Museum’s 1930s murder mystery machine is brought back to life
It’s a mechanised murder mystery machine which has captivated generations of Leeds museum-goers.
So when Abbey House Museum’s quirky 1930s penny slot machine finally gave up the ghost, it would have been a crime to let the historic attraction simply gather dust.
Luckily, after the machine broke down recently, experts at the Kirkstall attraction searched for the right team of specialists and, after some complex restoration work, the fabulous Murder in the Museum contraption is now back up and running.
Kitty Ross, Leeds Museums and Galleries curator of social history said: “The penny slot machines have always been one of our star attractions and Murder in the Museum is a firm favourite with adults and children.
“The machine is not only colourful and fun, it’s also a wonderful window onto a golden age of crime fiction, when these sorts of comic and macabre machines were the latest thing and helped to spark a fascination with grisly crime stories that still exists today.
“Everyone at the museum is pleased to see Murder in the Museum back up and running, particularly as it plays such an important part in our Crime and Punishment exhibition which has been such a huge success so far.”
Played out by a series of small, automated models, Murder in the Museum’s main suspects include a woman with a large handbag, a man lurking behind a display cabinet and a man hiding inside an Egyptian sarcophagus.
The machine was made in 1934 and is the work of Leeds sisters Alice and Eveline Dennison, who followed their father John into the family business, building mechanical fortune telling machines and working dioramas for installation at exhibitions, fairs and bazaars.
Alice had worked as a governess and then as a dress maker and was the inspiration behind many of the costumes worn by the models that feature in the family’s machines.
Her sister Eveline studied art and carefully crafted the models themselves out of wood and clay.
The family originally operated out of Blackpool Tower, selling their machines to the Tower Company in 1944.
Quoted in the Blackpool Gazette in 1963 the Dennison sisters said:
“The most popular models we created were always those with a morbid flavour – ‘Supper with Death’, ‘Midnight in the Haunted Churchyard’, ‘Murder in the Museum.’
“Anyone who imagines that children prefer fairy stories are way off beam. During the 20 years we held the business we learned a lot about human nature.”
Murder in the Museum is now available to see at Abbey House Museum alongside the Crime and Punishment exhibition, which explores the history of law and order in Leeds and the rest of the UK from the 1650s to today.
An accompanying film, which features a live-action version of the story, has been produced in collaboration with Target Productions and includes local amateur actors and actresses.
Councillor Brian Selby, Leeds City Council’s lead member for museums and galleries said:
“This wonderful machine is a unique piece of our local heritage and it’s fantastic news that it is now back in full working order for visitors to enjoy.
“Objects like this machine help us to learn more about the tremendous ingenuity that went into the creation of inventions like these penny slot machines and how that creativity has inspired and informed the ways we entertain ourselves today.”
For more details on Abbey House Museum, including opening times and admission charges, visit: www.leeds.gov.uk/museumsandgalleries