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Wednesday 6 May 2015

This blog was written by Alex, one of our Heritage Volunteers

This Wednesday the heritage group came together for a special visit to the Galleries of Justice in the Lace Market.

We were all told to gather round as a 'young convict' told us something of the grizzly goings on at the court. This included the public hangings outside that were so popular that, on one occasion, many were killed in the crush to get a closer look at the execution.

In the court itself we heard how one young convict, our guide for the afternoon, was tried for murder. And, facing overwhelming evidence, still cried out on being sentenced "Not Guilty!".

Visit to Galleries of Justice
Take 'em down and clap 'em in irons!

Then we walked down into the gaol. It didn't pay to be poor in prison - as every comfort and amenity had to be paid for somehow. The cells were tiny. And with three to a cell, and no toilets, it must've been truly miserable. Any misdemeanours could mean you being subjected to a public flogging in the courtyard. Those that were sentenced to deportation were lucky if they survived as conditions were similar to those that had been endured on the slave ships during the Georgian period (1714-1830).

Many gaol sentences were for larceny or petty theft. Essentially, these were crimes of poverty.

We all enjoyed the drama and spontaneity of the young actor who played the convict. And afterwards we gathered in the café to reflect on what we'd learned. We wondered whether, faced with such penalties, we would still have resorted to theft in Victorian Nottingham if starving or unable to pay the rent.

You can search an online database of Victorian prisoners here.


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