Voted England's Best Small Visitor Attraction of 2014
Located in Nottingham's former courthouse and gaol, the Galleries of Justice Museum has several claims to fame. Apart from its intriguing place in criminal and legal history, it is the historic base of the Sheriff of Nottingham, it was named the most haunted building in the UK, and, in 2014, it was voted 'best small visitor attraction of the year.'
Making the most of its unique past and historic building, the museum wears many different hats and boasts a wide selection of attractions, including children's birthday parties, murder mystery nights, medieval banquets, ghost tours, and even weddings. However, on my visit I took advantage of the five free galleries, which provide different perspectives of crime and punishment from the medieval period to the present day.
Iron cage in the Great Hall. Photo by Erin Connelly
Gallery 1 is currently dedicated to celebrating the museum's awards and contributors. The tour of crime and punishment formally begins in Gallery 2, which is predominantly focused on Robin Hood and the history of protest. There are replication stocks, a craft area, and medieval costumes to entertain young visitors.
From 1739 until 2006, the Bow Street magistrates' court in London held the proceedings for a number of famous cases, including those of Oscar Wilde and Emmeline Pankhurst. In fact, the Bow Street Runners were the earliest professional police force. The original dock from the Bow Street Court is on display in the gallery and the walls are covered with the history of various cases that took place in the court. Notably, the controversial trial of Dr Crippen, who was executed for his wife's murder, is presented and visitors have the chance to decide for themselves if he was guilty or innocent.
Gallery 4 is an eclectic mix of artefacts and questions from different periods. For instance, there is a Victorian cabinet of objects swallowed by prisoners, such as razors, adjacent to an exhibit that asks 'why do people commit crime?' Further on into the gallery, a dystopian room of riot police with glowing red eyes and walls plastered with newspaper images of shootings asks 'should police be armed?' The final stop in the gallery is dedicated to the objects associated with crime and incarceration, including the history of the gallows and a cabinet of prison artefacts.
Gallery 5 asks the significant question 'why are we fascinated with criminals?' This question is illustrated with the life and trial of Charlie Peace, a nineteenth century burglar and murderer who was followed by the public with a great deal of interest.
The Galleries of Justice Museum is an interesting exploration of crime and punishment in England through many different time periods. Although intended for all ages, young children may find certain elements of the exhibit distressing.