The Black Museum is the unofficial name given to a British museum of crime whose collections started in approximately 1870, housed at Great Scotland Yard. Police authorities today prefer the name Crime Museum for the repository of artifacts from the 19th century and beyond. Many of the artifacts are tied to infamous crimes that occurred in London, including a series of grisly murders performed by Jack the Ripper beginning in 1888 that remain unsolved more than a century later. The museum is not open to the general public, although periodic access has been granted to journalists and dignitaries, including magician Harry Houdini and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes.
Today the Black Museum is housed in the headquarters of the Metropolitan Police, where it has been located since 1967. The museum’s collections are used to enlighten police officers on the variety of unique weapons used in crime, and it is also used as a lecture hall for the discussion of investigative techniques and forensic science, among other topics. Visitors privileged enough to be allowed entry to the Black Museum can view a poisoned umbrella, a briefcase that fires poisoned darts, horrendous binoculars that conceal a set of spikes meant to blind a person and the “cop killer,” a long sword that conceals a shorter blade and can catch an officer off guard.
Many of the artifacts are considered too grisly and ghoulish for the public view. The bloodied uniform of an officer is on display, as are undergarments, still bloody, from the victims killed by Jack the Ripper. There are also nooses and death masks. An old pot and saucepan used by Dennis Nilson, a serial killer, are also on display. He used them to boil and dispose of victims’ flesh. The Black Museum also possesses assorted guns, poisons, explosives and homemade weapons.
The Black Museum is housed in only two rooms. In one room sits the Jack the Ripper display and a row of death masks made from people who were housed in Newgate Prison and subsequently hanged. The other room features exhibits in a number of different categories, including royalty, espionage, the murder of officers, bank robberies, poisonings and murder.