The Missing Museum
Author: Andrew Thorburn
Publishers: Trafford Publishing
Publication Date: 2006
Publisher’s Title Information
A developer's frank and fascinating account of planning and financing a popular museum about policing London, ending when the historic Bow Street Police Station ceased to be available.
The author was invited by the London police to design build operate and finance a popular educational exhibition about policing London to be located at Bow Street Police Station. It was to help young people, ethnic communities and tourists to learn about the British way of policing, past and present. This is his frank and fascinating account of planning and financing the project up until it was brought to an end when the grand historic building, which was to be used, ceased to be available.
Andrew Thorburn tells the history of policing in Bow Street, and sets out how the building was to be adapted and extended. The full designers' brief for the museum is included, and an account of the fund raising and town planning negotiations. The two final chapters set out what happened when the project was ended. It is a story of creativity frustrated. One ends up wondering about the failure of a major public body to deliver.
This book is a major contribution to understanding public/private partnerships for development, and how developers work. It is equally useful in explaining the tasks of a modern police force, and why better policing should come from the public knowing more about these.
About the Author
Andrew Thorburn grew up on a small farm near Bridport Dorset, obtained a degree in Physical Geography, served two years in the Royal Navy, married, and taught himself town and country planning. He worked as a planner for five different County Councils with an interlude directing the Notts-Derbys Sub-regional Study. Andrew is the father of three children. He has written many papers on the policies and processes of town planning and a book entitled Planning Villages published by Estates Gazette in 1971.
During nine years as County Planning Officer of East Sussex he served as President of the Royal Town Planning Institute and initiated the foundation of the Sussex Heritage Trust. In 1983 he was appointed Chief Executive of the English Tourist Board. Two years later he resigned to work in Tourism and Leisure consultancy, first with Pannell Kerr Forster, then Grant Thornton, and finally with his own firm, which continues. He wrote this book whilst cruising in a small yacht in the Mediterranean.
My story begins in 1997 when the two police forces that look after London came together to find a private firm that would create, finance, and run a police museum. They wanted a modern interactive and essentially educational experience particularly attractive to younger people. The former police station at Bow Street, Covent Garden, was available to lease. It was going to be a popular and high profile scheme because of its historic Central London location and heavyweight official support.
The consortium that I put together to develop and run the museum was selected by the Police as its "private sector partner". They agreed to lease us the property, to endorse and help market the museum, to provide us with exhibits and give us access to historical material and their expert advice on policing. We invited the Police to become shareholders with us in the enterprise but they were unable to take any commercial risks.
Over the next four years our team carefully planned every aspect of the project,, raised the finance and obtained planning permission, solving numerous problems as we went along. All seemed set for work to start on site when in 2003 the Metropolitan Police Authority wrote to say that they would be acting illegally if they continued with the museum despite the contracts that had been signed. The Authority has now sold the property and thereby ended the 265-year association of Bow Street with good policing. The museum has gone missing.
Developers rarely write descriptions of their work. This may be because deals have to remain confidential or a clear account might harm others, or just a lack of motive. The consequence of this absence of books and articles about the processes of development is that most people on the fringe of the activity have very little knowledge and many misconceptions about what is involved. This includes journalists, planners, bankers, councillors, environmental lobbyists, leisure managers and nascent property entrepreneurs. This was why, when I was working on the project, I decided to write a book afterwards. It could be sold to visitors who had seen the museum.
After the project was stopped it was more important to publish our blueprint for the museum. This is not as interesting as visiting the museum, but it offers some chance of not wasting our team's ideas. Perhaps it will help those with similar projects in mind. In addition, an explanation of how we arrived at the blueprint might serve my original purpose. Most people learn readily from the experiences of others.
Readers will want to know why the museum was not implemented and in the last two chapters there is an account of what happened. Some lessons for developers and public authorities can be drawn from this and I hope that by telling the story I shall help to avoid anything like it happening again.
When I started this project I knew almost nothing about police work and had no personal connections with people who provide police services. My professional experience and interests are in town planning, tourism development and operations, business planning and local government. The project would not be difficult to achieve. But no-body knew then that the Police could and would stop the project much further along the way.
It was with this background that I looked forward to achieving -an attractive museum and conserving the building, but most of all my heart is in trying to make places better. A police museum for London would make its policing easier and more effective. This would add to its prosperity and social harmony. Looking back over two hundred years, London could not have become so successful without the quality of policing it has enjoyed. Looking forward into the twenty-first century we should celebrate, continue and enhance these benefits. The museum was to have been one way of doing this.
The effect upon London of not completing the missing museum is to me a tragedy far more damaging than the waste of effort, time and money, which were the most obvious consequences of untimely abandonment by one of the Authorities. The City of London Police remained supportive to the end.
Responsibility for the book is personal and has not been shared with anyone else. To be unrestrained in my comments, II chose not to ask our development partners Salmon Harvester, or the police's project coordinator Alan Moss, to help with its writing or review any draft
My thanks to Jestico and Whiles, Alan Moss and London Police Education Ltd. for allowing me to use their written material, drawings and illustrations to make it more interesting.
The book would not have been written without all the work that was done on the project and this is my opportunity to thank all those who contributed, including the following people.
Alan Moss, who served as the indefatigable consultant and company secretary to London Police Education Ltd., which is the charity the police set up to take forward the project. He handled nearly all of the liaison between the Police and our consortium. He has an excellent knowledge of police history and an untiring enthusiasm for the project. It was really his idea in the first place and he is missing the museum more than anyone.
The City of London Police Service always supported us. Its practical assistance came through Peter Gehnich, who seemed keen on the project and was always helpful when called upon.
Will Baker is an engineer with imaginative ideas and an extraordinary and ever growing network of contacts. He became the co-director of Bow Street Partners Ltd. the firm that I set up to take the project forward and without his enthusiasm, countless ideas and wise counsel we would not have gone so far.
Tom Tinner of Mowlem helped us enthusiastically whilst we were tendering. I am sure that this would have gone on had not his firm had second thoughts about its role in the project.
Paul Stoodley was the development director of Salmon Harvester and once that Company had decided to finance and convert the property he put enormous effort into sorting out the problems and making it happen. His good humour, thoroughness and clarity of view were most appreciated.
Tony Ingram is a director of Jestico and Whiles the architects I chose because they seemed to be good at this kind of work. He was always enthusiastic for the project and ably drove it forward. His vision of the way in which the conversion of the building could be carried out was exemplary and he was always at the helm when needed.
Our negotiations with Heritage Projects as prospective operators introduced us to the knowledge and timely guidance of David Lang, Juliana Delaney, and Mark Sandberg who were ever helpful and cheerful.
Neil Holmes was briefed to find the finance and did so successfully. He did more than this, being most positive, thoughtful, inventive and cheerful whenever we spoke about our problems.
We were helped by many specialist professionals, especially Julian Ravest, Simon Harris, Daniel Lister, Erik Dinandt, Ian Russell, Thomas Lisle, Sharon Feldman, Michael Hobson, Alastair Dryburgh, Nick Ferenczy, James Tatham, Sarah Byfield, Mike Howie, John Stevenson, Catherine Morris, Bob Melling, Sam Burford, Lance Bohl, Yomi Falana, Pat Gill, Andrew Lawrence, Mark van den Berg, David Rolton, Peter Rolton, Andrew Cunnington, David Clarke Steve Kuntze, David Baird, Myles Bridges, and Julian Hind. The list would be incomplete without mentioning Graham Douglas and Philip Fletcher who patiently carried forward the key property negotiations. I wholeheartedly thank them all for their stimulus, ideas, expertise and commitment.
This is the story of an attempt to obtain, on behalf of the Metropolitan Police, a lease on the former Bow Street police station with a view to converting it to a London police museum. Since the building was already owned by the Metropolitan Police Authority one would have thought there would be little problem in obtaining the necessary approvals for a change of use and any structural alterations. After all, such a museum would be a major educational and heritage attraction and open to the public. It was intended that the contents on display would include items of historical interest already held by the Metropolitan and City of London forces and modern exhibition techniques would be used to display those and other aspects of police work and history.
Andrew Thorburn, the author of The Missing Museum, had spent nine years as a County Planning Officer, served as President of the Royal Town Planning Institute, had been Chief Executive of the English Tourist Board and at the time was a consultant in tourism and leisure. In late 1997 he saw a Metropolitan Police advertisement about the proposed project. He met some of those involved in the idea and realised that it presented a unique challenge and became involved. It seemed that, since it needed to be a profitable concern, the museum would have to be designed as a ‘state of the arts’ interactive model rather than a series of showcases. There would have to be a clear ‘story line’ to the displays and decisions would have to be made as to which exhibits should be included and which excluded. This might not find favour with those used to the traditional ‘police museum’ and police historians and that had to be overcome.
The question arose of what to do with those exhibits, which cannot easily be displayed. These, with the help of modern technology, could be recorded and computerised to provide a ‘virtual’ museum. This could be viewed by visitors to the museum, available on compact disc and for downloading on the internet. It was envisaged that this side of the business would operate alongside that of the museum proper.
Not all the space in the building would be needed to house the museum and the remainder could be let to provide an income. The issues to be negotiated were legion, not least in overcoming planning objections and finding ways of financing the project. We are talking millions. But surely Mr Thorburn, of all people, assisted by a consortium and specialist advisers, was well qualified to guide the project around these obstacles?
The book is written from his personal perspective and his observations about various individuals and bodies have to be read in that light. It is clear that, in the course of several years work, the team made a vast amount of progress. It was to end, according to Mr Thornton, when the Metropolitan Police Authority were advised that it had no authority in law to promote a public museum. Therefore, on that basis, although the agreement to lease the building had been negotiated and appeared legally binding, the police authority could not, or would not, proceed with it.
After ploughing a difficult furrow through the minefields of planning law and the financial implications and eventually reaching an agreement in respect of the lease, the project had been frustrated. An attempt was made to revive it but to no avail. In the end the police authority put the former station on the market along with the adjoining court building, which was to be closed down.
Whatever the rights or wrongs of this failed attempt to develop a very special museum, the important thing is that it illustrates the lessons to be learned should a similar project be envisaged in the future. Clearly, Mr Thornton felt himself in a ‘them and us’ situation when dealing with the various authorities. A cynic could be forgiven for concluding that there is only one way that such a museum could come to light without the hassle Mr Thornton experienced. This would be if an entrepreneur, with a vast fortune, who already owned an existing non-listed property in an area with a supportive local authority, would show willing and see the project through!
The book is a ‘must’ for anyone with an interest in developing a ‘police museum’ open to the public. The legal, financial and planning issues which frustrated this ambitious project are not peculiar to London alone. But what a pity this imaginative project failed!
Having served as secretary of the Metropolitan Police Museums Advisory Board from its inception in 1967 until my retirement twenty years later and subsequently on the committee of the Friends of the Museum, I had a particular interest to read Andrew Thorburn’s The Missing Museum.
Curiously, perhaps the information was never conveyed to him, no mention is made of the fact that this was the second attempt by a professional, to design a museum following the successful temporary exhibition staged at the London Museum that attracted enormous crowds. The latter was based largely on a wide variety of artefacts in glass cases, whereas the former was to contain what Thorburn refers to as a variety of scenarios and interactive experiences. So his conception of the design for a Bow Street Museum was not entirely original. But what was innovative, was the amount of research undertaken to ascertain the most likely customer, age, ethnicity, etc.
I must admit I was one of those persons who were of the opinion that Thorburn had little knowledge of the artefacts available and was designing a museum that would be mainly for children to play games. But I now appreciate that his detailed research provided a platform from which he and his large team would have produced a museum that would undoubtedly have drawn thousands of visitors and demonstrated the police point of view with far more success than any body of press representatives.
The book describes how policing has changed over the years and proposed dividing the museum into two sections: policing work (officers on duty, history of Bow Street Police Station, mounted police, crowd control, looking for clues, smuggling, police dogs, traffic control, etc) and emotion-generating experiences (counterfeiting, fraud, immigration, raiding premises, stolen property, 999 response, etc). Generally speaking these encompass everything we originally anticipated and not unlike the principles envisaged in the earlier design. Even so, it is evident from the book that the proposals were not to the liking of some persons who remained convinced that Jurassic type regimental museums remained preferable: they were not persuaded that the object of the exercise should be to educate the public and young people in particular, in an unobtrusive manner, by making the museum attractive to both parties with less glass cases and more interaction.
However, when it came to naming the museum, I found it amusing to read that it was considered the use of the word police could be off-putting and favoured to use the word policing on the grounds that it would encourage visitors hostile to the police. So it was decided to name the project The Beat, with a logo of a magnifying glass and helmet! Have I missed something here?
But the project that began in 1997 came to an abrupt end five years later. During that period Thorburn had been frustrated time and again by an apparent dearth of foresight and understanding by the police, caused by a total misconception of his plans. It was the Police Authority that knocked the final nail in the coffin when, without any warning, it cancelled the whole project on the grounds that Parliament had not authorised money to provide a public museum. Perhaps the least said about this the better.
Being one of the first police forces to be established and with a world-wide reputation, it is difficult to accept that after forty years a museum has still not been established. But should a Herculean figure ever emerge from the service and pursue the subject again, Thorburn’s book will undoubtedly become his or her Bible. Meanwhile, it should be read and absorbed by every person who feels anything for the police service.