I have been promising myself a visit to the Greater Manchester Police Museum for some time now, and today I finally made it. It was a fascinating trip and well worth a go if you are into your history, or police history, or are just plain nosey about how our Mancunian ancestors broke the law back in their day.
It is a museum set up in the building of a Victorian police station on Faraday Street/Newton Street in Manchester, and has been a museum since 1981.
I went with my friend Phil, and we spent a good two hours there poking around in the exhibits, the mocked-up offices and police rooms and the original cells at Faraday Street in Manchester. My particular interest was policing in the 1940s (research for a story I’m writing) but the whole lot was a fascinating journey into the past.
There were lots of volunteers on hand to talk to, and I had a great chat with a man called Ron Flowers who was dressed in vintage police uniform. We talked about my Grandad who served the Manchester City Police and we discovered that Ron could have possibly crossed over with him, starting his service just around the time my Grandad was coming up to retirement at the same station. Coincidence!
I took copious notes about what I needed for my story, and I learned a lot more besides. Such as, did you know that handwritten reports were copied in a “copy press” from the start of the police service right through to the 1960s? I had never really paid attention to what a copy press was, but today I learned that they were commonly used to copy documents long before photocopying or duplicators with their smelly purple ink were invented.
I also learned about the changes in the police uniform and equipment over the years, from why they original Bow Street Runners were given tunics that looked like frock coats to why they wore a leather stock underneath their collars. And did you know that the top hats they used to wear were reinforced with bamboo so that if they needed a leg-up over a wall for example they would put their hat on the floor and use it as a footstool. The original Bow Street Runners would carry a hollow cylinder with a screw-top as a baton (or “staff” as they are known in the GM Police) and they would roll up the warrants for the people they were sent out to arrest and carry them inside. As the years progressed, the staffs were more and more used for defence and became solid. And did you know that originally, the only way a police man could shout for help was by deploying a rattle? Very loud and distinct in sound, it was some time before it was replaced by a whistle, which could be heard up to about a mile and a half away.
I also got an insight into the types of crimes that were being committed through the years – and the weapons used in them (shudder). It has given me a couple of ideas for my story, and until I’ve written it I would rather not share them here, but let’s just say that there were plenty of reasons to kill back in the 1940s that I would never have thought of if I hadn’t visited the museum today.
At the back of the museum are the yard where criminals were brought in, and the original cells from when the building was a working police station. The charge office was set up to receive people to be charged and the cells were in a chilly corridor leading off it.
Upstairs is a room that was used a magistrate’s court, which was something else I learned today. I hadn’t realised that in the early days of policing, minor crimes were judged by magistrates in a court room on site rather than transporting criminals to a courthouse elsewhere. The furniture in the museum came from a police station in Denton that was demolished in the early 2000s, and has been restored beautifully as can be seen in my photograph of Phil in the dock. (He can’t have committed too serious a crime, not with that big grin on show!)
Back downstairs and on the way out we stopped in the small gift shop, where I learned I could ask for any information held in the archives on my Grandad’s service record. I filled in the forms and will hopefully hear in a week or so if there is any information they can share with me.
A very interesting and fruitful visit, and well worth going again. It is open for visitors in a Tuesday from 10.30 – 3.30pm (free entry), and is available for group visits on the other days if you book in advance. It is a popular destination for school visits, although they probably wouldn’t see any of the more gruesome exhibits on show such as the cricket bat studded with six-inch nails used in a gang fight in the 1980s. Painful!
If you can’t get to visit the museum yourself in person, please do go and have a look at their website where you will find more information about both the museum and the history of policing in Manchester.