The Crime Museum Uncovered

The Metropolitan Police’s Headquarters at New Scotland Yard, until recently housed a Crime Museum.  Established in the mid-1870s, there was a time when it was known as the Black Museum, a name apparently coined by a journalist who was refused entry to the museum back in 1877.  The museum was never open to the general public (nor was Scotland Yard, come to that) but at the time of writing is temporarily housed at the Museum of London, in the Barbican, until 10 April 2016 as The Crime Museum Uncovered.



Now that the MPS is selling New Scotland Yard, it is decanting various units to other buildings, and one of the ones to go is the museum.  I was fortunate enough to be able to visit when it was the Black Museum, but that didn’t stop me jumping at the opportunity to go to see it at the Museum of London.  It’s not the exactly the same as it was when I visited it as the Black Museum, but I guess some of that has to do with updating exhibits as more events occur.  The Crime Museum is a record of some of the most dreadful crimes that have occurred in Britain.

One of the two outer rooms house various death masks from those who were hanged outside Newgate Prison.  These were all murderers, although hanging was not reserved purely for murderers.  Up until the eighteenth century, there were over 200 offences punishable by death in the UK.  The other outer room has various handcuffs and courtroom sketches.  There were also a number of execution ropes on show, although the names of those who had been executed with them were not familiar to me.

The main exhibition room was about Capital Punishment.  And more.  It started with execution box number nine, on loan from Wandsworth Prison, containing everything required for a hanging.


The last public execution in Britain took place in 1868, when Michael Barret was hanged for his part in an explosion outside of Clerkenwell Prison in 1867.  Public tastes had changed from it being a good day out to becoming inhumane.  That wasn’t the end of execution as a penalty though, that didn’t happen until forty years later.  In 1908, the death penalty was abolished for those under age 16 (yes, we were a barbaric lot), we executed children.  In 1933 it was abolished for those under age 18 although the last person aged under 18 to be hanged, for murder, at Maidstone, in January 1889 was Charles Dobel.

Further reforms came later, causing the last people to be hanged in Britain to be Peter Allen and Gwynne Evans on 13 August 1964, although the legislation to enact this didn’t become law until 1965 when the Murder (Abolition of Death Penalty) Act was introduced.  This suspended capital punishment for five years, although in 1969 it was made permanent.  It was, however, retained for treason, piracy with violence and arson aboard the Sovereign’s ships.  Relatively recently, in 1998, it was abolished for all crimes.

What surprised me most, although I’m not sure why, is that a new rope wasn’t automatically used for each execution.  I don’t know why I thought it should have been, just somehow, for me, it makes it worse that the ropes were used over and over, even though the hangman went through a number of steps to ensure that the death would be as humane as possible.

Around the sides of this room were exhibits relating to those who had carried out mostly murders, but some other brutal crimes, as well as a number of various weapons such as flails and knuckle dusters, and worse.  Notable exhibits were those relating to Alfred and Albert Stratton who murdered  Thomas and Ann Farrow.  This was the first criminal case in Britain where fingerprint evidence was used to secure a conviction for murder.

Of course, there was the infamous Dr Crippen, who was convicted for the murder of his wife, Cora.  And then the Sidney Street Siege, which was the first time that the police requested military aid to deal with an armed siege.  It was also the first siege to be recorded on film.  That was quite a significant piece of history, see my next blog post for further information.


Many of the other murderers and their victims were unknown to me, although of course, there were a few more famous names: John Haigh (the acid bath murderer), Christopher Craig and Derek Bentley (who doesn’t know about the outcry and subsequent posthumous pardon,over Bentley’s execution), John Christie who was made famous by the film 10, Rillington Place, and Ruth Ellis, the last woman to be hanged in Britain.


There were also exhibits relating to the Great Train Robbery of 1963 and the attempted diamond robbery at the Millennium Dome in 2000.  It continued on to the Spaghetti House siege and concluded with exhibits relating to some of the bombings that have taken place in London.

It ends in another room with a film about whether or not the exhibition should be on show to the public.  You need to see it for yourself to decide.  Me, I thought it was a good exhibition, and I’d recommend it.

© Susan Shirley 2015


Death and the City



Before I start on this blog post, I just want to extend my condolences, and best wishes to the people of France after the recent atrocities in Paris.

Nous sommes unis, nous sommes Paris.


I recently went on a walk lead by David Charnick  ( called Death and the City.  David is a registered City of London tour guide, so I knew that this was going to be a good one, full of blood and gore – it was about some gruesome deaths that had some relationship with the City: deaths that occurred in the City or bodies buried here.

I’m not going to try to replicate David’s tour in this post.  For a start, I couldn’t do it justice, and for a second, I really think, if you can, that you you would enjoy going on these tours.  There is nothing like being there in person, you meet some nice people and get a bit of exercise as well as learning a lot.

We started our tour at St Paul’s underground station, right in the heart of the City.  We were a small but select bunch, which I always prefer (although I understand that it’s better for the tour guide to have a bigger crew!)

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Our first stop was Chris Church Greyfriars, close to St Paul’s.  The original Gothic church was established as part of the monastery in the thirteenth century. It was largely destroyed by the Great Fire of London and rebuilt by Wren at a cost of £11,778 9s. shillings 7¼d, some of which was raised by the local parishioners.  I believe this was one of Wren’s more expensive rebuilds even though it was smaller than the original church. It went on to become a parish church after the Reformation.  Sadly, not much remains.  The church was subject to severe bomb damage during the Blitz in World War II and was never rebuilt.  The remains are open to the public as garden space, but there are a number of notable people buried in the grounds.

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For me, the most notable of all is Sir Thomas Malory, author of Le Morte d’Arthur, but the Mad Maid of Kent aka Elizabeth Barton and, amongst others, the star of this part of the tour Agnes Hungerford, alleged murderess, are also buried there.  The Mad Maid of Kent was a Catholic nun who was executed because she prophesied that if Henry VIII married Anne Boleyn he would die soon after.  She was executed at Tyburn and buried here but her head was put on a spike on London Bridge, apparently the only woman in history to whom that happened.

Next stop, St Paul’s Churchyard.  Nowadays, this is a largely a fairly large paved area but back in the day it was a bit more of a meeting place.  Regular readers will know that I wrote about Guy Fawkes and his fellow plotters a couple of weeks ago.  What I didn’t say then was that four of his colleagues, instead of being executed at Tyburn, the usual execution ground, Everard Digby, Robert Wintour, John Grant and Thomas Bates were all hanged, drawn and quartered in here.  I’m not sure why, it was unusual, I suppose it was about making an example of them.

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We moved on from here to the Old Bailey, which stands on the site where Newgate Prison once stood.  The clue is in the title here – Newgate was one of the old City gates, and the original gaol was situated within the gatehouse, presumably to stop the miscreants from entering the City.  The first prison was built here in 1188 under instruction from Henry II.  It underwent a couple of renovations and was then destroyed in the Great Fire.  It will come as no surprise for you to learn that it was enlarged when it was rebuilt.

Newgate Prison was a pretty grim place all round.  As a cost saving exercise, when it had been rebuilt, the authorities started to hold the executions here, rather than going to the expense of transporting the prisoners to Tyburn. (Nothing changes, does it?)  The cells were small and let in very little light; and there was none of this single or two to a cell business, it was cram as many as you could in.  No doubt there were rats and other things that seem to like dark, dank places that I’d really rather not think about…

In the early nineteenth century, the social reformer, Elizabeth Fry, became interested in the conditions there, particularly because of the female prisoners and their children.  In those days, unless the woman had someone who could look after her bairns for her, they went with her to prison.  They didn’t have social services and fostering.  Imagine that: your Mum goes to prison so you do too.  Grim.  Very grim.  Elizabeth’s pleas did not fall on stoney ground.  Improvements were made, but I still rather think it wouldn’t have passed muster in today’s world.

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From here we moved onto Cock Lane for the tale of the Cock Lane Ghost.  The alleged haunting took place at 33 Cock Lane, which is now a very plain looking red brick building, so instead of taking photographs of that, I took the photo above instead: John Royle was the inventor of the world’s first self-pouring teapot in 1886.

Back in mediaeval times, Cock Lane was known as Cokkes Lane, probably because it was full of legal brothels (running a brothel did not become illegal until the Disorderly Houses Act became law in 1751).  Number 25 Cock Lane is said to be the place where the author John Bunyan died in 1688.

Next we moved on a little further to Hosier Lane.  There is nothing particularly remarkable to look at here, but it was interesting in that David told us about the dissections carried out her on behalf of the Royal College of Surgeons.  They rented a house here because rising rents had forced them to move from two other addresses.

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Further along is Smithfield, just by St Bartholomew’s Hospital.  There is a big plaque on the outside of the hospital that marks the site of the execution of William Wallace (aka Mel Gibson.)  The real Wallace was a Scottish knight who was one of the leaders in the Scottish War of Independence.  Amongst others, he defeated the English at the Battle of Stirling Bridge.  Although he escaped, he was later defeated at the Battle of Falkirk.  He managed to evade capture until 5 August 1305, when he was turned over the English by another Scottish Knight.  He was taken to London, tried for treason and found guilty.  He was taken from Westminster to the Tower.  He was stripped naked and was tied to a horse and dragged through the City to Smithfield, where he was hanged, drawn and quartered.

Smithfield Market was on the way to our next stop, the largest wholesale meat market in the UK.  It’s possible to take a tour of the market, starting at 7am, so you need to be up early!  I have a contact there is anyone is interested in getting really good meat.

Next stop, Charterhouse Square, site of a Carthusian monastery, built near a 14th century plague pit, the largest mass grave from the Black Death.  The Charterhouse itself was dissolved as a monastery in 1537 and some time later was transformed into a mansion house.  Later still, Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk, was imprisoned here.  He’d been trying to marry Mary, Queen of Scots.  Later, after his release, he was involved in the Ridolfi plot, an attempt to assassinate Elizabeth I and have Mary take the throne. Elizabeth obviously got fed up with his nonsense because he was executed for treason in 1572.

So that is my whistle-stop tour of the Death and the City.

You can also find David’s tours at Footprints of London


© Susan Shirley 2015

Brunch at the Darwin Brasserie


Gianni ( and I met for brunch at the Darwin Brasserie at the Walkie-Talkie building today.  We haven’t seen each other for a while, life has just got in the way, so I was looking forward to catching up.  And having a jolly good feast.  No breakfast for me.


At the time of writing, the Walkie-Talkie is the fifth tallest building in London, and is given its nick-name because of its shape.  The building, completed in 2014, is not, in my opinion, particularly attractive from the outside, and it infamous for the fact that its concave mirror effect windows reflected sunlight on vehicles parked below in Eastcheap causing significant damage.  Oh yes, some of the tour guides I know have had a huge laugh about the architect’s lack of knowledge of basic physics.  The wind tunnel created by this building is another testament to that.  It’s a good job I’ve got short hair.

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For me though, the building redeems itself for its sky gardens, which were opened in January 2015 and span the top three floors.  The view is tremendous, and made better because you get to see the Shard (still not my favourite building in the world, but better than looking at the Walkie-Talkie).

Back to brunch.  We walked past the fairly centrally placed cold buffet table on the way to our table, sufficient to get the gastric juices flowing.  A sofa for the back seat and a chair on each of two sides, I had a choice, but decided to sit on the chair opposite Gianni; the palm tree close to our table might have decided that my food was a trifle too tasty…

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For the cold starters there was a choice of Bloody Mary Prawn Cocktail (delicious), various fruit juices, the Milkshake “Bar” (a smoothie made from tomato, blueberry, kale, vanilla bean, berries, banana and caramel.  I didn’t have one, didn’t have space for that, but will ensure I do for next time), a selection of fruit, the Bloody Mary “bar” (three different types of Bloody Mary, and yes I did, and yes, it was delicious), an asparagus vinaigrette (asparagus with truffle, peas, broad beans and goat’s cheese, although it was just asparagus and peas by the time I got to it, not that it mattered, asparagus is good enough for me), delicious York ham, smoked salmon, Parma ham and salami, and a selection of salads.

I love cold meats, and salads, so this was a good start for me.  The ham and the parma ham were very good quality, the new potato salad was tasty, but not like the one my Mum used to make, all of the starters were appetising and flavoursome.  Gianni had an oyster and Chinese chilli Bloody Mary, I went for the original.  Excellent.

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Gianni ordered corned beef hash for her main, while I chose the full English.  It was a tough decision, the roasts looked good too.  My only complaint was that the black pudding (which I don’t eat very often) was disappointingly dry; Gianni was a little disappointed in her hash – it had brown sauce at the bottom, which wasn’t to her taste.  Good job that the desserts made up for it.

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They had a selection of cheeses and doughnuts, as well as blueberry cheesecake, lemon posset, crème brulee and a blueberry smoothie.  Oh and what I thought was stewed apple, but it turned out to be stewed apple and pears with cinnamon, which was a pleasant change as I don’t eat pastries.  There was also fresh fruit, so pretty much something to suit everyone.

Gianni finished off with a Pimm’s No 1 while I had a glass of Pinot Grigio…  A very good finish to brunch.  One of the things I liked about it here was that I didn’t feel rushed, even though we were there for about two and a half hours.  We probably should have gone for a long walk afterwards but it wasn’t to be on this occasion.  We settled for taking photographs.


© Susan Shirley 2015


Gunpowder, Treason and Plot



Remember, remember the fifth of November,

Gunpowder, treason and plot

I see no reason why gunpowder and treason

Should ever be forgot

 That’s the rhyme I learned as a child, when I always looked forward to what we knew as Firework Night.  At school, I was taught that we celebrated to mark the anniversary of the time when a group of saboteurs, led by Guy Fawkes, tried to blow up the Houses of Parliament.  That all sounds fairly simple and I’d be surprised if most of us hadn’t shared that sentiment of getting rid of the government at some time or other.  Was that really all there was to it?

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The short answer is no, it was far more complex, as most of these things are.  To understand what was going on, we need to have some understanding of the political and sociological climate at the time.

The Gunpowder Plot was uncovered in November 1605, finally and completely on 5 November 1605.  James VI of Scotland had become James I of England and Ireland on 24 March 1603, a Roman Catholic king in a predominately Protestant (largely, but not exclusively, Church of England) country.  Although Protestant, the religious unrest that had stated when Henry VIII broke away from the Catholic church persisted.  James succeeded Queen Elizabeth on her death.

Queen Mary, Elizabeth’s half sister, had been a Catholic, and was nicknamed Bloody Mary because of the atrocities against protestants during her reign.  Elizabeth was a protestant, although less intransigent in her views about religion, but nonetheless, it had not been a happy time for Catholics.  James was the son of Mary, Queen of Scots, who had, in her day, been involved in uprisings against Queen Elizabeth I, James I’s predecessor.  Guilt by association rules, ok.

James was considered the only viable choice to succeed Elizabeth, who had died childless, thus putting an end to the Tudor dynasty.  No doubt there were others born out of wedlock who would have had a claim to the throne, but James was already a ruling monarch.  Possession is nine tenths of the law.


Notwithstanding that Elizabeth herself was more accepting of religious tolerance, the same cannot be said of her privy council, consequently, in the last 10 years or so of her reign, Catholic persecution intensified.  By the time Elizabeth died, Catholics had to take mass in private, and were required to attend Protestant services.  Not popular.

The Catholics expected James to be more tolerant of them; and to start with, things went well.  However, one of James’ trusted advisors was Robert Cecil, 1st Earl of Salisbury, Secretary of State and James’ so-called Spymaster (he was one of the judges at the trials of Sir Walter Raleigh and Lord Cobham, in their alleged attempts to remove James from the throne).  Cecil had served under Elizabeth, as had his father before him; he was in a powerful position.  Much of what Cecil had done was to the good of the people, but there was a Protestant backlash, particularly for those in favour of even more reform, such as the Puritans and Calvinists, against the lessening of penalties, etc, towards the Catholics.  Cecil believed it was necessary to do something to placate them: he was probably right, because within 40 years, the country was in the grip of a civil war.  Not purely religion based but religion certainly played its part.

Thus, Cecil advised James to, once again, increase the penalties towards the overtly practising Catholics.


Against this backdrop was the constant plotting against each other of the ruling families in Europe, perhaps because it took the heat off their intra-family fights and plots (they didn’t have family counsellors in those days), and they were usually happy to assist anyone who came up with a half decent plan to de-throne another monarch with a view to getting hold of that throne.  Two such plots to de-throne James had already been thwarted by 1605.

There were constant rumblings in the country to put a different monarch on the throne, reform the way that whichever religious faction was out of favour was being treated, etc, etc.

Enter stage left, Robert Catesby from Warwickshire, a fairly well off, and a recusant Catholic (ie he refused to attend Anglican church services).  He recruited a group of men, including the infamous Guy Fawkes, to help him with a plan to blow up the Houses of Parliament when James was present at the State opening.  The idea was to kill James and replace him with his daughter Elizabeth, another Catholic; anyone else who was killed or injured would have been collateral damage.  I don’t know how involved in the whole thing Elizabeth was, it seems a bit harsh to want to see your own father dead, but that sort of thing was common back then.

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The plotters rented a house near to the Houses of Parliament, which had a basement that was underneath it.  (You’d have to visit to understand, the whole of Whitehall area had an underground system beneath Whitehall Palace and the Palace of Westminster – the Houses of Parliament.  Allegedly, the two were also linked.  It was, still is, like a rabbit warren. It wouldn’t have taken much to find a way underneath the Houses of Westminster.

A certain Lord Monteagle, who was the brother-in-law of one of the plotters, received an anonymous letter telling him not to attend parliament for the State Opening (I wonder whether his sister was the author?).  Monteagle passed the letter onto Cecil. Being the shrewd politician that he was, Cecil didn’t take action straight away, he decided to wait until he had the “bang to rights” so the plotters had no reason to suspect that they had been discovered.

On 4 November, the day before the State Opening was due to take place, Cecil gave the order for parliament to be searched, standard procedure nowadays, but not so then.  During the search, Guy Fawkes was found and arrested.  He was taken to the Tower of London and tortured for two days before he told all.  That was pretty impressive for what he would have undergone, in those torture was torture, all hot irons in your delicate bits and pieces and other things that I really don’t want to dwell on too much.

Those two days gave his colleagues time to make their escape.  They made their way to Holbeche House in Staffordshire, where a number of them were killed in a gunfight with the King’s men.  Those who were still alive were arrested and returned to London for questioning, or interrogation, depending on your perspective.

The questioning lasted for three weeks, until Cecil was sure that he had extracted everything they knew.  Over two days in January 1606, eight of the plotters, including Guy Fawkes, were hanged, drawn and quartered.  (They’d hang someone until they were nearly dead, then remove their entrails, and then chop them into four.  If they were lucky, they died before that bit happened.)  Three more plotters were arrested and executed over the coming three months.  Those who had died had at Holbeche were exhumed and posthumously beheaded.

Far from making life easier for Catholics, in the aftermath of this plot, James feared for his life and throne more than ever and, consequently, a number of new laws were passed to restrict the roles of Catholics in public life and taking away their right to vote.  These laws were still in place two hundred years later.  So much for love thy neighbour.


© Susan Shirley 2015