Museum profile – Bradford Police Museum

“Our volunteers make the museum possible.”

Martin Baines outlines the story of the Bradford Police Museum.

The Bradford Police Museum is a small independent museum located in City Hall Bradford. Situated on the original site of a Police Headquarters, built in 1874 and operational until 1974, it includes a Victorian court and cell complex and a collection centred around objects used by the past Bradford Borough and City forces previously displayed in the former Bradford police HQ ‘The Tyrls’.

In 2007 ‘The Tyrls’ was demolished, and the collection went into storage at Bradford Industrial Museum where it would remain until 2011. A new police contact point established in City Hall in 2011 meant I and other volunteers could establish a new place to share Bradford’s policing and criminal history – The Bradford Police Museum.

Since its opening in 2014 we have welcomed the public from March to November every Friday and Saturday, and group tours and school visits during the week. We run several events which extend our offer including a highly successful ghost tour based on historical characters and actual occurrences in our cells and court. We recently developed a court reenactment of a Victorian murder that took place in Bradford in the 1880’s called ‘Trial by Jury‘ and a walking tour of Bradford’s historic crime locations.

Visitors to the museum can also enjoy guided tours of the Victorian court and cells – including one from which escapologist Harry Houdini staged an escape in 1904, and which was later used for the TV series ‘Peaky Blinders’ – before visiting our Gallery (once a police parade room).

There the collection illustrates 150 years of policing in the city. It includes police truncheons, uniforms, swords, weapons, memorabilia, unique images and fingerprints used in 1904 to secure the first conviction outside London on fingerprint evidence alone.

In the Gallery we also display a 1967 Velocette police motorcycle along with four other police motorcycles, a horse drawn Victorian prison van and two police cars (a black 1960 Ford Consul and a 1983 Mini Metro) to form our historic police vehicle fleet.

The museum is entirely run by volunteers. Whilst our past and present tour guides have included former police officers, we now have a mix of people from different backgrounds. The museum receives no public funding – we rely on shop sales, ticket sales for tours and a little grant funding. So, our volunteers make the Bradford Police Museum possible.

Covid was an extremely challenging time for the museum. We slipped through the support available for the sector. We hadn’t previously asked for lottery funding; we only had working towards accreditation status, and we didn’t own the building.

Prior to Covid the museum had around 5,000 visitors each year, numbers have yet to recover to those levels although they are steadily increasing. However, with support from Museum Development Yorkshire and our own fundraising the museum made a strong recovery.

The museum has always been exceedingly popular with visitors receiving Tripadvisor certificates of excellence and appearing on their list of top ten Bradford visitor attractions. Last year, the museum appeared in The Times list of best small museums in the UK.

In 2023 we launched our ‘Diversity and Policing, a shared history’ exhibition which tells the evolving story of the relationship between the police and minority ethnic communities in Bradford over the last 50 years. Funded by AIM’s New Stories New Audiences grant on behalf of the National Lottery Heritage Fund, we partnered with Bradford’s Race Equality Network and existing engagement networks who worked with us to help make our museum more relevant and inclusive.

Now with our accreditation application in we are looking forward to Bradford’s City of Culture 2025.

Dr Martin Baines QPM, Director Bradford Police Museum

Pictured: Left: A court re-enactment forms part of the museum’s popular event series. Right: Bradford Police museum explores over 150 years of city policing.