Monday, 18 August 2008

Galleries of Justice in Nottingham, England

In the courtroom
The door of the dock is closed and the judge stares with a piercing gaze. He seems remarkably young for the job, but there isn’t really time to concentrate on this, as the prosecution lawyer is already launching into me.
In his eyes, I am scum, the lowest of the low, and there is a dreadful sense that this is a show trial. I’m going down, no matter how good my defence is.
For the purposes of this reconstruction, I am George Beck, a bit of a trouble-maker who has finally been collared for burning down a silk mill.

Freedom fighter in a kangaroo court
I’d like to think of myself as a bit of a freedom fighter, a martyr to the cause of getting the vote for the poor and disenfranchised, but this kangaroo court in front of me doesn’t seem to agree.
A public execution on the courthouse steps awaits, as I’m led down the stairs to the cells.

Mock trial in Nottingham, England
This mock trial is all part of the tourist experience at the Galleries of Justice in Nottingham, England.
We’re greeted by an actor in his full Victorian lawyer’s garb, then taken through the history of the courtroom by throwing us all straight into it.
Everyone’s a witness, defendant, officer or member of the press, and we play out a miniature version of Beck’s excuse for a trial.
Beck was just one in a long line of rabble-rousers that has shaped this city’s attitude over the years.

The Reform Act of 1832
His particular bugbear was the House of Lords refusing to pass the Reform Act in 1832, which would have made Britain’s laughable excuse for a democracy of the time a whole lot fairer.
The gentry, of course, didn’t particularly like the idea of giving those ghastly middle classes a say in how the country was run, and blocked it.
Understandably, the bulk of the population wasn’t happy about this and started rioting.
Nottingham took a particularly nasty hit in the melee, with various buildings being set upon by the mob, and the city’s castle being burnt down.
Beck was thought to be behind that torching too.

Prisoners’ quarters
Following the trial in the old courtroom, we get a look at the conditions in the prisoners’ quarters.
We’re greeted by the gaoler, another actor in character. He makes no secret of the fact that if we want decent treatment, we’re going to have to continually grease his palms.
He walks us past all manner of nasty instruments of torture. There are stocks, in which people were put all day, having things thrown at them. There are whips, used to flay backs raw. There are scold’s bridles, which literally hold the tongue, and prevent speech.

The horror of the cells
That’s bad, but then comes the room. Three people share it, and there is room for nothing but the three hammocks.
The prisoners would be expected to live, sleep and eat in this room, and all waste products would stay with them, ready to be cleared out with the bare hands the next morning.
The only natural light is covered by bars, ensuring that it’s unbearably stifling in summer, and intolerably icy in winter.
“And that’s the good room,” the gaoler says, as he takes us further down into the dungeons.

The pit of hell
With no bribes, it seems, you get consigned to hell. It’s a pit, with no light, in which 30-odd men are expected to sleep in a cramped circle, elbow to elbow.
Disease-ridden, sleeping in their own filth, these men had no life at all. True, some of them may have been murderers, but we’re all given a convict number so that we can check what we’ve been sent to this hideous place for.
I stole some linen, and that’s enough to consign me to this fate.

Getting to the Galleries of Justice in Nottingham, England

Nearest International Airport: East Midlands International Airport is the closest, but Birmingham International Airport is a better bet for intercontinental flights.

Using public transport: The Galleries of Justice are on High Pavement, within easy walking distance of both Nottingham train station and the Broadmarsh bus station.

More information: Galleries of Justice

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