I have had a meeting with the consultants commissioned by the Greater London Authority to report on the feasibility of a “Blue Light” Museum for London. The idea is that there ought to be a museum – accessible to the public – to display the historical collections owned by London’s three emergency services (the Metropolitan Police, the London Fire Brigade, and the London Ambulance Service). At present, all three services have there own repositaries of archive and historical material, but much of this is not made readily available for Londoners and visitors to London to see.
I have long held the view that the so-called “Black Museum” in New Scotland Yard could be expanded to bring together the other material of historical interest that has been collected over the years by the different parts of the Metropolitan Police and that such a collection of exhibits could become a real draw for members of the public, if they were allowed to visit.
I am told that potentially there are at least 10,000 items that could be displayed, including examples of uniforms dating back to 1829, historic police vehicles and equipment, medals, and records (including a complete set of police orders from 1857). Then, of course, there are items (some of them rather macabre) associated with notorious crimes and there is even a collection of (disarmed) explosive devices unearthed as part of counter-terrorist investigations. Most of this material can only be seen by special arrangement, although some of it has on occasions been loaned out to other museums for public display.
The other emergency services have their own material – again dispersed and largely inaccessible to the public. In the last year or so, the suggestion has been made that there ought to be a museum celebrating the work of all of London’s emergency services and this suggestion has been endorsed by the Mayor and members of all mainstream parties on the London Assembly. The idea has been supported in principle by the Metropolitan Police Authority, by the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority, and by the Board of the London Ambulance Service. And it is this consensus that has led to the commissioning of an initial feasibility study.
I very much hope that the feasibility study is positive and that an ambitious vision is adopted. In 2003, I visited the New York Police Department Museum in Manhattan which is housed in a vacated section house. Its mission is instructive:
Incorporated in 1998, The New York City Police Museum is dedicated to preserving the history of the New York City Police Department, the world’s largest and most famous police force. The Museum strives to be an accessible resource for all the communities of the city of New York. Through its exhibitions, collections and educational programming, the Museum illustrates how the policies and culture of the NYPD have evolved over time to meet the changing needs of the City. The Museum serves as an educational institution, living memorial, and bridge of understanding between the various communities of New York, the international community and the New York City Police Department.
There is really no reason why London could not have something similar, embracing all of the city’s emergency services. If you look at the success of the Churchill War Rooms under the Cabinet Office – now very much part of the tourist itinery – or the way in which London’s Transport Museum has been revamped, you can begin to see what might be possible. It could be revenue generating (certainly authentic merchandise would be profitable), a major educational resource for London schools, add another jewel in the crown of London’s tourist offer, a recruitment tool for the emergency services, and a means of celebrating the extraordinary and exceptional things that police officers, fire officers and ambulance crews do for the people of London every day of the year.
And I am sure with a bit of political determination it could be up and running in time for all those who will be visiting London for the Olympics in 2012 and may want some respite from the sport.