Old Police Cells Museum

A basement can give so much away about a building’s past.

As principal floors are refurbished and redecorated, lower areas are often not used to their potential, or are simply forgotten. One such example is the basement of the Metropole Hotel where new services, such as boilers, have been added without removing old equipment. The old features – usually unglamorous – survive as the upper areas change as quickly as fashions change.

In the case of Brighton Town Hall, its basement presents all sorts of clues about the classical structure’s history and, in particular, it contains the Old Police Cells Museum, which is accessed from the building’s attractive foyer. I recently met with Trustee Phil Mason for an up to date tour.

The main attraction of the museum is a collection of 13 disused police cells, which divides up as 8 for men and 5 for women. Spread amongst and around the cells is a variety of different exhibits. I was more curious about the fabric of the building itself though, including all sorts of inscriptions that had been added to the cells over the years.

“THE COPS HERE ARE FAT C***S” (my asterisks obviously) was one inspired case in point but another, “DAVE THE ROCKER 8TH JUNE 1964”, does capture the imagination. It was written not long after the so-called Battle of Brighton that was fought by Mods and Rockers on 17th-18th May. Incidentally, the alley scene in Quadrophenia was filmed just over the road.

No doubt of great interest to a delegation from Subterranea Brittanica, whom I bumped into whilst looking around, is the sub-basement. This contains the parquet-floored police clothing store (where ‘capes’ and ‘breeches’ were kept) and old toilets but also, outside the confines of the museum, various boiler rooms that give away much about how the building was put together. Poured concrete ceilings with steel supports suggest a major layout change. This corresponds with reconstruction work that took place in 1897-99 that included enlargement of the police department.

Top of my list of potential improvements would be the bringing into use of several areas that are currently used by the council for storage but Phil has ideas of his own. “I don’t know if you could get a panda car in but it wouldn’t be through lack of trying” said Phil. I can quite believe it.

Call 291052 to book a tour or see www.oldpolicecellsmuseum.org.uk for information.