The very early days of the Police Museum
Sometime in 2004 I received a telephone call from ex-Chief Superintendent Norman Cooper. I didn’t think that was strange as we rang each other from time to time. We had been friends for many years and as we had both retired we liked to keep in touch without being in each other’s pockets.
However, this phone call was different. He asked me if I was interested in helping to open a police museum where the old ‘A’ Division Police HQ used to be in the basement of the Town Hall. I asked a few more questions about it and readily agreed to be involved.
He further explained that it was an idea from Councillor Pat Drake, the then Mayor of Brighton and Hove, together with ex-assistant Chief Constable John Dibley. I had great respect for both Norman and John. I had worked with John Dibley while still in the job. We were both on the panel that interviewed people wanting to join Sussex Police. I was on the panel in my Federation capacity. I knew they were both interested in Police history, although I wasn’t particularly into Police history. I was interested in local WWII stuff as well as American Western history.
I had never met Pat Drake at this stage but a meeting was arranged and we all got along fine. As the meeting was at the Town Hall we went down to the old Cells to take a look. My goodness what a mess it all was and I started to think that this wasn’t for me after all. The whole place was filled with old Council files and broken furniture. The whole place was filthy with thick dust everywhere. I remember Norman Cooper saying words to the effect ‘If you think I’m getting down on my hands and knees cleaning this lot, you are wholly mistaken.
Pat saved the day by saying that there was a group of ‘Prince’s Trust’ young people who were coming in to help. That went a long way to softening the situation. There is no doubt, we were all interested in setting up a museum. Both Norman and I had worked in the cells in the old days of Brighton Police.
Pat went on to explain that she had worked hard and we had been given three male cells as the museum. A partition wall would be put in place and that would be our museum. That didn’t sound very much at the time but then we had no items to display. A further meeting took place and it was agreed that John Dibley would search Sussex Police HQ in Lewes for any police items not now wanted by Sussex Police. Norman Cooper was to do the same thing at John Street Police Station; while I would call at people’s homes and pick up any police items they wanted to get rid of. Initially some items were loaned to us but we don’t do that now.
We had done some publicity about what we were doing and requested any police items people didn’t want anymore.
Gradually we collected more and more items and it is fair to say we didn’t have too much idea about setting up a museum.
Pat, being the Mayor of Brighton and Hove, had picked the museum as her Mayoral project. Some years ago her husband, John had wanted to set up a police museum in Brighton but sadly he had passed away before that could be accomplished. Pat was dedicated to this project and I am sure she won’t mind if I say that she was without doubt the driving force behind it. She really worked so hard and instilled in us the work ethic that she had.
Slowly but surely police items were collected, in fact some people brought items down to the Town Hall for the museum. The more items we got, the more the interest by us. Pat managed to get some cabinets in order to display the items we had.
On top of this, the young people from the Prince’s Trust were working very hard and gradually cleared the three cells of all the rubbish. They removed close on 16 lorry loads of stuff over to the tip. They then put a lick of paint in various places to ‘tart’ it up a bit.
A rather small museum
Now, things were looking like a museum, albeit rather small. By this time one or two other people were showing interest in helping out. Meanwhile I was researching the local police history and from what I had learned I roughed out a few things for the guides, so that we all said roughly the same thing. My big surprise was finding out that Henry Solomon, a chief constable, had been murdered in his office at the Town Hall. I had no idea, with all the years I spent in Brighton/Sussex Police Force, I had never heard his name mentioned. This proves we all can learn something different every day.
We discussed about an entry fee but the government policy was that all museums should have no entrance fee. We decided to go along with that policy and although it is free we needed to collect some money to survive and so we decided that we would suggest our visitors might like to donate some money to the museum. That is still the policy today.
We decided at that stage we would only open during the summer months. And in May 2005 we proudly opened our doors of the museum to the general public. It had been a year of hard work but it had been achieved, thanks must go to three of us but the main thanks has to go to Pat with all her hard work.
Over the years and thanks to Pat, who badgered the local Council, they have let us have more and more cells until we eventually took over the whole of the old Cell Block. That is what we have today. Even today, Pat works extremely hard in keeping the Museum going. We like to think that it is ‘Pat’s baby.’
However, that said, it has a to be a very big thank-you to everyone who tirelessly works as volunteers to keep the museum running year after year.
Should anyone reading this wish to volunteer as a guide at the museum, contact the Town Hall.