Are we nearly there? Prison museums for children: jails they won't want to escape from

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The Independent Culture
Clink Prison Museum, 1 Clink Street, Bankside, London SE1 (0171- 403 6515) The grim history of the original Clink Prison and the Bankside brothels is suitably moody entertainment for a rainy afternoon. See scenes of inmates catching rats and manacled prisoners begging for food, each with a ball and chain trailing behind them. Exhibits include old torture chairs and thumbscrews. Open seven days a week, 10am-6pm. Prices: adults pounds 3.50, concessions and children pounds 2.50, family pounds 8.

The Galleries of Justice, Shire Hall, High Pavement, Lace Market, Nottingham (0115 952 0555) Prison wardens and court ushers played by costumed interpreters guide visitors around the exhibition. Includes a reconstruction of the trial of George Beck, who in 1832 was accused of burning down a local salt mill during the Reform Act riots. Open Tues-Sun, 10am-5.30pm (last admission, 4pm). Prices: adults pounds 4.25, concs and children pounds 2.95, family ticket pounds 11.95, children under five, free.

Dover Old Town Gaol, Biggin Street, Dover, Kent (01304 242766) Dover's fully restored prison houses a suitably grim collection of inmates whose crimes include smuggling, murder and, in the case of several small boys, rabbit theft. The "horror and the tragedy" the museum promises come via hi-tech talking heads and animation. Visitors can also witness a trial in the imposing Victorian courtroom, wander through the exercise yard and squeeze into a cell. Guided tours run hourly throughout the day. Open Wed-Sat, 10am-4.30pm, Sun 2pm-4.30pm. Prices: adults pounds 3.20, concs and children pounds 1.90, children under five, free.

Micklegate Bar Museum, Micklegate, York (01904 634436) Royal visitors to York traditionally arrived via Micklegate Bar, and it was customary to decorate its entrance with the heads of recently hanged traitors. The gatehouse is now home to an exhibition charting 800 years of York's history; displays include about 40 heads in various states of decay. Open Sat- Sun, 9am-6pm; from Easter until the end of October it will be open seven days a week 9am-6pm. Prices: adults pounds 1.50, students and OAPs pounds 1, under- 16s accompanied by an adult 50p.

Cirencester Lock-up, Trinity Road, Cirencester. Key from the Corinium Museum, Park Street, Cirencester (01285 655611). Known locally as "the dumpling house" because of its domed roof, the Lock-up is a tiny prison with two cells and only one window grille. It remains closed for much of the year: most visitors choose to peer in through the bars. Open by arrangement with the Corinium Museum (opens at the end of March - call first); November-March, Tues-Sat 10am-5pm, Sun 2pm-5pm; April-October, Mon-Sat 10am-5pm, Sun 2pm-5pm; Prices: adults pounds 1.60, concs pounds 1.40, students pounds 1, children 80p, family ticket pounds 4.

Charlotte Packer