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Diary of a Heritage Manager – From Tally Ho to Steelhouse Lane

Published on | #WeAre50

For this blog, I thought I’d take a look back at how the museum itself has evolved over the past 50 years and how we are continuing to mark our special anniversary.

The West Midlands Police Museum originated in 1964 as the Birmingham City Police Museum at our Tally Ho! training facility, so is actually celebrating its 60th year in 2024.

Originally created by DS Charlie Elworthy as a training facility for CID officers, the museum quickly grew in size and reputation. Birmingham cadets and new recruits from the late 1960s and early 1970s remember paying a visit and having a look at the old records and curiosities from policing past.

DS Charles Elworthy

VIP visitors to the force would also be proudly shown the collection that Charlie painstakingly curated.

By the late 1970s, as West Midlands Police itself was starting to properly take shape, Charlie had retired, but continued to be heavily involved with the museum.

Charlie’s great grandchildren

Its future at Tally Ho! was starting to look uncertain though, and by the early 1990s a consultant was commissioned to write a report on options for relocating it.

The wording from that report could have been lifted and re-used in our 2019 Heritage Lottery bid, as all of the same benefits of utilising police heritage for community engagement were highlighted. The report stated that it should be more public facing, offering school and community group visits, and utilised as a recruitment tool.

PC Dave Cross was asked to set it up at Sparkhill Police Station during his last year of service, before he retired into a staff curator role. Charlie worked with him to get everything ready for opening in 1993, but tragically died shortly before it opened.

The museum had many successful years at Sparkhill, and photographs of Dave dressed up in historic police outfits bringing history to life for the many happy children that visited, showed how perfect he was for the job.

PC Dave Cross

Many people from within West Midlands Police and the wider public remember visiting Dave for a memorable visit at Sparkhill, as he would have imparted some section of his vast knowledge of police history upon them.

It is lovely too, to still hear people talk with such fond memories of Charlie, and I’m pleased to say his family attended our official opening in May 2022, and his great grandchildren have visited and tried on the uniforms.

When I first started volunteering with the museum in 2014, I was the force’s Records Manager, and had a natural interest in the historic records and opportunities that could be brought by indexing and scanning.

When it was announced in 2015 that Sparkhill Police Station was going to be sold, I was working in Estates and therefore had a role to play in considering where it could move to.

I worked with Inspector Steve Rice on our Heritage Project full-time from 2017, after we had considered and discounted a few different locations, and finally set our hearts on the Lock-up as the location that could allow our museum to really flourish and realise its full potential as an engagement asset.

We spent just over two and a half years demonstrating why this should be the case and working on a funding bid to make it possible. The Heritage Lottery bid was submitted in 2019, it was successful at panel in early 2020, the refurbishment programme delivered between 2021 and 2022 and we finally re-opened our doors as a permanent heritage attraction in April 2022.

Now as we have reached the end of our second full year of operations, is the perfect time to reflect on where we are, and where we want to be.

We have seen over 41,000 visitors during those two years, including over 5,500 school children, and thousands more young people, who will have learned about the history of policing in the West Midlands and hopefully gone away with a positive perception of policing.

Early basic feedback we have started collecting, shows that young people have a higher level of trust and confidence in their police after visiting the museum.

We have an INCREDIBLE team of volunteers that it absolutely would not be possible to run this museum without. They are the backbone of our operations, amazing ambassadors for West Midlands Police and quite often the highlight of online reviews left by visitors.

Feedback from the public has been phenomenal. From how accessible we have made the building and the displays, to how accommodating and welcoming we are, how much there is to see and do, and of course the extra information and stories offered by volunteers. We are presently showing as #4 of 422 things to do in Birmingham on TripAdvisor and reading all of the 5-star reviews does make me very proud and happy.

All of the activities we have done this year for our #WeAre50 celebrations have really helped give the museum a boost as well – from encouraging more members of the force to come and visit, increasing our social media engagement, capturing more oral histories and putting on new events and displays.

Personally, I have also really enjoyed setting up a small focus group of retired officers to help educate me on the past 50 years of West Midlands Police. We’ve met every month and last month visited Perry Barr custody so former custody sergeants could see what a modern-day cell block looks like and compare stories.

I’ve really enjoyed hearing what the participants have got to say, there is certainly a huge amount of knowledge, stories and experience that can be shared for all our benefits.

This month we are sharing stories from our operations teams from over the years. Keep following our social media channels to learn more.