The Black Museum. Crimes against posterity.

I took a day off work (being around deceased people) to see the crime museum, formally the black museum, to see things that made people deceased. It was odd, and a little disappointing.

I heard about The Black Museum when I was a teenager, and instantly wanted to go. It had its name changed a few years ago after the outcry made by people who felt it was a racial slur. Ironically, like the Campaign for Equal Heights in Discworld, the outcry is, more often than not, from white people. Go figure. Anyway, it is a museum of sort, filled with evidence and equipment from London’s various crimes, serial killers, mysterious murders, strange weapons and other bits and bobs from the past.

Originally a storage for police officers to learn what they have, might or hopefully never will encounter on the streets and backwaters of our beautiful, rat infested, diverse, inventive capital. People have heard stories of the museum, it’s probably one of the most famous attractions that no-one is actually allowed to see. So, when they opened a section of it for the public, we (The Bimbling Foodies) leapt at the chance to wander its famous halls.
We shouldn’t have jumped so high.

There will always be those who are offended by things, I see people every day who come and sit near the smoking people at the pub and complain about the smoke. But this took a new biscuit. It turns out, the museum curator and the police decided between them to not show anything from post-1975, in case of surviving relatives being upset. This we could understand. With that in mind, the videos of the bomb attempt on the queens guards, the attempted theft of the millenium diamond and the Krays torture battery being shown were a tad confusing.

We entered the first hall, finding death masks, which it turns out were made, not for posterity or Victorian ghoulishness, but for phrenologists studies. We also found hanging nooses. Or noosi. Not sure on the plural! I found out when I asked to speak the curator or similar that people had complained about the noose collection. Apparently seeing the knotted rope that had actually ended peoples lives was just too much. Why the hell would you go to a crime museum if you don’t want to see our crime and punishment history?! Britains habit of hanging, drawing, quartering, breaking and otherwise damaging people as punishment is famed. We’re almost proud of it. Our oldest family of hangmen’s living relative makes a good living off talking about what his great grandfather did for a living. Britains, as a rule, are quite demanding with our criminal entertainment. As it were.

I asked about Dennis Nilsens pans (which weren’t there) and George Joseph Smiths bath (which also wasn’t there) and what I heard amazed and infuriated me. Apparently the museum was supposed to have the bath, but an independent ethics committee had decided that any surviving relatives of the widows Smith married and murdered might be upset to see it displayed. What the actual fuck. It’s been displayed as a police training tool for 100 years. If there are any relatives left, is that something that’s at the forefront of their mind at all times? Do they see bath tubs or antique stores and start weeping about a great-great-grandmother they’ve never known? I doubt it very much. I could understand there being nothing about The Moors Murderers and The West’s, with them being so fresh and harsh in the publics mind. But the was even only bare minimum of John Christie of 10 Rillington Place.

The British have always had a jump first think later approach to things. We like to storm in and ask questions later. We have a very strong “man up princess” approach to everything, the classic stiff upper lip. And I’m so proud of the country for it. Yet for some reason it was deemed too scary a thought to show crime that captured the minds of the masses, crimes that led to forensics being invented because they had to be solved somehow.

The CGI effects we have now were invented for Jurassic park, just like the fingerprinting techniques, blood matching and clue finding were invented because of these crimes. Dr Crippen would probably never have been caught out had it not been for someone spotting small bones and fibres matching his wife’s in the acid. Yet all he had was a small panel with half hearted descriptions the size of a standard kitchen cupboard door. Dennis Nilsen would never have been caught if he hadn’t been stupid enough to flush boiled human flesh down the drain, yet he didn’t even get a mention.

The British have, what could be seems as, a ghoulish approach to seeing the deserving receive their final reward. We know that hanging people is bad now, but we remember, we learn. We stand tall and roar defiance in the faces of our oppressors. Very politely, of course. Yet for some reason a small committee managed to shy away, pussy footing around a subject that has made our history interesting.

Children love the series Horrible Histories, because it’s horrible. History with the dripping parts left hanging on. If you grab peoples imagination, you grab their mind. We could have had an amazing reason yo have tourists in London, instead of to buy badly printed “I ❤ London” shirts. But no, instead we had an embarrassing joke of a display. And the final maggot on the hard tack of our truncated criminal history? Basically nothing about Jack the Ripper.

Bad form, museum of London and its committee. Bad form.


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