Crime Museum

Coordinates: 51°30′10″N 0°7′27″W / 51.50278°N 0.12417°W / 51.50278; -0.12417
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The Crime Museum in its former home at New Scotland Yard, 8–10 Broadway (now demolished)

The Crime Museum is a collection of criminal memorabilia kept at New Scotland Yard, headquarters of the Metropolitan Police Service in London, England. Known as the Black Museum until the early 21st century, the museum came into existence at Scotland Yard sometime in 1874, arising out of the collection of prisoners' property gathered as a result of the Forfeiture Act 1870 and intended as an aid to the police in their study of crime and criminals. Initially unofficial, it had become an official if private museum by 1875, with a police inspector and a police constable assigned to official duty there. Not open to the public, it was used as a teaching collection for police recruits and was only ever accessible by those involved in legal matters, royals and other VIPs.[1]

Now sited in the basement of the Curtis Green Building (the present New Scotland Yard), the museum remains closed to the public but can be visited by officers of the Metropolitan Police and any of the country's police forces by prior appointment.



In his 1993 book The Black Museum: New Scotland Yard, the museum's then-curator Bill Waddell asserted that its origins lay in an 1869 Act giving the police authority to either destroy items used in the commission of a crime or retain them for instructional purposes, when previous to that Act they had been retained by the police until reclaimed by their owners.[2] No such Act was passed in 1869[3] and this misapprehension seems to originate in a misdated mention of the Forfeiture Act 1870 in an 1877 newspaper report on the museum:

Formerly all property of any kind belonging to convicted felons went to the Crown, but by an Act passed, we believe, in 1869, this was altered, and whatever is found on them now is retained till their sentences have been completed, when they can come back to this house [i.e. the Museum] and claim their own. This law does not, of course, apply to cases of unlawful possession, such as tools for burglary, which are never given up, or see the light again.[4]

The 1870 Act abolished forfeiture of property for felony and treason—instead it vested that property's "custody and management" in an "administrator", who would then return it at the end of the prisoner's sentence.[5]

The Black Museum was conceived in 1874 by Percy George Neame, a serving inspector who at that time had collected together a number of items, with the intention of giving police officers practical instruction on how to detect and prevent crime.[6] The first exhibits for display were clothing and items belonging to Jane Clouson, 17, murdered in Eltham.[7][8] By the latter part of 1874, official authority was given for a crime museum to be opened.[9] Neame, with the help of a P.C. Randall, gathered together sufficient material of both old and new cases—initially pertaining to exhibits found in the possession of burglars and thieves—to enable a museum to be subsequently opened. The actual date in 1875 when the Black Museum opened is not known, but the permanent appointment of Neame and Randall to duty in the Prisoners Property Store on 12 April suggests that the museum may have come into being in the latter part of that year.[10]

There was no official opening of the museum, whose first two years saw a steady increase in visitors, particularly by CID officers being instructed in the museum as part of their training, keeping it in constant use.[citation needed] However, no record of visitors was kept until 6 October 1877, when a group of dignitaries were shown round the collection by Commissioner Sir Edmund Henderson, KCB and Assistant Commissioners Lt. Col. Labalmondiere and Capt. Harris. They were the first entries in a visitors' book which ran until 1894 and—though not all visitors were asked to sign it—it contains many notable figures from the period. One reporter from The Observer newspaper was refused admittance by Inspector Neame and on 8 April 1877 that journalist coined the name 'Black Museum' for the collection.


In 1890 the museum moved with the Metropolitan Police Office to new premises at the other end of Whitehall,[11] on the newly constructed Thames Embankment. The building, constructed by Norman Shaw RA, and made of granite quarried by convicts on Dartmoor, was called New Scotland Yard. A set of rooms in the basement housed the museum and, although there was no Curator as such, PC Randall was responsible for keeping the place tidy, adding to exhibits, vetting applications for visits and arranging dates for them. Inspector Percy Neame retired on 31 December 1901. In June 1902 he committed suicide "by blowing his brains out" when Chief Inspector Arthur Fair and another officer were at his front door, calling in respect of a "few things in his accounts which they could not understand with reference to money seized at gaming houses".[12] The museum was closed during both World War I and II, and in 1967, with the move of New Scotland Yard to new premises in Victoria Street, S.W.1, the museum was housed in rooms on the second floor, which underwent several renovations.

During the refurbishment and extension of the Curtis Green Building and New Scotland Yard's move into it, a major exhibition of artefacts from the museum, The Crime Museum Uncovered, was held at the Museum of London from 9 October 2015 to 10 April 2016.[13] Following the exhibition the museum reopened in 2018 in a "dark and dramatic" room in the basement of the Building designed by Allford Hall Monaghan Morris in collaboration with engineering consultancy Arup.[14][15][16]

Though the 2015–2016 exhibition was the only time a large number of exhibits have been displayed to the public, individual objects have been loaned to exhibitions at other museums in 2019–2020. This included objects from Leatherslade Farm in a Great Train Robbery exhibition at the Postal Museum[17] and a cigarette lighter with a hidden compartment from the Krogers in a GCHQ exhibition at the Science Museum,[18] whilst exhibits from the trial of Roger Casement have been on loan to Kerry County Museum since 2016.[19]


The museum displays more than 500 exhibits, each at a constant temperature of 62 °F (17 degrees Celsius).[20] These include historic collections and more recent artefacts, including a substantial collection of melee weapons (some overt, some concealed, all of which have been used in murders or serious assaults in London), shotguns disguised as umbrellas and numerous walking-stick swords. The museum also contains a selection of hangman's nooses, including that used to perform the UK's last-ever execution, and death masks made for criminals executed at Newgate Prison and acquired in 1902 on the prison's closure.[21]

There are also displays from famous cases which include Charlie Peace's belongings and letters allegedly written by Jack the Ripper, though the infamous From Hell letter is not part of the collection. The more recent exhibits on display include the ricin-filled pellet that killed Bulgarian dissident Georgi Markov in 1978, a model of the possible umbrella that fired the pellet, the fake De Beers diamond from the Millennium Dome heist and Dennis Nilsen's actual stove and bathtub. Objects not currently on display include items that once belonged to Charles Black, the most prolific counterfeiter in the Western Hemisphere, including a set of printing plates, a remarkable series of forged banknotes, and a cunningly hollowed-out kitchen door once used to conceal them.

Cases on display (A-Z)[edit]

Neville Heath. Hanged for murder in 1946.
  • Neville Heath, an English killer who was responsible for the murders of at least two young women, and who was executed in London in 1946
  • Dennis Nilsen, a serial killer and necrophiliac, also known as the Muswell Hill Murderer and the Kindly Killer, who committed the murders of 15 young men in London
  • Udham Singh, an Indian revolutionary who shot and killed Michael O'Dwyer, the former Lieutenant Governor of the Punjab in British India. The pistol Singh used to kill O'Dwyer is on display at the museum.
  • The Stratton Brothers, the first men to be convicted in Great Britain for murder based on fingerprint evidence[27]

In other media[edit]

In 1951 British commercial radio producer Harry Alan Towers produced a radio series hosted by Orson Welles called The Black Museum, inspired by the catalogue of items on display. Each week, the programme featured an item from the museum and a dramatization of the story surrounding the object to the macabre delight of audiences. Often mistakenly cited as a BBC production, Towers commercially syndicated the programme throughout the English-speaking world.[28] The American radio writer Wyllis Cooper also wrote and directed a similar anthology for NBC that ran at the same time in the U. S. called Whitehall 1212, for the telephone number of Scotland Yard. The program debuted on 18 November 1951, and was hosted by Chief Superintendent John Davidson, curator of the Black Museum.[29]

  • There is a fictional Black Museum, inspired by the actual one, inside the Grand Hall of Justice in the Judge Dredd comic strip.
  • A fictional version of the Black Museum is often referred to in the Dylan Dog comic series and, in some stories, exhibits are stolen from the museum.
  • In the 1944 film The Lodger, Inspector Warwick (George Sanders) gives a tour of the museum to Kitty Langley (Merle Oberon).
  • A 1958 horror film called Horrors of the Black Museum references the Black Museum in a story of a crime writer (played by Michael Gough) who commits grisly murders in order to write articles and books about them for public consumption.
  • The fourth series of Charlie Brooker's Black Mirror has an episode called "Black Museum".
  • Tony Parsons wrote about the Black Museum in his books about detective Max Wolfe.


  1. ^ "Scotland Yard's Grisly Crime Museum Opens to Public After 140 Years". NBC News. 22 November 2015. Retrieved 3 March 2020.
  2. ^ Waddell 1993, p. 4.
  3. ^ Britain, Great (1869). The Statutes of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, Volume 29, 1869.
  4. ^ 'The Black Museum at Scotland Yard', Sussex Advertiser, 24 April 1877, p. 2
  5. ^ " – Forfeiture Act 1870".
  6. ^ Schulz, Dorothy Moses M.; Haberfeld, Dr. Maria (Maki) R.; Sullivan, Larry E.; Rosen, Marie Simonetti (2005). Encyclopedia of Law Enforcement. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications, Inc. p. 348.
  7. ^ London, England, Metropolitan Police Pension Registers, 1852-1932 for Percy Neame. Source: Ancestry accessed 1st October 2022
  8. ^ Murphy, Paul Thomas (14 July 2016). Pretty Jane and the Viper of Kidbrooke Lane. Head of Zeus. ISBN 978-1-78408-188-1.
  9. ^ Waddell 1993, pp. 5–7.
  10. ^ The Black Museum ISBN 978-0-316-90332-5 pp. 5–6
  11. ^ The Murders of the Black Museum ISBN 978-1-85471160-1 p. 13
  12. ^ South London Chronicle - Saturday 14 June 1902, page 5. Source: British Newspaper Archives accessed 2nd October 2022
  13. ^ "Scotland Yard's Crime Museum Opens to Public for First Time in 140 Years, NBC News, 22 November 2015". NBC News. 22 November 2015.
  14. ^ "A new Crime Museum for the Metropolitan Police". Archived from the original on 23 May 2020. Retrieved 13 June 2019.
  15. ^ "New Scotland Yard Ahmm – Allford Hall Monaghan Morris". Archived from the original on 11 May 2020. Retrieved 13 June 2019.
  16. ^ "How the New Scotland Yard is a symbol of strength and resilience". Evening Standard. 23 March 2017. Retrieved 13 June 2019.
  17. ^ "Postal Museum – The Great Train Robbery: Crime and the Post".
  18. ^ "Spies reveal life on the front line in new Science Museum exhibition". €Express Digest. July 2019.
  19. ^ O’Carroll, Helen. "Casement in Kerry: A Revolutionary Journey" (PDF). Kerry County Museum. p. 3.
  20. ^ "Murder Weapons, Death Masks, and Severed Arms: A Glimpse Inside London's Black Museum". 6 June 2018.
  21. ^ Keily, Jackie (9 March 2016). "Death masks of the Crime Museum". Museum of London.
  22. ^ "DNA test for Blakelock's uniform", BBC News, 3 October 2004.
  23. ^ The Black Museum ISBN 978-0-316-90332-5 p. 171
  24. ^ The Black Museum ISBN 978-0-316-90332-5 p. 84
  25. ^ The Black Museum ISBN 978-0-316-90332-5 p. 161
  26. ^ "How was the £200 million Hatton Garden jewellery heist pulled off?". The Independent. 9 April 2015. Retrieved 4 April 2019.
  27. ^ The Black Museum ISBN 978-0-316-90332-5 p. 171
  28. ^ Ohmart, Ben (2002). It's That Time Again. Albany & Bear Manor Media. ISBN 0-9714570-2-6.
  29. ^ Discussion of Whitehall 1212

Cited works and further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

51°30′10″N 0°7′27″W / 51.50278°N 0.12417°W / 51.50278; -0.12417