Scotland Yard: the name is famous around the world for Sherlock Holmes, Flying Squad police cars with sirens blaring, forensic specialists poring over fingerprint files.
But how much do you know about it?
Here’s five lesser known facts:
1.Scotland Yard is not in Scotland Yard. It never was.
The location of London’s original Metropolitan Police headquarters was at 4 Whitehall Place, which had a rear entrance on a street called Great Scotland Yard. So it was called ‘Scotland Yard’. In 1890, it moved to the Embankment. During the construction of the new building, workers discovered the dismembered torso of a female in a vault it what had been the cellar of the previous building. Ironically, the case, known as the ‘Whitehall Mystery’ was never solved.
In 1967 ‘Scotland Yard’ moved again to 10 Broadway in Westminster, where they put up the now famous revolving sign: ‘New Scotland Yard’. In summer 2013, it was announced that the headquarters would move yet again, and that the new building would be called… ‘Scotland Yard’. So the old ‘Scotland Yard’ was ‘New Scotland Yard’ and the new ‘Scotland Yard’ is just ‘Scotland Yard’. Got that?
2. Charles Dickens used to go on patrol with Scotland Yard detectives at night
The famous author of ‘Great Expectations’ and ‘Oliver Twist’ wasn’t a policeman, but he was a good friend of a Scotland Yard inspector called Charles Frederick Field, who agreed to let him join some of his patrolmen on their nightly rounds. Dickens did it for research; it helped him paint vivid descriptions of London’s most squalid and dangerous enclaves.
He also wrote about it in his magazine, ‘Household Words’. The article was called On Duty with Inspector Field. He later based a character in his novel Bleak House on Fields, giving the world one of its very first fictional detectives, ‘Inspector Bucket’.
3. Scotland Yard helped pioneer fingerprinting
In 1901, Sir Edward Henry, then the assistant commissioner of Scotland Yard, instituted the Metropolitan Police Fingerprint Bureau. The following year a small-time thief called Harry Jackson became the first criminal ever convicted in the UK using the forensic technique of lifting and matching prints. He had been charged with stealing some billiard balls from a house in Denmark Hill in London.
The investigating officer had noticed a number of fingerprints on a freshly painted windowsill, which he believed had been left behind by the burglar. The Yard’s new Bureau searched their files for known criminals with a similar print pattern and got a match. Harry had only recently served a prison term for another burglary and was effectively snookered.
While the case set a precedent for the admissibility of fingerprints as evidence, not everyone was happy about it. One letter to The Times bemoaned that “Scotland Yard, once known as the world’s finest police organisation, will be the laughing stock of Europe it if insists on trying to trace criminals by odd ridges on their skins.”
It’s called the ‘Black Museum’, a macabre collection that is the result of nearly 150 years of investigative work. Established in 1875, the museum’s exhibits include some gallstones that failed to dissolve in acid along with the rest of the murder victim; a set of pots and pans that once belonged to Scottish serial killer Dennis Nilsen and were used to boil human flesh; the ricin-filled pellet that killed Bulgarian dissident Georgi Markov in 1978 as well as a model of the umbrella used to fire it; and the ‘From Hell’ letter written by Jack the Ripper.
Although it’s closed to the public, visiting law enforcement officials sometimes get a viewing as do certain celebrities. Laurel and Hardy and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle both had a guided tour.
5. You could live there one day.
New Scotland Yard’s last address, 10 Broadway, was sold to Abu Dhabi investors in 2014. The developers plan to build apartments there.
If you enjoy gritty London-based crime stories, you might enjoy my DI Charlie George crime novels. You can read an excerpt from ‘Lucifer Falls’, the first book in the series, by clicking here.