The History of the Police Museum

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By Pat Drake

The museum was the brainchild of the late Brighton Councillor John Drake. His wife adopted it as her mayoral project and the museum was opened on the 4th May 2005 by the Mayor of the City of Brighton and Hove, Councillor Mrs Pat Drake. The museum was created thanks to the work and enthusiasm of retired and serving police officers and council staff and with the wonderful support of the Brighton Princes Trust and graphics students from the University of Brighton.

730 visitors in the first year
In the first year 2005-6, some 730 people visited the museum and display material was constantly added. The Old Police Cells Society held their first AGM, adopted a constitution, sought Public donations from visitors and the Lord Lieutenant of East Sussex, Mrs. Phyllida Stewart-Robert became the president of the Society.

In 2006 a successful application was made for a lottery "Awards For All" grant of £10,000. This enabled us to appoint a museum trainee assistant, set up this web site and redecorate the museum.

In spring 2007 a licence was signed with Brighton & Hove City Council and a further five cell expansion acquired for the museum.

Twelve further display cabinets were bought and the Princes Trust volunteers did a magnificant job once more of repairing and redecoration of the additional cells.

Spring 2007 heralded the opening of the female cell extension and their dedication to the constituent parts that together formed Sussex Police in 1967. The cells display, artefacts and memorabilia relating to West Sussex, East Sussex, Hastings, Eastbourne and finally Sussex Police.
The Museum are delighted to accept on permanent loan one of the finest collections of truncheons and tipstaffs in the country by Alderman Caffyn throughout his lifetime.

Some 800 further visitors have looked around the museum in its second year of opening. The cells were used as a Film location by the BBC; also to stage a major money raising day by the National Children's Homes in a Jail and Bail event and they formed the setting for the World Premier of the New World Order plays by Harold Pinter during the first two weeks of the 2007 Brighton Festival.

The 2008 Brighton Fringe Festival saw the staging of a lyrical and haunting new drama by playwright and poet Ed Harris entitled Total in the atmospheric sub-basement of the Museum.
A further male cell was acquired in October 2008 from Brighton & Hove City Council and later dedicated to retired ACC John Dibley OBE, a founder Member of the Museum, following his sad death in December 2008. The cell features his exceptional service and that of many other officers and also contains the special court exhibits and model from the bombing of the Grand Hotel bomb trial.
Educational aids, participation sheets and dressing up material have been provided to cater for all age groups. CDs of the History of the Constituents Forces can be purchased for £10 each together other items.

The Brighton Fringe Festival of 2009 saw the return of the Squaremoon Company with an evocative play ‘Nourish’ featuring the life and imprisonment of Sylvia Pankhurst. The play won The Angel Trophy for the company, awarded by The Argus newspaper.
In July 2009 a report on the Museum progress was received at a meeting of the Sussex Police Authority.
In 2010 Brighton Festival the Museum was able to host a variety of short plays involving Northbrook College, John Matthews “Nevermore” an evening with Poe and Christopher with short playlets.
Four further male cells were leased from Brighton & Hove City Council and are now filled with exhibits to bring the story of Sussex police up to the present day. They include a 1950s detective’s office and a scene of crime room. You solve the crime.

The Brighton Festival in Spring  2011 saw the return of the Harold Pinter short  plays and once again were a complete sell out.

In February 2011 the museum team and Sussex Crimestoppers came together to host a highly successful Jail and Bail event when so many of the leading lights of Sussex came together and allowed themselves to be locked in and only released on payment of bail monies. This raised some £12,000 to be shared between the two societies and our sincere thanks went to all those involved, such as Dame Vera Lynn, Peter James, the chief constable Martin Richards, Martin Perry of Brighton and Hove Albion, Michael Chowen the High Sheriff and many others

In Spring 2012 the cells hosted a jailbreak event when teams from across Sussex followed clues in towns and villages in the County to return to the museum cells and release their team member and enjoy the hospitality of the Honey Club. The £4,000 raised was split between Crimestoppers and the museum.

Brighton Festival  2012 saw the return of drama students from  Northbrook  College to the cells with another fine production.   We also played  host to an afternoon of films by human rights filmmakers, artists and producers in a temporary pop-up cinema space under the cells and Blank Productions of Lewes staged the first live performance of  ‘Scrublands’ by Mark Hewitt

The Society's very sincere thanks go to all who have helped us so much - our committee, our volunteer guides, the University of Brighton, the Brighton Princes trust, Sussex Police, and the officers of the Brighton & Hove Council particularly property services, Brighton museum and the town hall keepers and reception staff.

A certificate of Brighton Police Divisional congratulations was presented to the museum founders Pat Drake, David Rowland and Derek Oakensen in November 2012. 

March 2013 saw the museum stage a repeat of the highly successful Jail and Bail event with Sussex Crimestoppers and the generous support of all those who participated, such as the Vice President Peter James, Chief constable Martin Richards, Sussex PCC Katy Bourne, High Sheriffs Andrew John Stephenson Clarke and David Allam, past High Sheriffs and the City Mayor Bill Randall.

During the 2013 Brighton festival the museum hosted four events ranging from the haunting music of Sarah Angliss to Rachel Guershons portrayal of Betsy in 'The Wisdom of a Brighton Whore', 'Killers' by Glen Chandler featuring the personal letters of Ian Brady, Dennis Nilson and Peter Sutcliffe and finally a solo performance by Jessica Cheetham in a cell full of memories entitled 'You Left Me in the Dark'.

Museum officers attended the closure reunion of Hove Police Station and the July police open day at Brighton John Street station. The museum hosted the prize winning fans of Peter James, our Vice President and acclaimed author, a visit of district police Superintendents from across the South of England, the Mayors charity supporters and two film companies, one of whom made a documentary of the work of Nick Cave.

Sadly November saw the death of our second founder member, Norman Cooper QPM, retired chief Superintendent of Brighton. Ten paranormal groups hired the cells for investigation and altogether our visitor numbers exceeded 1200 persons.

The year 2014 has seen a blossoming of support for the museum. Throughout the last three years the police museum has worked with other local museums to create the Heritage Learning group presenting schools throughout Sussex and beyond with educational visit options. The launch on march 18 resulted in the visit of some 800 pupils through central bookings plus schools making direct bookings and regular language school visits.

Paranormal group visits rose to 15 bookings and there were six filming requests during the year.

The Brighton Festival in May 2014 resulted in two theatrical productions in the museum. 'Those Precious Hidden Things' featuring the pearl murder Vincent Devlin in Rosemont jail and Maggie's thoughts in solitary confinement 'We'll Laugh at Guilded Butterflies'.

In May 2014 the 50th anniversary of the mods and rockers invasion of Brighton saw the arousal of national interest and the museum which houses much of the graffiti from the period, featured in the two page spread in the Telegraph.

During autumn 2014 the museum hosted the employees of the coroners office and the officers of NARPO, the National Association of Retired Police Officers, who were holding their national conference at the Grand Hotel, Brighton. To our great pleasure they were full of praise and genuinely impressed with the Old Police Cells Museum.

In September 2014 the museum was registered as a wedding venue and our first ceremony takes place on May 17, 2015 with many more to follow.

Brighton Town Hall now boasts a second blue plaque recording the death of Henry Solomon our first chief officer of police in 1844. His murder took place in his office within the building.

Visitor numbers for the year up to April 2015 total 2,190


This page was added by Jennifer Twemlow on 26/03/2007.