In 1881, a police station and courthouse opened in Covent Garden, and in 2021, it will reopen as a museum of policing history.
There had been a Magistrates’ Court on Bow Street since 1740 and was home to the famous Bow Street Runners, although the current very grand looking building is on a slightly different site from the original and dates from 1881.
Some of the famous people later tried in the courthouse include the Kray Twins, Dr Crippen, Oscar Wilde and suffragettes Sylvia and Christabel Pankhurst and Mrs Drummond.
The police station closed in 1992, and the court in 2006, and the buildings are now being converted into a hotel, and it was agreed to turn the prison cells into a new museum. The ground floor prison cells dating from 1906 and offices will become the museum galleries, telling the story of the Bow Street Runners and the Metropolitan Police officers who walked the streets of Covent Garden in their footsteps.
The museum will be filled with stories of investigations, arrests and justice being served, from 18th-century crime-fighting to the modern-day. Along the way, it will explore Bow Street’s unique role in police, law and social history and the workings of the first Metropolitan Police station.
Alongside the policing history, the museum will also tell the stories of some of the famous cases held in the Magistrates’ Court. The court held a unique status that enabled it to deal with extradition proceedings, terrorist offences and cases related to the Official Secrets Act.
Among the collections to be displayed will be the original dock from one of the courts; early equipment used by the Bow Street Runners on patrol, including an original cutlass, a specially-made replica Runners uniform and personal effects from former officers, including beat books, truncheons and items from their time on duty at Bow Street.
You will also also be able to spend time in ‘the tank’, the large cell that was often the destination for men arrested for drunken behaviour in public.
The museum, situated in Martlett Court, opposite the Royal Opera House in the heart of Covent Garden should – covid permitting – open early next year. Entry is currently expected to be £6 for adults, with children under 12 going in for free. Concession rates also available.
More information about the museum is here.
The museum will operate as an independent charity supported initially by the owners of the building, the Sydell Group, but eventually becoming self-sufficient.