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Weapons and prisoner statements found at Peaky Blinders cell block

A police museum has added to its collection after workmen discovered a knuckleduster and more items hidden by prisoners.

A heating vent in the basement of an old police jail block that held the original Peaky Blinders has yielded a treasure trove of artefacts hidden by prisoners.

Workmen renovating the West Midlands Police’s new museum literally struck lucky when they removed a heating grate and found a haul of prisoner’s possessions… some of which would have led to further questions if found sooner.

A knuckleduster, a pocketknife and a driving licence dating from 1971 were found when a grill was opened covering a heating pipe in what were the basement cells at The Lock Up in Steelhouse Lane.

There was more to come; a knife scabbard, comb, vintage cigarette packet, prisoner statements and even old prisoner meal cartons followed.

“It was a real surprise and a fascinating discovery,” said Heritage Manager Corrine Brazier. “They were all items that would have been taken off of the prisoner so hiding them in the jail was not only a priority for the offender but the most interesting thing they could do for 24 hours.”

The team decided to run a probe through the rest of the pipe and found more items in the other sections including a Christmas tablecloth – which definitely didn’t bring cheer to the inmates.

“A former officer told us that on Christmas Day it came out for a buffet for staff on duty. Prisoners didn’t get anything as it was thought better not to remind them they were banged up when they could have been with families.”

A bit of police work has also discovered the inmates were among some of the toughest in the country. The basement cells were set aside for Home Office prisoners including those that had come from Strangeways.

The work is part of a Lottery-backed project to create a police museum in a cell block that is one of the oldest in the country dating back to 1893.

It only became a police station in 1933 and the Lock Up processed its last inmate in 2016.

A year later an open day was run to see if there was interest from the public.

There have even been visits by former inmates: “They were arguing over which cell they were in, she revealed.

The building has been inundated with visitors and even featured on the BBC. So formal plans for the museum were created and a £145,000 lottery grant started its development.

Work began in March after £1.2m of further Lottery funding was secured and the Force also added to the funding pot.

Prisoner artefacts aren’t the only recent discovery; a huge mosaic window only shown in photographs was uncovered when a partition was taken down.

The next phase will include the roof being replaced before visitor toilets will be installed.

It also brings together one of the biggest archives of UK policing under one roof.

The original museum started as a training aid for Birmingham City Police in 1964 and moved to Sparkhill Police Station in 1995. But it also contains the archive of Coventry City Police which dates back to 1839.

A graphic of the museum's first floor 

As well as recreated jail cells, the new museum will tell stories of prisoners and staff, including the real ‘peaky blinders’ who were incarcerated in the building and how the original ‘Lock-Up matrons’ from 1895 formed some of the very first women in policing.  

Corrine Brazier told Police Oracle: “It’s our ambition to be the biggest and best police museum in the country.”

Fixtures and fittings from every era have been preserved, including a giant hot chocolate cupboard.

“It was for heroin addicts; without hot chocolate the place would have kicked off,” said Corrine Brazier.

But it will also serve as an education tool for schools as a way of delivering crime prevention messages.

“We can go into schools and tell them about prison; here they can actually see for themselves,” she said.

One family have already heard the message from first-hand experience: “There was a big, well-built, gruff man who came in with his children. From conversations, he had spent a significant amount of time in prison and just got out. He was showing them around to make sure it didn’t happen again.”

Lockdown restrictions haven’t stopped work; the museum is scheduled to open in February next year. It has a business plan aimed at ensuring it contributes to force funds.

And to help achieve that, there’s an impressive marketing campaign under way including a pop up museum in a Coventry shop as part of the City of Culture.

The National Lottery are keen it becomes a major regional attraction and not just a favourite for former officers or police historians.

Anne Jenkins, Director, Midlands & East at The National Lottery Fund said: “From the popularity of Peaky Blinders we know that the project will bring to life some incredibly fascinating stories that visitors won’t be able to get enough of.

"We’re delighted to support West Midlands Police to transform Birmingham’s Victorian Lock-Up into a hub of policing heritage with money raised by the National Lottery players.”

But there are some discoveries from the heating grates that won’t be making it to the display cases. Corrine said: “There were also a couple of pairs of pants – but we’re not going to be asking around about them.”

You can find out more about The Lock Up HERE

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