Note: I am leading Lamar University’s study abroad group to my home town, Brighton, to study travel writing and photojournalism. As well as writing features about Brighton and beyond, I’m keeping a diary, of sorts, about the class experience. Here is part 8.
BRIGHTON, England — in 1844, Henry Solomon, Brighton’s first chief of police, was interrogating a petty criminal, John Lawrence, in his office located below Brighton Town Hall. Lawrence had been apprehended for stealing a roll of carpet from a shop on St. James’ Street. Facing deportation, it is reported that Lawrence became agitated and Solomon asked him to sit by the fire for a bit to calm down. This was Solomon’s fatal mistake. Although there were other people in the room, Lawrence grabbed the poker from the fireplace and struck Solomon about the head causing, as the Brighton Gazette reported, “a mortal fracture, rupture and wound.”
Thousands turned out for Solomon’s funeral procession and more than £1,000 was raised to support Solomon’s wife and nine children, including £50 donated by Queen Victoria herself. Lawrence was found guilty of murder and executed in Horsham three weeks later.
On a tour of the Old Brighton Police Cells museum, located under Brighton Town Hall, our guide, former police sergeant Ian Barber, scoffed at the idea that Solomon’s ghost haunts the cells, but others have reported strange sightings in the building.
The police cells were condemned in 1929 but were re-opened as a museum 12 years ago. They tell the story of the Brighton police force from its inception in the 1830s to the present day. The free tour, by appointment, offers a glimpse into the history of policing and Barber offered not only historical tidbits, but also insights garnered from his years on the force.
One of the Lamar students, Claire, who has been searching for ghosts ever since we arrived in Brighton, said the scariest thing she had seen was the old showers where the prisoners were scrubbed down. The wash rooms were grimy and bleak.
The cells hold a variety of exhibits that show how prisoners were kept before appearing in court. They were designed to be short-term incarceration. In one cell, a mannequin lies in bed. Another housed a collection of police medals. There were various handcuffs and other paraphernalia.
The museum features a variety of uniforms through the ages, including a summer policewoman’s outfit designed by Sir Hardy Amies, dressmaker to the queen, and a scale model of the Grand Hotel showed the blast pattern where the Irish Republican Army made an assassination attempt on prime minister Margaret Thatcher at the Conservative Party Conference in 1986.
Barber was a wealth of historical information, as well as offering insights from his years on the force.
The tour is very laid back and I recommend asking lots of questions. Barber was happy to talk about a variety of subjects. While the tour is free, donations are encouraged to continue to develop the museum. It’s well worth a few pounds — and an hour of one’s time.
To book a time, visit Old Police Cells Museum website.