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London police station reopens to public as a museum

Bow Street Police Museum (Cristian Barnett/PA)
Bow Street Police Museum (Cristian Barnett/PA)

One of London’s oldest police stations is opening its cells to the public as it reinvents itself as a museum.

Bow Street Police Museum, which welcomes visitors from Friday, will tell the story of the Bow Street Runners, often regarded as the capital’s first professional police force.

The station and attached courthouse opened in Covent Garden in 1881 and the station closed in 1992.

The Kray twins (Cristian Barnett/Bow Street Police Museum/PA)

The museum will shine a light on investigations, arrests and famous cases from across that period.

Among the collection are the original dock from court number two, early equipment used by the Bow Street Runners including a cutlass and a replica Runners uniform featuring the red waistcoat that earned officers the nickname “robin red breasts”.

Also included is a reproduction of a collection of sketches by court artist William Hartley and personal belongings of former officers.

Visitors can also spend time in “the tank”, a large cell that was often the destination for men arrested for drunken behaviour in public.

Oscar Wilde (Cristian Barnett/Bow Street Police Museum/PA)

The Magistrates’ Court next door also dealt with extradition proceedings, terrorist offences and cases related to the Official Secrets Act, before shutting its doors in 2006.

This brought to Bow Street IRA cases and the extradition case of former Chilean president Augusto Pinochet.

The Kray twins, Oscar Wilde and Suffragettes Sylvia and Christabel Pankhurst were also among those who found themselves up before the court.

Museum manager Vicki Pipe said: “The life of the police station and Magistrates’ Court at No. 28 Bow Street is a fascinating slice of London history, packed with incident and stories. We are opening a Museum that will reflect this and reward the curious.

The cells at Bow Street (Cristian Barnett/Bow Street Police Museum/PA)

“This is a unique moment to be launching a new museum, and particularly one exploring the topic of criminal justice. We are conscious of current debates around policing, and aim to be an unbiased, ever-changing and welcoming place for discussions about the history of policing and its evolution.”

Curator Jen Kavanagh said: “Creating a museum in such an important and iconic building such as No.28 Bow Street has allowed us not only to delve into the rich history of policing on Bow Street in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, but also to capture and share first-hand accounts from those who worked as the last of the ‘Runners’ before the station closed in 1992.

“The photographs, newly commissioned film and audio extracts will give our visitors a personal insight into what working life was like at the police station, and the unique relationship between the station and the Magistrates’ Court.”

Philip Gough, museum trustee and former inspector at Bow Street, said: “As a trustee and a former Bow Street police officer, present at the closure of the police station, l take great pride in now having an opportunity to ensure the station and courts’ place in history is preserved for future generations.

“It is my hope that through the presence of the Museum, visitors will have an opportunity to appreciate the rich history of how policing in London has developed and the important role the police and court service plays in society.”

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