Clerkenwell House of Detention in 1879, and he gave it to the museum in 1884. Parker died of consumption in 1885, aged 35.
This is an example of a running theme throughout the exhibition; the curators have tried to stress the humanness of both the criminals and the victims, removing their stories away from the spectacular. Marai Lasari MBE, Executive Director of Imkaan, stresses this in the video at the end, saying; “This isn’t ‘these weird people over there’ that commit crimes. This is a space that discusses the person away from ‘the monster’”.

2. Jack the Ripper appeal for information poster issued by Metropolitan Police, 1888

Eleven women were brutally murdered in East London between April 1888 and February 1891. In probably the most infamous police case of all time, the Whitechapel killings terrorised the East End and sparked Britain’s largest ever murder investigation. 

As – no doubt – would be the case today, newspapers competed to report the most sensational stories and sell the most copies, but – and this only adds to the mystery – the murderer has never been identified.
One of the most intriguing aspects of the investigation was the ‘Dear Boss’ letter, sent to the Central News Agency in September 1888, written in blood-red ink. The museum contains a poster which reproduced this postcard, distributed by the Metropolitan Police at the time, appealing for anyone who recognises the handwriting to come forward. It is also the first record of the murderer being called ‘Jack the Ripper’.

3. Fold-up ladder belonging to cat-burglar Charles Peace, executed in 1878

A talented musician, (his violin is also on display) Charles Peace chose a different path when he became Britain’s most successful cat burglar. One of the tricks up his sleeve (though perhaps not literally) was this hinged folding ladder, that he could carry around at night surreptitiously, unfolding it to gain access to upper story windows. Despite many fruitful burglaries, Charles was eventually turned-in by a woman he was living with at the time, Susan Grey, and he later hanged at Armley Prison in February 1879.

4. Gun used by Edward Oxford in an assassination attempt on Queen Victoria, 1840

This gun is one of two pistols that Edward Oxford fired at Queen Victoria and her husband Prince Albert on Constitution Hill, 10 June 1840. Oxford, then only 18 years old, was tried for high treason but acquitted on grounds of insanity.

5. Laptop recovered from Glasgow Airport terrorist attack, 2007

This laptop was found in the dark green Jeep Cherokee that drove into the glass doors of Glasgow International Airport and set on fire. The information gathered from this laptop was instrumental in the trial of Bilal Abdullah, one of two perpetrators who were in the jeep at the time of the attack. He is now serving a life sentence. There are also reconstructions of objects related to the 7/7 London bombings and in the wake of terrible events in Paris, it’s important to remember the victims of these attacks, but also the police who work tirelessly in bringing people to justice for these crimes.

The exhibition is balanced and restrained; bestowing victims of terrible crimes a great deal of dignity. It’s definitely worth visiting; not only for history enthusiasts, but also as a resident of the City. It’s a testament to the survivor spirit of London.

Tickets: £10, £8 concessions

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