New life for Bow Street station

Wednesday, 13 January, 2021

One of London's first police stations will become the country's newest independent museum. Bow Street Police Museum will sit inside no. 28 Bow Street, home of Bow Street Police Station and Magistrates' Court for over a century. The ground floor cells and offices will become galleries, telling the story of the Bow Street Runners, the country's first organised force, and the Metropolitan Police officers who walked the streets of Covent Garden in their footsteps.

It is hoped the Bow Street Police Museum will open in February. It will sit within the new NoMad London Hotel, which will occupy 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 becoming self-sufficient.

The Museum will be filled with stories of investigations, arrests and justice being served, from 18th century crime fighting to the moment the police station closed its doors in 1992, followed by the court in 2006. 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. And as well as telling the stories of the historic, sometimes infamous, trials heard at Bow Street Magistrates' Court, the Museum will also instigate discussions about many 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 will also be invited to spend time in 'the tank', the large cell that was often the destination for men arrested for drunken behaviour in public.
In 1881, a new police station and courthouse opened in Covent Garden. For the next century and beyond, the building was a hive of activity and Metropolitan Police officers patrolled the streets, dealing with everything that came their way. People came in and out of the main station door all day and night, and officers took calls from the public, sent colleagues to incidents, interviewed suspects, completed paperwork and oversaw prisoners.

Former officer Simon Hibberd, Bow Street 1981-1992, said, "If you were the station officer, you ran the front office, you ran every prisoner that came in. You were just running - you just got run ragged."

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 will share 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.

Tim Workman, last serving Chief Magistrate at Bow Street, said, "It was the enormous variety that made Bow Street Court so interesting. From drunks in Covent Garden to mass murderers wanted by their home country appearing before you in court, you never knew what to expect."

The Museum will be as much about everyday life in and around Bow Street as it is about famous names and cases. Its galleries will be filled with the stories of the officers who made the building breathe throughout its history, and historic, unseen photographs from station staff will evoke the atmosphere of working life.
The Museum will also trace the life and times of Covent Garden, exploring how the market, theatreland, shops, bars, restaurants intertwined with Bow Street. Given their location, officers devoted much of their time to working closely with the hundreds of traders that filled Covent Garden's fruit, vegetable and flower market, and sharing the time of day - and a cup of tea if they were in luck - with locals.
Jen Kavanagh, Curator, said, "We hope that when visitors walk through the doors of the Museum they will have a real sense of the history of Bow Street and the people who have passed through those doors before them. We have worked especially closely with officers who served at Bow Street and, as a result, the Museum is rich with recollections of life at a unique place in a special part of town."

Vicki Pipe, Museum Manager, said: "We aim to create a vibrant Museum, which will be an ever-changing and welcoming place for discussions and debates about the history of policing. We cannot wait to welcome our first visitors."

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