The secrets of the National Justice Museum

by Molly Dixon

The National Justice Museum, along with the City of Caves, is just another unique experience Nottingham has to offer. The tourist attraction has gained thousands of visitors from all over the country since it’s opening in 1995, and tourists say they are “impressed” by what they discover when visiting.

The building wasn’t always a museum though, the National Justice Museum is based at the old Shire Hall and County Gaol which was once a court for the unlucky facing the jury.

There has been a court on the site since the year 1375 and a prison since at least 1449. Over the centuries, many thousands of people have entered the building with their future in the court’s hands, some not even coming back out. The actual steps to the entrance were the site of many public executions, where members of Nottingham would celebrate the people that had been punishable by death.

Over the years many trusts and organisations took management over Nottingham’s caves and museums, making the place attractions for students in education and more. In 2017, following a £1 million heritage lottery fund supported the project, the museum became the National Justice Museum.

A timeline of the National Justice Museum-History

1993: The Museum of Law Trust was established

1994: £3.5 million was raised and the restoration of the site of Nottingham’s former Shire Hall began

1995: The Galleries of Justice Museum opened to the public

1998: The Edwardian Police Station, situated next door to the Shire Hall, was opened by Princess Anne

1998: The Lord Chief Justice of England, Lord Bingham of Cornhill was appointed as the trusts the first president

2002: The education department became the National Centre for Citizenship and the Law (NCCL)

2003: Then won the Gulbenkian Prize for the inspirational work of the NCCL

2004:  In 2004, they had the permission to operate Nottingham’s City of Caves, which remain’s the museum’s sister heritage visitor attraction

2005: The National HM Prison Service collection was acquired and opened to the public

2006: The museum won a Heritage Award for Excellence for Best Educational Initiative

2006: Tim Desmond was appointed CEO

2007: A launch to ‘Help a Nottinghamshire Child’ – a fundraising campaign which works with young people to help them to stay away from crime through early intervention education workshops

2011: The museum was then commissioned as the education provider for London’s Royal Courts of Justice and the UK Supreme Court, delivering education programmes in working courtrooms

2012: The Bow Street Dock, used in the cases of Oscar Wilde, Roger Casement and the Kray’s, was loaned to the museum by the Bow Street Magistrates’ Court.

2014: Commissioned to provide education programmes in courtrooms across the North West

2014: Won the Visit England Award for Best Visitor Attraction

2015: Commissioned to provide education programmes at the Rolls Building commercial courts in London

2015: The museum was then awarded £1 million from the Heritage Lottery Fund to make major improvements to the museum

2017: The National Justice Museum opens to the public on Sat 1 April 2017.

If you want to experince Nottingham’s National Justice Museum, visit their events below for ticket prices and times:

Enjoy the full National Justice Museum experience

Come and explore our full range of exhibitions, meet characters from history and take part in our wide range of fun, interactive activities available. Characters, activities, exhibitions and courtroom performances will change throughout the year so there is always something new to discover.

Our admission price entitles you to entry throughout the entire day so you can make the most of your visit. We also have some free exhibitions open to the public all day every day.

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The History of Nottingham Gaol Exhibition

Delve into the history of Nottingham’s County Gaol. This new exhibition explores the history of the site as well as stories of the people who resided within it.

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Lowdham Grange Prisoner Artwork Exhibition

A new exhibition featuring artwork created by prisoners at Lowdham Grange. The artwork created by prisoners for this new exhibition explores the theme of ‘Justice’.

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Object in Focus – An opportunity to take a closer look

An opportunity to take a closer look at a historical object from the National Justice Museum’s collection. Throughout the year we will put the spotlight on a historical object from our collection, allowing you to take an in-depth look at the fascinating stories behind it.

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Paranormal Investigations at the National Justice Museum

Throughout the year, some of the UK’s top paranormal and spiritual groups run overnight investigations at the National Justice Museum. Bookings for these events need to be made directly through the paranormal group.

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Free Summer Fun Events

Mask Making

Badge Making

Lego Making Workshop

Poetry Workshop

How To Draw A Superhero Workshop

Face Painting

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Free Family Craft Activities

Join us during the school holidays for a range of free family crafts. Activities will vary but could include block printing, mask making, paper chains and finger puppets. There will also be opportunities for children to dress up in costumes relating to law, justice, crime and punishment.

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Join us for a superhero exhibition this summer!

Where did Superheroes come from? What is their purpose? How do they represent us? Who is protecting who? Discover answers while you explore a treasure trove of superhero memorabilia, See signed Marvel artwork by Stan Lee and works by acclaimed artists Alex Ross and Nigel Humphries and Find out about our original superhero mural created by street artist Nathan Bainbridge plus much more!

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Superhero Movie Season: Batman

Join the National Justice Museum’s celebration of superheroes with an exciting new film season sponsored by DigiCon, Annie’s Burger Shack and Last Exit To Nowhere, in association with Movies In Focus.

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Superhero Movie Season

Join the National Justice Museum’s celebration of superheroes with an exciting new film season sponsored by DigiCon, Annie’s Burger Shack and Last Exit To Nowhere, in association with Movies In Focus.

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Cocktails and Crime

Enjoy a cocktail on arrival before visiting the museum’s darkest corners on the hunt for your killer. Study the clues and question the suspects in our grand Shire Hall and grab a drink at the bar – if the tension gets too much!

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Women in Prison Exhibition

An exhibition examining the treatment and experiences of female prisoners from the 19th century to the present day. This new exhibition will examine the roles of women in prison from the 1700’s to the present day.

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A fascinating look at different types of punishments used throughout time – Punishments Exhibition

This new exhibition will explore punishments from the medieval times right through to the present day. Focusing on stories relating to items from our collection, you will get an insight into different methods of punishment including prison, public humiliation and transportation. Objects included within the exhibition include gibbet irons, the flogging block from Newgate Gaol and a scold’s bridle.

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Exhibition – Sir Bernard Spilsbury: The Father Of Forensics

This exhibition in our Edwardian Police Station explores Spilsbury’s work alongside the story of forensic pathology from its largely discredited beginnings in the early 19th century, to its widespread authority today. In CSI terms, Spilsbury used cutting-edge science and pioneering techniques of the day to support the case for the prosecution.

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The trial of suffragette, Eileen Casey recreated in our Theatre of Law

In our court this spring, the years roll back to the trial of suffragette Eileen Casey. Was she a women’s rights campaigner driven to extremes, or an anarchist and would-be Royal assassin? Edwardian suffragettes committed outrageous and violent acts in their fight to vote. Eileen was arrested carrying explosives during George V’s visit to Nottingham. Join our re-enactment of the 1914 case – part of our Right to Vote exhibition – and judge history for yourself. Did Eileen’s cause really justify her crime?

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Take part in a fun fairy tale Courtroom Workshop

Is Cinderella’s stepmother really very wicked? Did the wolf really blow down the homes of the three little pigs? And was Humpty Dumpty’s fall off the wall down to gross negligence?

In these fun family-friendly courtroom workshops, you will take on the roles and characters in a courtroom and put your favourite fairy tale characters on trial! Create the case for the defence and the prosecution before you, the jury, decide whether the accused is guilty or not guilty?

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Meet the residents of the National Justice Museum

Roaming our corridors and presiding in our prison are a variety of historical characters, some of whom you may meet during your visit. Each of our characters has a different story to tell based on their own experience of law, justice, crime and punishment…

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Look out for our fun activity packs located around the museum on your tour!

During your visit, you will find a range of fun family packs bursting with puzzles and activities relating to exhibitions and locations at the museum.

From jigsaws and detective games to true or false crime-related quizzes and maths games, there is plenty for families to enjoy throughout their visit. You can even have a go at Oakum picking – a form of hard labour given to prisoners in the past, take a trial by ordeal or play our sentencing game to see if you can match up crimes with their punishments!

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Explore the history of capital punishment with the Capital Punishment Exhibition

In the emotive Capital Punishment Exhibition, visitors will find out about the kind of crimes that people were executed for and examine the story and key events that led to the abolition of public executions in 1868 and of execution altogether in the 1990s. In addition, they will be able to look at various methods of execution, learn about key execution cases and key executioners from the late 19th century to mid 20th century, and find out which areas across the world still carry out capital punishment today.

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Free exhibitions for all the family – The Crime Gallery

Our brand new Crime Gallery is where you’ll find free family activities and exhibitions exploring a range of topics relating to crime. Examples include:

What is a crime?
Test your knowledge and discover interesting facts by taking our fun crime-related quiz!

What causes people to commit a crime?
Compare two 19th century theorists on their ideas about the causes of crime. Henry Mayhew believed it was all down to social environments whereas Cesare Lombroso believed the reasons were hereditary and that criminals could be determined purely by the shape of their face and features.

and more…

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Prison Reform Exhibition

The new Prison Reform Exhibition will examine the work of prison reformers, John Howard and Elizabeth Fry. It will look at the work they did and how some of these reforms are still in existence in prisons today. The exhibition will also look at charitable organisations that are campaigning to make changes to the prison service of today such as The Howard League and the Penal Trust.

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