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Sunday, September 16, 2007

'Ello 'Ello 'ElloLisa went away for the weekend on Friday to some kind of convention for the misguided, so left alone for two days without her help, advice and confident leadership skills (she's been on a course) it was naturally only a matter of time before my life fell apart and I ended up in the police cells.

Fortunately I was only there for an hour. That's how long the tour lasts. I actually spent yesterday morning roaming the basement (and sub-basement) of Brighton Town Hall, which is home to the Old Police Cells Museum, a visitor attraction which is only open for two hours a week. Until the end of September. Then it's closed for seven months.

Our guide for this underground operation was none other than Pat Drake, former Mayor of Brighton & Hove, and current Conservative councillor for Withdean. According to that link, she was educated at Lourdes Convent, so she's no stranger to miracles. She should pray for longer opening hours.

Unfortunately, despite being located at the town hall, started by the Mayor, and dedicated to local policing, the museum receives no funding from the council and can't afford to hire any staff, so you can only go down there when Pat's got a couple of hours free to show you around. It's a real shame, because it's actually very good. Parts of it have been redecorated by teenagers from the Prince's Trust, who removed sixteen skiploads of rubbish from the basement, before giving new meaning to being plastered in a police cell, by volunteering to do all the structural repairs themselves.

Fortunately they haven't plastered over all the graffiti in the men's holding cells, which were used right up until the late 60s. The walls feature amusing autographs from the law-breaking likes of 'Dave the Rocker, 8th June 1964', 'Beatnik George', 'Mick' (who "loves Sandra"), and artistic representations of various topless women in suspenders. My favourite was this message, written in biro near the ceiling:

"Scotland 2, England 1. We are the people who tamed the so called World Cup holders. Ha ha ha. They are just like the English Old Bill - a crowd of no good slag b*st*rds."

I'm sensing the author might have been from north of the border.

Among the more official displays were historical helmets, handcuffs and more truncheons than you can shake a large heavy stick at. There's also a detailed model of the Grand Hotel just after the Brighton bombing of 1984, which has apparently toured the world's police conferences as a reminder of what happens if you let members of the public near politicians. Oh, and there's also a ghost.

Apparently the cells are haunted by the ghost of Chief Constable Henry Solomon. They should train him to do the tours, then they could open during the week. Solomon was murdered there in 1844 by a bloke called John Lawrence, who had stolen a roll of carpet from a shop in St James's Street (they only sell Polish products there now) and therefore thought it worth cleaving the chief constable's head open with a poker when no one was looking. Apparently the poker knocked out a couple of teeth (the wisdoms of Solomon) and he died the next day. We were shown the fireplace where it happened, but I didn't see any blood. Or ghostly apparitions. Possibly because I don't believe in them.

As for John Lawrence, he was hanged three weeks later, so the wheels of justice were obviously a lot better oiled in those days.

I was also slightly shocked to see that whilst the men's cells had cold concrete floors and no natural light, the women were treated to nice wooden flooring and windows. I loved Prisoner Cell Block H as much as the next man, but you can't go giving them special treatment. As Vinegar Tits used to say, they're all animals.

That's not me. Honestly.All in all though, it was a very entertaining experience. My only complaint is that your visit is strictly limited to the time it takes to give the tour, meaning that having been whisked in and out of the cells for fifty-five minutes whilst trying (and failing) to see everything on display, you're then ushered out of the door before you've had a chance to take any amusing photos of yourself with the criminal graffiti. Mind you, with my moustache the way it is, I already bear an uncanny similarity to Britain's most dangerous prisoner, so it's probably not a good idea to publish photos of myself in a cell.