National Justice Museum

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National Justice Museum
Lace market justice galleries.JPG
The Galleries of Justice Museum exterior 2010
Former name Galleries of Justice Museum
Established 1995 (1995)
Location The Lace Market Nottingham
Collection size HM Prison Service collection
Director Tim Desmond
Public transit access Bus, tram, train

The National Justice Museum (formerly the Galleries of Justice Museum), also known as the Shire Hall, is an independent museum and a registered charity on High Pavement in the Lace Market area of Nottingham, England. The museum is housed in what was once a Victorian courtroom, gaol and police station, and is therefore a historic site where an individual could be arrested, sentenced and executed.

The courtrooms date back to the 14th century and the gaol to at least 1449, the building was used as a police station from 1905 to 1985, and the courts closed in 1986.


The National Justice Museum is housed in a Shire Hall, which stands in the Lace Market area of Nottingham.

The earliest confirmed use of the site for official purposes was by the Normans, who appointed sheriffs to keep the peace and collect taxes; hence the site was also referred to as the Sheriff's Hall, the County Hall or the Kings Hall.

The first written record of the site being used as a law court dates from 1375. The first written reference to its use as a prison is in 1449.[1]

Eighteenth century[edit]

There has been a court of justice on this site since 1375, although over the centuries the courts and prison have been developed and enlarged. An example of this is when in 1724 the courtroom floor collapsed. The Nottingham Courant in March 1724 recorded:[1]

On Monday morning, after the Judge had gone into the County Hall, and a great crowd of people being there, a tracing or two that supported the floor broke and fell in and several people fell in with it, about three yards into the cellar underneath. Some were bruised, but one man named Fellingham was pretty much hurt, one leg being stript to the bone, and was much hurt. This caused great consternation in Court, some apprehending the Hall might fall, others crying out "Fire"! etc. which made several people climb out of the windows. The Judge, being also terribly frightened, cried out "A plot! A plot!", but the consternation soon being over the Court proceeded to business.

The Hall was re-built between 1769 - 1772. The architect was James Gandon from London and cost about £2,500 (equivalent to £343,455 in 2016).[2] The builder was Joseph Pickford of Derby. The inscription on the top of the building reads:

This County Hall was erected in the year MDCCLXX and in the tenth year of the reign of His Majesty George III.

The building was fronted by an iron palisade to help control unruly crowds on the occasion of a public hanging.

Interior of one of the two former courtrooms at the museum

Nineteenth century[edit]

Additional wings were added between 1820 and 1840. Changes were made to the nisi prius court in 1833. The judges' retiring room, barristers' robing room and office for a clerk were added in 1844.[3]

A new grand jury room was added in 1859 to designs by the architect Richard Charles Sutton.[3] The last public execution was held in 1864 when Richard Thomas Parker was hanged.

In 1876 major improvements were made and the front was redesigned in a style described as Italianate by Mr. Bliss-Sanders of Nottingham. Within a few weeks a fire broke out and nearly destroyed all of the newly completed work.[4]

Following a fire in 1876, the courts were largely rebuilt by Thomas Chambers Hine between 1876 - 1879, by the end of the refurbishment, the prison gaol was closed.[3]

Twentieth century[edit]

A police station was added beside the building in 1905.

The current building houses two courtrooms, office space, and underground jail and a site used for executions.

The Victorians closed the jail due to appalling conditions and it lay empty between 1878 and 1995; however, the Hall continued in use as Nottingham's civil and criminal courts until 1991, when Nottingham Crown Court was opened at Canal Street.

The Museum is a registered charity .[5]

Twenty-first century[edit]

The National Museum opened its doors on 1 April 2017. 


The National Justice Museum’s Crime Gallery includes a range of family activities, interactives and exhibitions exploring a range of topics relating to crime 7. This area also includes the famous Bow Street Dock.


  1. ^ a b Brand, Ken. The Shire Hall and Old County Gaol Nottingham p.1. Nottingham Civic Society. ISBN 0950486132. 
  2. ^ UK Consumer Price Index inflation figures are based on data from Clark, Gregory (2017). "The Annual RPI and Average Earnings for Britain, 1209 to Present (New Series)". MeasuringWorth. Retrieved November 6, 2017. 
  3. ^ a b c Ordering law: the architectural and social history of the English law court. Clare Graham
  4. ^ Nottingham Daily Express. 4 December 1876
  5. ^ "1030554". Charity Commission. Retrieved 26 April 2012. 

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 52°57′3″N 1°8′40″W / 52.95083°N 1.14444°W / 52.95083; -1.14444