Newest Review: ... and learn a bit about its history. The Galleries of Justice was opened as a museum in 1995, but its historical origin has been dated back ... more
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The Galleries of Justice (Nottingham)
Member Name: helencb
The Galleries of Justice (Nottingham)
Advantages: Excellent insight into three hundred years of crime and punishment, centrally located
Disadvantages: Layout can be a little confusing, some areas may have limited opening hours
There has been a court on this site since the 14th century, and there was also a prison from 1449 to house Nottingham's rogues and vagabonds. The court rooms were actually used until the 1980s and indeed the first museum guide we met had been employed there for a long time.
Our ticket prices were £7.95 for adults and £5.95 for children. There is also an additional option of a combined ticket to include the City of Caves tour, for an extra couple of pounds. This represents great value for money, but alas we did not have time to do both. The reception staff were extremely helpful and friendly, and within a matter of minutes our party of three was whisked away to the Victorian Court Room which is the start of the tour, along with another small party of four.
We spent about ten minutes in the Victorian Courtroom, with our guide, while he talked us through the different areas of the court and who sits where, as well as giving some insight into some of the crimes of the time. The general public often flocked to the public galleries, considering the trial as some kind of live show!
From here, it is a step back in time as you make your way from the dock to the cells below, to continue the tour. As you walk through the different areas of the cells, you will meet several different guides all in costume and very much playing their role. When you pay your admission fee, you are given a prisoner number and you will assume this person's identity at different points in the tour. For example, I was a rogue and a vagabond, and also a petty criminal, although my sister was a double murderer! We were advised that this was only a bit of fun and you didn't have to participate but I actually think it would be impossible not to. My 15yr old niece did feedback afterwards that she would have preferred it if they had not acted out in a role-play as such, and I guess many people may have this preference, but it was all quite harmless fun really.
Obviously, as this was a courtroom and prison, it is possible to get a feel of how conditions might have been like, and there are many original features still remaining, for example the original baths that arriving prisoners must use, many original features in the laundry, an opportunity to wander through the exercise yard, and to see the chaplain's room.
Before prison reformation, it was other prisoners who tended to control day to day life within the prisons and our second guide played his part in our prison arrival very well as he tried to extort money from us all for basic items such as blankets for the cells. He even locked us all in a cell to give us an idea of how poor conditions were for prisoners, with only iron bars and no windows to protect from the elements, only hammocks to sleep on, several to a cell, and nowhere to use a toilet.
As well as the hands on and interactive tour, the prison walls did contain plenty of information boards about the time and how matters of the law and punishment were dealt with. There were plenty of examples of real people from the local area, detailing their crimes and their punishments, which were quite severe for the minor offences most of them were guilty of - certainly by today's standards! In particular there are much more serious punishments, for example, burning at the stake, hanging and stocks were all used and often attracted great crowds.
We all assumed a new female identity for our trip down to the woman's area of the prison, where an evil matron and a friendlier fellow prisoner "greeted" us. The women were still subjected to the washing on arrival, in a very small bath with water that was cold and hardly ever changed. Down here I found myself the only member of the group to be locked up once again, for the simple fact I am left-handed and therefore I must be carrying out the work of the devil..! We also had the opportunity to visit a women's cell, which actually looked much more comfortable than the men's cells, with its coal fire, chamber pot and double bed - except the double bed was intended to sleep 8 prisoners.
The tour becomes largely self guided at this point but there is still plenty to see. I particularly enjoyed the exhibitions relating to the Transportation of prisoners to other countries, and in particular Australia with the First Fleet sailing, after Australia was determined to be the best place for criminals. In fact a staggering number were sent from these shores.
The HM Prison Service collection is also housed at the Galleries of Justice in the 1833 wing allowing further opportunity to see and experience what prison life may have been like over the last 300 years, bringing things bang up to date with the ability to peak into how cells would have looked like over the years, as well as offering insight into the changing approaches of prison attitudes from punishment to reform.
Overall we had a very enjoyable time at this attraction. The tour was interesting with the right balance of information and was enjoyable for both adults and children alike. We felt the entrance fee was fairly good value for money, but obviously it works in much better value if you can combine it with the City of Caves tour.
It would pay to research what is on at the Galleries before your trip so you do not miss anything you might want to see. For example there is an additional part of the tour called Narrow Marsh, where you get to see down a Victorian Back Street and get a feel for life in that era - however opening days and times are far more limited for this attraction - which is primarily aimed at children, but sounded very interesting to both my sister and me anyway!
We did found the initial entry layout a little confusing, we both know we saw a small gift shop somewhere at the start of the tour, but most unusually for these type of places, we could not find it at all on our return! We also found some additional display rooms/cabinets just off the main lobby completely by accident when we were trying to find the toilets..but because of where the tour finishes we would not have seen these at all had we not gone back into the lobby. For this reason, it may pay to check if there are any additional exhibits on display at the time of your arrival.
see website for opening times and current pricing.
Galleries of Justice
Summary: A great educational day out, and better value if you combine with the Caves Tour..