Police Museum to close in single force shake-up

The calling card case made out of the skin of William Burke. Picture: Jon Savage
The calling card case made out of the skin of William Burke. Picture: Jon Savage
Share this article
Have your say

Its walls are lined with battered truncheons, vicious weapons and original crime posters which tell the story of some of the colourful ­episodes from the darker side of Edinburgh history.

But now the death knell has sounded for the Capital’s Police Museum, which is to be the latest victim of the single force shake- up.

The popular tourist attraction and functioning police counter on the Royal Mile will shut to the public on March 3 as part of planned closures by Police Scotland.

Historic exhibits, such as a macabre business-card holder made from the cured skin of notorious murderer and grave-robber William Burke, will all be removed. Former police officer Eddie McMillan, who has worked at the centre for nearly 15 years, said it would be missed by tourists and locals.

He said: “It’s closing as a public counter so the museum part is going as well.

“It is basically an office with exhibits but the whole thing will shut down.

“They’re just deciding where the stuff will go at the moment. It is a shame but it’s just a sign of the times I’m afraid.

“In years gone by people came to the police stations to report crimes.

“Now everyone’s got a phone so the need for maintaining public counters has gone.

“It’s a shame for the museum though. In the summer there are lots of tourists that pop in to have a look around.

“Equally, we have more ­people coming into report things in the summer.

“If it had kept going I would have been happy to stay on, I enjoy the work.”

This small museum exhibits the history of Capital policing and includes information on some of Edinburgh’s most notorious criminals such as Deacon Brodie and Burke and Hare. It was originally run by Lothian and Borders Police as a working police service for the public to report crime, pick up information, ask directions, lost and found or to talk to staff about policing in the Lothian and Borders area.

Staffing cuts have meant that the centre, once open seven days a week, had already seen its opening hours reduced and closed when there was no-one to cover staff absences.

Former Lothian and Borders police inspector Cameron Rose said it was taking away a ­central point of contact. He said: “It serves a purpose for tourists, both in terms of the history of policing here, but as a visible point of contact. Both of those will be lost with its ­closure.”

More than 1200 signatures were gathered for the Evening News Save Our Stations campaign against the proposals to cut several police counters.

A Police Scotland spokesman said: “Police Scotland remains committed to maintaining high-levels of police visibility across Scotland and uniformed officers will conduct regular patrols within the High Street area of Edinburgh. The public counter proposals are designed to protect the number of ­officers available and ­working on the streets in our ­communities.”

Calling card case might make your skin crawl

A calling card case made out of the skin of notorious Edinburgh “bodysnatcher” William Burke is to go on display at The Cadies, a Witchery Tours shop in Edinburgh’s West Bow.

The macabre item, which had been on loan to the Police Museum, was bought at auction for £1050 in 1988 by Robin Mitchell who works at the tour company. He said: “Queues of tourists used to attend the police museum to look at it.”

Burke and Hare committed a number of murders in Edinburgh in 1828, and then sold the corpses to Dr Robert Knox at the Edinburgh Medical School for use in his dissection classes.

After his public execution in January 1829, Burke was publicly dissected and grisly souvenirs were made from skin taken from various parts of his body.