The Galleries of Justice Museum is in what was once Nottinghamshire’s old Courthouse and County Goal and was opened as a museum in 1995. It’s an impressive building from outside and is surprisingly deceptive in terms of just how large it is and how far down it goes.
On arriving and booking myself on to a guided tour I had about half an hour to kill, and so wandered around the free exhibitions on the ground floor. These were fairly basic and not conducive to too many photos. One was focused on the Crippens, one on crime in general and one on Robin Hood, the most famous criminal of all.
I’m never a big fan of interactive tours with the guides dressed up (I really disliked this at the Caves of Nottingham), but all three of the guides I encountered at the Galleries of Justice Museum were excellent. The first lead us to the original criminal court room and gave us an explanation of how and why the court was laid out as it was. Most impressive was the seat of the judge, under a large oak canopy.
And in this shot of the public gallery you can see that the clock has been stopped at the exact time of the last trial to be held here, in 1986.
From the Court we were moved down to explore the cells, as claustrophobic and dark as you would expect. It is also at this point where you need to consult the slip of paper you were given when you bought your ticket. Its number corresponds to a real life convict and panels along the wall at this section provide information about them. Mine corresponded to a Thomas Hallon, who was executed in 1738 for stealing a cow.
We met up with another guide who gave us a glimpse into the conditions – particularly sanitary! – of the prisoners held in these cells. Once we’d stood in one of the cells, almost completely pitch black and quite cool despite the warm sun outside, we moved on to explore the women’s side of the prison and the laundry area, where they were paid a penny a day for their work.
The final guide was waiting for us in the exercise yard, where the eye is naturally drawn to the gallows.
Once it became obvious that executions taking place outside the front entrance were drawing crowds of people wanting to enjoy a day out, executions moved to behind these walls instead, with successful executions signalled by the raising of a black flag. The last execution to take place here was of Thomas Gray in 1877, who had murdered a woman who had defended herself against his rape attempt. This stone marks the probable place where his body was buried.
The next section, which is now completely self-guided, concentrates on transportation, the crimes that led to transportation and the condition of transportation itself. There are some very interesting items on display including this horn carved by a man deported to Australia for deserting his army regiment.
The final area is the HM Prison Service collection which details what happens to prisoners when they arrive at prison, such as the taking of photographs, what modern cells look like…
…what an escape from prison entails and how prisoners are treated. One item here which stood out and which thankfully isn’t in use any more, was this Electro-convulsive Therapy Machine, supposedly used to cure insanity.
I was very impressed by the museum, not just with the guides who were all knowledgeable, but by the breadth of the details of the exhibition. There is plenty to see and discover, but spread out well enough that you never feel overwhelmed. I’m really glad I finally decided to visit the museum and as there are many different tours available – including murder mystery nights and ghost tours – one visit is probably not going to be enough.
You can find more photos here.