Housed in a Victorian Police Station on Netwon Street in the Northern Quarter, the Greater Manchester Police Museum is one of the city’s finest hidden gems, and a fantastic museum exploring Manchester’s criminal and policing history.
The building itself was opened back in 1879 and featured not just the police station but also prison cells and a charge office. Upstairs is a proper Magistrates’ Court from 1895 which was rescued from the police station in Denton.
For many years during its use it was one of the busiest police stations in the whole of Greater Manchester, acting as a base for the ‘Manchester City Police’ – home to the city centre’s ‘A’ division for 99 years.
Transformed into a museum in 1981, they open their heavy front doors to the public every Tuesday, with a host of former coppers on hand to offer up stories, anecdotes and picture-taking opportunities for visitors. They’ll most likely be decked out in some Victorian garb – looking the part as you explore this 140-year-old treasure.
The first place to mention is the old Charging Room, which is located just at the rear entrance and outside of the dank and dark holding cells. This room has been completely re-created as to how it would be back in the day, and there’s always a fella sat at the desk who will tell you a million and one stories about the various inmates and undesirables that have made it through the doors. You can also get your hands on some trunctions, stab and bullet vests and even handcuffs from across the ages.
Further into the holding cells themselves, you can experience what it was like to be stuck in prison back in the Victorian times, except without the smell of piss and shit, and the likelihood that you’d be sharing the tiny space with a bunch of other criminals.
There are detailed archives about the people who passed through the prison, from young boys no older than 7, to seasoned criminals banged up for robbery or assault. Many of the city’s famous gang members will have stayed here at her majesty’s pleasure – including many of the city’s ‘Scuttlers’ based up in nearby Ancoats.
One of the most interesting stories from the holding cells is the man who managed to escape by squeezing through the serving hatch in the door – a feat that the police then made him re-create whilst photographing it for our viewing pleasure. I don’t know how he did it – the hatch is tiny – you probably wouldn’t even fit a large donner kebab through there.
Head upstairs and the top floor of the building has been given away to the re-located Magistrates’ Court from Denton Police Station, a room which has been used many times in the past for various TV shows and films for courtroom scenes.
Back downstairs and in the main courtyard / garage area you’ll find a few different police vehicles, from motorbikes to a set of riot gear and uniforms that you can try on, as well as various helmets from over the years.
Probably my favourite room is the Crime Room, decked out to look like a detective’s office in the 50s, and featuring a bunch of homemade weapons that have been confiscated by the police over the years, as well as the tools of Manchester’s most notorious counterfeiter – a man who evaded authorities for years until a slight imperfection on a forged bank note saw him arrested.
There’s plenty more to see and do, and you could just find yourself chatting to the old coppers for hours about their lives and the mad stuff that has gone on in the city over the years.
The Greater Manchester Police Museum is FREE to enter and is open every Tuesday for visits between 10:30am and 3pm.
On Wednesday, Thursday and Friday the museum is open by appointment for group and school visits.
If you’d like to make a donation to keep the museum going, head on over to the Police Museum & Archives site here:
Greater Manchester Police Museum, 57A Newton St, Manchester M1 1ET