Days Out: The Galleries of Justice, Nottingham

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The Independent Travel

The Venue

The National Centre for Citizenship and the Law, Galleries of Justice, to give this museum its unwieldy full title, is a historic penal centre turned tourist attraction in the heart of Nottingham's Lace Market. A court has stood in one form or another on this spot since at least 1375 and a prison since 1449, and this Grade II-listed Georgian building served as both from the 1780s until the 1980s. The entrance to the building sets the tone for your visit - it sports the last set of gibbet irons to be used in England (in 1832) and a fragment from the coffin of William Joyce, better known as Lord Haw Haw, the Nazi propagandist, who was hanged for treason.

Buster Edwards, the Great Train Robber, was sentenced here too. You can explore the original dingy prison cells, laundry room, some medieval caves and the prison exercise yard. There is an unsettling encounter with the gallows, which isn't for the faint-hearted.

For children

Some elements of the museum may unsettle younger children but the more vivid tools of the jailer's trade will probably mesmerise older ones, such as the witches' bridle, a muzzle that literally held the tongue of noisy or drunken women. Women received preferential treatment when it came to capital punishment - they were burnt at the stake as this was thought less traumatic than being hanged, drawn and quartered. Also of interest is Narrow Marsh, a mock-up of a Victorian slum, where kids can put themselves in the place of child criminals. It's open in the school holidays.

For adults

You will leave with one clear message - be thankful you weren't a criminal before the 20th century - prisons were often so hideous that some inmates saw the gallows as a release. It's easy to be weighed down by the sheer volume of gruesome artefacts, such as stocks and flogging blocks, but the temptation to be overly sensationalist is commendably resisted. Information is soberly recorded and plenty of space is devoted to Elizabeth Fry and other penal reformers. There is a well-researched section on transportation, where the ordinariness of the crimes that merited the ship journey, such as stealing a shawl, is hard to comprehend. Visitors can also delve into the national HM Prison Service collection. Artefacts range from finely sculptured miniature guitars made by inmates to eye-watering equipment employed to force-feed suffragettes on hunger strike.


Mugshots Café offers hot and cold drinks and snacks.


The Victorian building and its medieval cellars were not designed with disabled access in mind, but around 80 per cent of the display can be seen by wheelchair users.


The museum is open Tuesday to Friday from 10am-4pm (last admission 3pm), Saturday to Sunday from 11am-4pm. Admission costs £7.95 for adults, £5.95 for children and £22.95 for a family ticket (two adults and two children).