Jack the Ripper

London: City of London Police Museum

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First let me make things perfectly clear: the City of London Police Museum is NOT the infamous Black Museum.  If it were, I would probably be peeing my pants with delight right now at having been allowed in (sorry if that image grossed you out).  Instead, it is a rather nice little museum inside the City Police Headquarters on Wood Street, just around the corner from the Guildhall.  The museum is open on Tuesdays and Wednesdays only, from 11-4, and is free of charge.

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Police Call Box. It was just as small as it looked on the inside, although apparently the butchers at Smithfield Market used to leave meat inside for the officers to collect after their shifts.

I was kind of apprehensive about stepping into a police station after my experiences with police museums in America, where the officers rudely barked orders at me as soon as I stepped in the door; fortunately, their British counterparts were lovely (no airport style screening system in sight!), and showed me into a hallway where a tour was just starting.  I hadn’t realised that the museum would feature a tour; I’m normally averse to them, but in this case, I think it was a good thing, as it turned out there wasn’t too much information in the museum cases.  In addition, the volunteer giving the tour was a retired officer who had been on the scene during the Moorgate Tube Disaster in 1975, so he had some very interesting stories to tell.  We began in the hallway, which held a display of photographs, and he explained each one a little bit.  I liked the promotional ones from the ’20s and ’30s showing self-defence training, which included actual fencing, and boxing, amongst other techniques (it would admittedly be kind of hilarious if a criminal just whipped out an epee and mask and started thrusting and parrying).  Bob, the tour guide, told us a story about the bodies that get washed up on the shore of the Thames; apparently, one day they were looking for parts of a murder victim who’d been hacked into pieces, but all the restaurants along the river would throw their meat detritus and things onto the beach, so they had to pick through all kinds of animal bones to try to find human remains.  Bob was quite full of grisly but entertaining anecdotes like this, which were the highlight of the tour.

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Helmet of an officer caught in the blast of an IRA bomb in front of the Old Bailey. He was seriously injured, but the helmet saved his life.

Once we finally made it into the actual museum (at which point our little group had swelled to five people – the museum was proving surprisingly popular), we were allowed to try on a helmet and pose for pictures (I was making a really stupid face, as usual, so I won’t post it here). The City Police and the Metropolitan Police are two separate entities, and one of the ways you can tell which is which (other than identifying badges and the like) is by their helmet shape.  City Police have a raised hump down the centre of their helmets; the Met’s have a rounded top and a rose on them.  We also learned about the evolution of the uniforms; officers were initially issued with a top hat, which had a bamboo lining, so that they could stand on it to see over walls and the like.  It was changed to the modern style of helmet at some point in the 1870s.

Noisemaker used by night watchmen (known as Charlies) and early policemen to alert other officers of a crime scene.

Noisemaker used by night watchmen (known as Charlies) and early policemen to alert other officers of a crime scene.

The cases were crammed pretty full of stuff, including an array of uniforms, medals, and photographs, but as I said before, there wasn’t tonnes of signage, so it was lucky we had Bob to explain things to us.  Another one of his stories was about incendiary devices dropped by Germans on London early on in the Blitz – an officer climbed on the top of St. Paul’s Cathedral, and was catching the bombs and throwing them off so that they didn’t set the dome on fire, for which he later received a medal (the bombs were skinny tubes, only about two feet long (there’s one in the museum), and they came down on parachutes and didn’t detonate until they hit the ground, which is how he was able to accomplish this feat without having his arms incinerated).

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I was very keen to hear what he had to say about Moorgate, since he mentioned being there that day.  In 1975, a Northern Line train crashed through the barriers at Moorgate Station, and went through a wall, which swallowed up the first two cars entirely (see diagram above).  43 people died as a result, and 74 more were injured, including a policewoman who was trapped in the second carriage, and had to have her foot amputated so they could pull her out.  The driver failed to stop, which is what caused the crash (rather than a mechanical failure), but they didn’t find drugs or alcohol in his system, so they’ve no idea why he didn’t brake.  They had quite a few photographs from the day on display here, and some diagrams depicting the aftermath.

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Wall of Ripper memorabilia

Of course, most people come to the museum to hear about Jack the Ripper, so Bob spent a fair amount of time in this corner explaining the case.  As I just attended a lecture by Donald Rumbelow a few months ago, I didn’t really learn anything new, but that’s largely because I think he used to work at the City Police Museum, and may have had a hand in curating the display.  At any rate, it would have been informative for people who didn’t know much about Jack, and they did have some gruesome photos of the victims up, for those who are into that sort of thing (not judging, I’m fascinated by that kind of stuff myself!

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Pictures of known criminals. Because the station did not have a photographic department at that time, suspects were sent to a local photography studio to be photographed for the records, hence the formal poses of the subjects.

The other main crime story of note was one about an attempted jewelery heist in the Jewish section of East London, known as the Houndsditch Murders.  Three officers were shot trying to prevent it, which is the largest number of City officers killed at one time.  The robbers were Russian/Latvian anarchists, who were trying to steal jewels to finance the Russian Revolution (which hadn’t happened yet, obviously), and they holed themselves up in a building until Winston Churchill (Home Secretary at the time) agreed to bring in the Army to assist. This led to a shoot out until the building caught on fire; the robbers died in the inferno rather than give themselves up.  The only one who escaped was the mastermind, known as Peter the Painter.  His exact identity remains a mystery, but it is rumoured that he was a man called Yakov Peters who subsequently returned to Russia, and was given a position as head of security for Lenin (post-Revolution).  He was later executed by the Soviets.

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There were many other objects on display (though it was a small space), such as the Olympic Medals won by the City Police Tug of War team (back when Tug of War was an Olympic sport, those must have been the days!), counterfeit bills, and materials relating to Police Horses.  I think there could have been a lot more done with murders and the like, as there was certainly nothing approaching the goriness of the Danish Police Museum, but I appreciate that not being everyone’s cup of tea (plus I suspect the really good stuff is hidden away at the Black Museum).  Still, even just more tales of crime in the City would have spiced things up.  Nevertheless, I was very grateful for Bob’s anecdotes, as he really helped to flesh out the museum’s contents, and definitely made them more interesting than just staring into the cases would have been.

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I will say that you should set aside quite a bit of time to tour this museum; it certainly took much longer than I expected, as I wasn’t aware I would be given a tour, but it is worth staying to listen.  The only caveat is that you might have to wait awhile if a tour is in session when you arrive, as Bob was the only volunteer on duty when I visited, and several latecomers were told to wait whilst I was there, so arriving near the 11 am opening time might be a good bet.  It doesn’t have the shock value of other police museums I’ve visited, but it does have a certain quiet dignity, and you will learn lots about the history of the City Police force, and notable crimes in the City (I hope I haven’t spoiled it for you by sharing Bob’s stories, but they were too good to not tell those of you who might not be able to visit the museum, and there were quite a few other facts that I haven’t mentioned!).  It’s well worth checking out (and thanks to Bob for an ace tour!).

100th Post(card) Giveaway! And St. Bart’s Pathology Museum

I’m sure you’re all dying to hear who won…I very scientifically assigned each of you a number based on the order in which you commented (excluding my own comments, of course), and put them into a random number generator…the winner is number 4, stinkjel!  Congrats, and I hope you enjoy your prize!

I’ve been blogging for just under a year, but I’m already up to my 100th post! I had to celebrate the occasion somehow, so I’m doing a giveaway.  As you may have guessed from the title, it will consist of a selection of postcards taken from my extensive collection, from places all over Europe and America, many of which I’ve blogged about.

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The cards pictured above are what you’ll be getting, and they’re all blank, so you can hang them up on your walls, or send them to your friends to confuse them by making them think you’re off visiting the Cork Butter Museum, or a Danish beach!  In case the postcards aren’t exciting enough, I’m including a special secret bonus prize along with them (though it’s not actually anything that thrilling, so maybe don’t get too excited.)!

The contest is open to everyone, and I’m happy to ship the postcards anywhere in the world.  To enter, simply leave a comment listing one of your favourite museums and/or travel destinations, or alternatively, somewhere you’d like to see me blog about.  If you don’t have a wordpress blog, be sure you enter in a valid email address so I have some way of contacting you.  Contest is open until Thursday, 20th February.  I’ll pick the winner using a random number generator, and announce who they are on Friday the 21st.  (Sorry I don’t have something more exciting to give away, but my budget is extremely limited at the moment!)

And now, so there’s actually some useful content in this landmark post as well, I’d like to tell you about St. Barts Pathology Museum, in London.  The museum is inside St. Bart’s Hospital (Sherlock fans will know it well as it’s the building Sherlock splats from…or not, as the case may be.  I hope you’ve all seen the new series by now!), and is only open to the public during special events (alas, I’ve never seen Benedict there, despite lots of looking, though there’s really nothing (save for the wet and dirty ground, and possibly good taste) to stop you posing in the same spot where he landed outside).  I’ve been there twice, once for a taxidermy workshop last year, and again last week for a lecture on Jack the Ripper’s victims.  Though the workshops usually cost 50 quid and up, the lectures are only around £6, come with a free glass of wine, and are usually about interesting medical, history, or horror related topics, so they’re probably your best ticket inside.

Doors open half an hour before events (typically at 6:30 for the evening lectures) to give attendees a chance to explore the museum. Because the museum’s collections pretty much entirely consist of human remains, no photography is allowed, but I’ll try to give you a rough idea of what’s inside.  Only the ground level exhibits are currently accessible, though I believe they’re trying to make the stairs and things safe so the public can go up to the upper levels within the next few years.  The contents are similar to what you’d find in the Hunterian and the Gordon Museum…perhaps a bit closer to the Gordon, as it is used as a learning resource for medical students.  Therefore, it’s not always the most user friendly to the general public, and many of the specimens don’t have proper captions, or just offer a short explanation full of medical terminology that is probably not that useful to the layperson. However, the “highlights” of the collection generally are well labelled, and there’s a few big posters of drawings explaining specific unpleasant conditions.

I find that the back wall has the best stuff, and the collections sort of get less gory (and therefore, less interesting) as you progress up to the front of the museum, but that’s just me.  The back wall has some nice mounted skeletons, including several of babies suffering from hydrocephaly.  My favourite case has to be the one full of things pulled out from inside people (yes, usually from inside the anus), like an anti-aircraft shell used by a man who had prolapses and hemorrhoids to hold everything in place, until one day it got stuck; and a slate pencil, which I think was swallowed, notable largely because Laura’s always using them to write poems mocking Miss Wilder or curl her “lunatic fringe” in Little Town on the Prairie.

Other objects of note within the museum are the liver that was deformed by constant tight corset lacing, and the rather impressive collection of tumours caused by “sweep’s cancer.”  There are really lots of neat bones, organs, tumours, and other body parts to see, so try to come check it out for yourself if you can.  The link at the start will take you to their events page, but here it is again if you don’t feel like scrolling back up.  There’s some cool-sounding lectures coming up in the next couple weeks, and then I believe they’re not having any more until next autumn, so book soon if you want to visit.  I will say that I was slightly disappointed in the lecture I just attended, because the title was misleading (it was called something to the effect of “Mary Kelly, the Ripper’s final victim), as I thought it would be very specific to Mary Kelly, when really it was just a general overview of Jack the Ripper, but it was still entertaining, and delivered by the leading Ripperologist Donald Rumbelow (and fortunately, Rumbelow doesn’t seem to buy into the wilder theories, which is what sometimes puts me off “Ripperology”).  Nonetheless, the museum is always worth seeing, and I do still plan to attend future events.

Good luck to everyone entering the giveaway (and I hope someone does enter, or this is going to get really embarrassing)!

London: Royal London Hospital Museum

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I’m shamelessly trying to lure you in with a picture of the best bit first.

I knew full well that the Royal London Hospital Museum had Joseph Merrick’s veiled hat-thing, but I hadn’t gone to visit it until now.  I fear I have only myself to blame (but in fairness to myself, the first time I went to Whitechapel, in a misguided attempt to see the streets where Jack the Ripper lurked, I was chased down the street by a gang of men until I fled into the tube station, so I was in no great hurry to return). Also, they’re not open on weekends, which didn’t really help either. The museum is not particularly easy to find, and involved cutting through the modern hospital, wandering around a courtyard for a while after the signs abruptly tailed off, going back in the hospital to ask for directions (and be met with a vague response), and some more wandering until finally spying another sign far down the street and at last finding the museum.  Of course, if you possess some sense of direction, this process can be greatly simplified by simply walking through the main entrance of the hospital opposite Whitechapel station, heading down the main hallway, and turning right onto Newark Street upon exiting the building.

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I was ultimately rewarded for my pains by stepping into a pleasantly cool room that I had all to myself, (not counting my boyfriend, but he’s fairly quiet and unobtrusive) which was filled with cases of some pretty wonderful stuff.  Whilst Joseph Merrick (the Elephant Man) was undoubtedly the most famous patient, the hospital was founded in 1740, so there’s been a quite a list of prominent names (including some famous Americans) connected with it over the years, and they have the artefacts to prove it!  These include a letter written by Benjamin Franklin, and another letter from George Washington, accompanied by a set of his false teeth.  I’m starting to wonder how many sets George actually had, as the Hunterian also has one, and I think I might have seen a pair in Edinburgh as well.  The man was the Imelda Marcos of teeth!  According to the Founding Foodies book (on the culinary contributions of the founding fathers (I actually own this book, so yes, I am a nerd.)), he enjoyed mush cakes with syrup for breakfast, so he must have spent the rest of his time gnawing on bones or something.

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There were a few other famous (or perhaps notorious, in one case) people featured here.  I seem to keep encountering Edith Cavell this days – she first came to my attention in Belgium at one of the WWI museums, and then I happened to be in Norwich, where she is buried.  The Royal London Hospital Museum has an entire case devoted to her fascinating story, and after leaving, I passed her statue next to Trafalgar Square on my way up Charing Cross Road for Malaysian roti (which was amazing, by the way), which I’d somehow never noticed before.  An arrogant pigeon was perched on her head.  There’s also a display case for Florence Nightingale, but I always thought she was a bit of a prude, so I’ll not devote more attention to her here. On the opposite end of the humanity spectrum, being in Whitechapel, the museum naturally has to include Jack the Ripper somewhere, and they oblige with a copy of a letter from “Jack” sent to London Hospital following the crimes.

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And of course, the museum doesn’t neglect poor Joseph Merrick.  The centre of the museum has a TV and bench where you can sit and watch videos about Merrick, (you’ll need the bench, as most of them are 20 minutes long) including one on the impact he’s had on modern conceptions of disability, which was of interest to me as I wrote my Master’s thesis on 18th century dwarfism (and disability); I was influenced in large part by William Hay’s Deformity, An Essay, written over 100 years before Merrick was even born. Seems the Georgians were more evolved in that area, as William Hay became an MP despite his hunchback.  But back to Merrick; the museum has the aforementioned hat that he used to shield himself from prying eyes, a signed photo of himself that he gave to a staff member, a replica of his skeleton, a card church he made, and his only surviving letter.  It’s quite a poignant little collection.

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The museum has plenty of other cool stuff, and not just relating to famous individuals either.  The cases in the main hallway cover the history of the museum, with patient records and menus, and portraits of the most influential doctors.  There’s also plenty of medical instruments, and a collection of nurse uniforms over the decades (they were never exactly keeping up with the style of the times).  I was pleasantly surprised at how much neat stuff they had, as I’ve been disappointed by London medical museums in the past (I’m looking at you, Dental Museum. Ugh, and that awful John Snow exhibit which was one of my first posts on here!).  It’s not terribly big, but I think is worthy of attention.  Oh, and admission is free, but I’m sure they’d be grateful if you dropped a little something into the donation box by the door!  4/5

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