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Review: Bow Street Police Museum in London

With many small museums facing an uncertain future, it is with some delight that we can report a new museum opening that explores one of London’s most famous police stations near to Covent Garden. Bow Street Police Station was one of London’s first police stations and has become the country’s newest independent museum. Bow Street Police Museum sits inside no. 28 Bow Street, home of Bow Street Police Station and Magistrates’ Court for over a century. The ground floor cells and offices have been turned into galleries, telling the story of the Bow Street Runners, the country’s first organised force, and how the Metropolitan Police officers who walked the streets of Covent Garden became an important part of the area.

Bow Street Police Museum is based within the new NoMad London Hotel, which now occupies the entire newly-restored building. The Museum will operate as an independent charity supported initially by the owners of the building, the Sydell Group, but eventually will becoming self-sufficient.

The Museum tells many of the stories of investigations, arrests and justice from 18th century crime fighting to the moment the police station closed its doors in 1992, followed by the court in 2006. The museum explores Bow Street’s unique role in police, law and social history and the workings of the first Metropolitan Police station. And as well as telling the stories of the historic, sometimes infamous, trials heard at Bow Street Magistrates’ Court, the Museum also considers aspects of police history, modern policing and social justice.

Among the collections to be displayed will be the original dock from Court no. 2;

early equipment used by the Bow Street Runners on patrol, including an original cutlass, a specially-made replica Runners uniform (featuring blue double-breasted coat, blue trousers, black felt hat, black boots and the red waistcoat that earned early officers the nickname ‘robin red breasts’);

a beautiful reproduction of a collection of sketches by court artist William Hartley;

and personal effects from former officers, including beat books, truncheons and items from their time on duty at Bow Street.

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

Covent Garden was a thriving hub and market when in 1881, a new police station and courthouse opened in Covent Garden. For the next century and beyond, the building and Metropolitan Police officers was a reassuring presence in the area.

People arrested by police officers at Bow Street were held overnight and tried at the Magistrates’ Court next door. The Court held a unique status that enabled it to deal with extradition proceedings, terrorist offences and cases related to the Official Secrets Act. This brought a string of notable cases to Bow Street, including IRA terrorist cases and the extradition cases against the former dictator of Chile, General Augusto Pinochet. The Museum shares some of the tales of many of those who found themselves up before Bow Street’s judges, including the Kray Twins, Dr Crippen, Oscar Wilde and suffragettes Sylvia and Christabel Pankhurst and Mrs Drummond.

The Museum also considers the life and times of Covent Garden, exploring how the market, theatreland, shops, bars, restaurants presented unique problems to Bow Street Police Station and the police officers.

The new museum is quite small and is well located opposite the Royal Opera House and near to Covent Garden itself. Many of the old Police stations in London have been sold and are now redeveloped therefore this is a rare opportunity to visit one of the most famous police stations in London. The museum is well designed and uses the cells to tell the various stories related to the police station and the people who worked there. Bow Street Police Museum is a welcome addition to the large number of small museums in London and once visitors start making their way to Covent Garden, hopefully it will attract plenty of visitors.


Venue: Bow Street Police Museum, 28 Bow Street, London WC2E 7AW
Admission: Entrance: £6.00; Concessions: £4.50 / £3.00; Children under 12 and carers: free
Opening: For the first six months the museum will operate three days a week Fri- Sun, 11.00 – 16.30

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