When the dental hospital was on St Chad’s Queensway, one of the places I was always walking past was the lock-up cells on Steelhouse lane. The Police Station was active and the cells in the lockup were still being used till 2016. There was always lots of activity around there with police vans and officers moving around sometimes in large numbers. Now the building has been renovated and reopened as the West Midlands Police Museum. The entrance to the Children’s hospital is now the busiest place on the street and several of the buildings are being turned into Luxury flats.
Having seen several photographs of the inside of the building, this has been on my list of a place to visit for some time. The opportunity arose when a group of friends organised a visit and I looked forward to exploring the inside of the building. The museum is the former site of the West Midlands Police Lockups that were used to temporarily hold prisoners whilst they were being tried at the Law Courts next door. The prison has a long and colourful history and many people from different backgrounds passed through the cell doors. With the popularity of the Peaky Blinders BBC series, such sites have generated a high level of public interest. In fact the term Peaky Blinders covers many of the gangs that roamed Victorian Birmingham in the 1890s. Needless to say the museum features the Peaky Blinders in their displays and you can learn more about the gangs that roamed Birmingham which were kept in check by a robust police force.
The museum covers three floors and when you enter the building you are immediately drawn to the metal walkways and the cell doors placed along the side of the building. There is a large skylight in the roof which allows the light to filter in all the way down to the lower levels. The play of the light on the whitewashed walls was fascinating and the metal railings and floor created interesting patterns that were immediately captured by my camera. I had brought my trusty Fujifilm x100v and it proved a useful camera in the tight areas of the prison. There were several favourite pictures which revolved around the cells. There were interesting stories everywhere including the toilets inside the cell with the cisterns outside so as to prevent prisoners self harming with the chains.
The passage way from the lockup to the Law courts was another favourite. I imagined how it must have been when it was in full use as a lockup. Overall I was really fascinated on how the light fell into the prison. Even though the place must have been a difficult place with the smells and the noise, there is also a warmth to the building. The museum features those brave police officers who were harmed whilst undertaking the “line of duty”. There are references to police animals and the highway patrol officers. The presence of a birching stool reminds you of how far we have come in society over a short space of time. In the talk that was given by Peter one of the volunteers, I learnt that the lockup had a matron who oversaw the domestic requirements of the prisoners such as medical care. There were plenty of stories to be told.
The museum is managed by Helen Taylor and her informative staff, some of whom are former police officers who worked in the lock ups. The staff brought the museum to life and ensured that all questions were answered and made sure we enjoyed our visit. The pictures provide a glimpse into the museum and I know that evening tours are often arranged but for me the light coming into the prison at midday was fascinating. I will certainly revisit at a later date.
Here are some references to the prison including their website
The official site – West Midlands Police Museum.
I have also visited the Inveraray jail in Scotland which features in one of my recent blogs.
Weekend in Loch Lomond