Your Ugly Mug

Your Ugly Mug

Before cameras came along, police had to rely on an artist’s impression or their own memory to identify a suspected offender.  ‘Sitting for a portrait’ involved the entire police watch crowding round the suspect, staring into his/her face to memorise distinctive features for future reference.  That alone would have put many off a life of crime!

But by the late 1840-50s, commercial photographers had been brought in to provide a rather more reliable service in the form of ‘mugshots’.   In those early days, studio photographer William Eagle was used by Birmingham police, and you can admire his craft from the many collodium plates at the proposed West Midlands Police Museum on Steelhouse Lane, Birmingham’s notorious former Lock Up.  They have a genuine rogues gallery of mugshots on display.

Murderers and thieves were accorded the same careful attention from Mr Eagle, as would a visiting dignitary:  he would pose his ‘clients’, providing a screen behind them and one can imagine him positioning their elbow on a dainty table, next to the elegant pot plant used for his paying customers.  His mugshots even included a gilt frame!

By the time CID officer Charles Muscroft became police photographer at Birmingham Lock Up in the 1930s, things had changed quite a lot.  Yorkshire-born Muscroft relished his new role, delivering regular lectures to local photographic societies and happily offering his portrait services in a private capacity.  So when he was accepted as an Associate of the Royal Photographic Society, you can imagine his pure delight.  He knew the intricate skill – talent, indeed – that was essential to capture scenes of crime accurately and comprehensively, and to produce reliable mugshots for use by police and the courts.  He felt his photography was capturing the truth.

Sergeant Charles Muscroft features in Behind Bars – Ghosts of the Lock Up – which is being performed on site at the Lock Up this July 12/13th and 20th/21st.  Last autumn, the first run quickly sold out and many eager visitors missed out.  So now the museum has recommissioned the event, also inviting attendees to look round the Lock Up after the show.

Other ‘ghosts’ you’ll meet include notorious Brummie drunkard Tommy Tank, pioneering policewoman Evelyn Miles, and world-famous Sarah Bernhardt, the French singer and actress who had to sign the ‘alien register’ at the Lock Up during her UK tour in 1916.

References & more information

The Burden of Representation, J. Tagg.  University of Minnesota Press, 1988.

Under Arrest  (A History of Twentieth Century in Mugshots), G. Papi.  Granta Books, 2006.

‘Photography as I see it’, Midland Counties Photographic Federation Lecture given by C. Muscroft ARPS, 1939-40.

‘In the Frame: Early Police Photography in Birmingham’, lecture notes from P. James for Birmingham Central Lock Up/Ikon Gallery event March 2018.

Advertisements

Back Behind Bars

10753971360_IMG_6636 (2)

Graeme Rose as Tommy Tank

Following an acclaimed sell-out run last year, I’m delighted to announce that Behind Bars: Ghosts of the Lock-Up is returning to the infamous Birmingham jail this July. Not only that, but our very own Tim Stimpson will be taking over directing duties from the wonderful Jo Gleave.

It’s the first time all eight Bold Text playwrights have collaborated on a single show. We’ve each taken a character from the building’s past, including Tommy Tank (a notorious and hilarious drunk), Evelyn Miles (one of the UK’s first female police officers) and even Sarah Bernhardt (the world-famous French actress). You can read more below, but if that’s already whetted your appetite you can BOOK YOUR PLACE IN THE CLINK HERE!

Since 1891, tens of thousands of people have passed through Birmingham’s Central Lock-Up on their way to court, prison or even the noose. What brought them to this desperate point in their lives? And what memories have they left behind?

Eight of the region’s leading writers will resurrect the ghosts of The Lock-Up’s past, summoning them back to the cells, stairways and corridors where they once walked. As you move around the building you’ll meet robbers and drunkards, prostitutes and murderers, as well as the policemen and pioneering policewomen who held the keys.

Beware! The past still has lessons to teach us. Those who dare to enter The Lock-Up get taught those lessons well. Feedback from the original shows in 2018 include:

“Fabulous show! Informative and emotional, thought provoking, amazing acting and writing” Audience member

“Sent shivers down my spine several times. Loved it!” Audience member

Duration approximately 1 hour with a chance to look round and visit the shop after. Not suitable for children under the age of 12.

Please be advised the Lock-Up is an old building and is not suitable for visitors with mobility issues. Flat shoes are advised and no short skirts . Pictures may be taken during the shows for publicity purposes. There will be some chairs in each area but the show mainly consists of standing for short performances and moving around the building.

Great show, now what?

Great show, now what?

BOLDtext Playwrights’ most recent show, Behind Bars – Ghosts of the Lock Up, went down a storm in Birmingham city centre last month – with sell-out audiences who loved the humorous and heart-wrenching tales we told, as well as the more everyday stories embedded in the WM Police former Lock Up building.  It felt like our contrasting voices each captured something different from the space, with wonderful performances to bring them to life.  “Emotionally transporting”,  ” Very atmospheric – shivers down my spine several times”, and “Really unique experience” were just some of the comments from our many visitors.

And it was a unique experience for us too – we absolutely loved this site-specific work and hope to do more of the same – both at the Lock Up and elsewhere around the region.  We just need to decide where – so if you have any suggestions, please do get in touch.
Our thanks to Arts Council England and Sir Barry Jackson Trust for their support with this project, and of course everyone at the proposed WM Police Museum who made us feel so welcome.

In the meantime, BOLDtext is working on another night of political shorts at Birmingham Rep on Monday 28 January 2019, so watch this space.

A Respectable Woman

Our new show ‘Behind Bars: Ghosts of the Lock-Up’ runs from the 19th-21st October for nine performances only.  Taking a theatrical journey through Birmingham’s Steelhouse Lane Lock-Up, it will raise spirits from the prison’s past. Julia Wright writes about one of them…

When we were given the possible choices for characters whose stories we could tell, I chose Maud Dillon, as she seemed at first to be a woman who was caught up in a life of prostitution. I was interested to find out why she might have been involved in that when she was a woman who had a job as a polisher – likely to be a metal polisher who worked in the jewellery industry. Was she desperate for money?

The only information about Maud Dillon is that she was 25 when she was arrested on 5/8/1921 for indecent behaviour. She was given a fine –  £4 or 25 days in prison. I then discovered that ‘indecent behaviour’ could range from shouting and swearing in public to soliciting (prostitution). So maybe she was merely shouting and swearing in public? But why? When looking into the work that police women did at the time I found it seemed to contain a lot of what we would now call social work. Young women were picked up from around the station, seeking to meet soldiers and in 1919, 25% of them were under 17. What dreadful lives drove them to that?

In June 1918 a hostel was set up in Dale End to ensure women were in a place of safety from abuse while further enquiries were made to find them work or more permanent lodgings – one of the first hostels in the country. The workhouse was where some women who were abused ended up but was feared by all and women would be separated from their children (children still legally belonged to the father until 1925 so it was difficult for many women to leave abusive relationships). For some women the workhouse was better than the abuse at home

Miss Dorothy Peto became a lady enquiry officer with the CID in Birmingham in 1920. She visited homes, investigating indecent assaults and abuse and stated ‘the relief of victims was obvious when they saw a female police officer had come to take their statement.’

I have linked together the work of Dorothy Peto and a possible explanation for Maud Dillon’s arrest to highlight the often appalling abuse that women had to endure, sometimes at the hands of their partners. The disturbed mental conditions of returning soldiers were often not recognised and PTSD was not diagnosed or understood.

For discounted tickets CLICK HERE or if there or none left try the link below:

 

 

 

Electricity

Our new show ‘Behind Bars: Ghosts of the Lock-Up’ runs from the 19th-21st October for nine performances only.  Taking a theatrical journey through Birmingham’s Steelhouse Lane Lock-Up, it will raise spirits from the prison’s past. Helen Kelly writes about one of them…

Evelyn Miles was one of the first police women in England, taking up the uniform after her troubled husband was dispatched to Handsworth Asylum.  An unwed mother at 18, the housekeeper to a doctor, the wife of a police sergeant suffering from mental illness – my reading of her character is that she was an empathetic person, drawn to Birmingham’s coal face of poverty and social deprivation, like Dorothy Peto after her (also featured in Ghosts of the Lock Up).

 

 

 

 

 

 

With no template or notion of social services, the justice system was society’s last net for lost souls, deeply flawed, maybe, but with a burgeoning complement of compassionate women coming through in the early Twentieth Century, to bring some sense of  social responsibility towards those who had been abandoned by society, and lost their way.

I loved it that Evelyn was in her fifties when she embarked on her new life (hope for us all) and still holds the record for the oldest serving female officer in the West Midlands aged 77 when she retired.

You can meet Evelyn and many other fascinating characters in BEHIND BARS: Ghosts of the Lock-Up 19th – 21st October.

For discounted tickets CLICK HERE or if there or none left try the link below:

Meet the legendary Tommy Tank

Our new show ‘Behind Bars: Ghosts of the Lock-Up’ runs from the 19th-21st October for nine performances only.  Taking a theatrical journey through Birmingham’s Steelhouse Lane Lock-Up, it will raise spirits from the prison’s past. Stephen Jackson writes about one of them…

No high heels, no short skirts – that’s the advice for anyone coming to our next show. Why? Because it takes place in a jail and our audience will have to negotiate the walkways and spiral staircases of Birmingham’s Steelhouse Lane Lock-Up – three floors of echoing prison cells and clanging doors.

It’s a fantastic venue for a theatrical experience. Its shadows are full of ghosts. Incredibly, this nineteenth-century prison was in use until just recently, but we have gone back a hundred years to look at some of its legendary prisoners and staff.

When I saw the list of characters, there was only one I wanted to write about: Thomas Larvin – one of the Lock-Up’s craziest inmates. Arrested countless times for drunkenness, he became best known by his nickname Tommy Tank – a reference to his enormous capacity for drink.

A fishmonger and street hawker, Tommy was also a joker and a prankster who would do anything for a bet – especially if booze was involved. Apparently he once walked backwards from Deritend to Stonebridge with a brick on his head to win a bet for copious amounts of ale.

On other occasions he was known to bite the heads off rats to earn himself a drink. Tommy was a colourful character around town. Unfortunately, his drinking led to skirmishes with pub landlords, broken windows and overnight stays in the Lock-Up before his frequent appearances in court the next morning.

If you’d like to meet Tommy and other ghosts of the Lock-Up, remember not to wear your high heels. It should be a great show in a great venue. It would be a crime to miss it.

Follow this link to book your tickets now: 

www.wowcher.co.uk/deal/birmingham/9258223/bars-ghost-lock-8

Murder, she wrote…

Our new show ‘Behind Bars: Ghosts of the Lock-Up’ runs from the 19th-21st October for nine performances only.  Taking a theatrical journey through Birmingham’s Steelhouse Lane Lock-Up, it will raise spirits from the prison’s past. Vanessa Oakes writes about one of them…


I’ve been writing about a murder.

A murder involving two real life Peaky Blinders, a spinster and a pair of false teeth.

On 25th October, 1898, at the age of 23, James Twitty broke into Miss Aliban’s house with his accomplice Mumby:

we only meant to gag her… not frighten her to death… i even sang to her to help calm her down.

They had planned to rob her – Mary Ann Aliban (age 60) had a number of rental properties in Birmingham and was well known in the neighbourhood for carrying a large amount of money around in her carpet bag:

all the neighbours heard her… clink… clink… as she walked… clink… clink… clink… as she sat counting her coins of a night… she’d even ask people to feel the weight of her bag… she was asking for it.

Twitty and Mumby gained entry through the cellar (it was reported that Twitty had previously worked for a coal merchant) and waited for her return. They then took their boots off and crept upstairs to search the house – she was asleep by the time they reached her bedroom but on waking began to scream.

They quickly tied her to the bed and gagged her with a silk handkerchief. They then grabbed a small amount of money nearby and left. The robbery was a failure – the police later found £108 hidden in the house.

Tragically Mary died having swallowed her false teeth:

how was we to know she’d swallow her false teeth… who wears their snaggs to bed?!

Having read all the sensational newspaper reports from the period I felt strongly that I wanted my short play to remember what happened to Mary and to provide some small sort of retribution. She must have been terrified as she choked to death. Too often we remember the names of the criminals and forget their victims.

Originally charged with murder Twitty and Mumby’s sentences were eventually commuted to penal servitude for life. In 1915 Twitty was declared insane and moved to Broadmoor, where he died mute, aged 73.

You can meet Twitty as well as a host of other characters from the Lock-Up’s past in Behind Bars – Ghosts of the Lock-Up.

Follow this link to book your ticket/s now: https://www.wowcher.co.uk/deal/birmingham/9258223/bars-ghost-lock-8