For a taste of Brighton’s criminal past, I weave through the lanes to the Old Police Cells Museum in the dank basement of Brighton Town Hall, where I’ve heard that the mods and rockers carved graffiti into the walls.
My guide, councillor Pat Drake, set up the museum when she was mayor in 2004. Before we descend the stairs I ask her what she finds special about the place. ‘It’s the atmosphere,’ she says. ‘It’s got that feel of history about it, particularly when you’re down there on your own. It can be quite frightening, in a way.’
The space was previously used for storage but now attracts tourists, ghost hunters, Brighton Science Festival-goers and Brighton Festival audiences.
Drake recalls watching Harold Pinter’s short plays here, which are due to return later this year. ‘You are in a police state for two hours and you’ll never be so glad to get out of a building,’ she says.
It’s a feeling I can understand, as I get a creeping sense of claustrophobia, but the tales are worth getting locked up for. ‘That’s why we do the escorted tour,’ says Drake. ‘It’s telling the stories that makes it important.’
The cells contain a vast collection of ornate truncheons and uniforms, including the white helmets Brighton police were once famous for wearing and the raffia version from Hove.
There’s also evidence used in court after the Grand Hotel bombing in 1984 and that graffiti I heard about, much of which is unprintable.