Whilst evidence suggest that there has been life on the mound since 1270, it is the eighteenth century prison block that really captivates visitors attention at Shirehall Museum. The site appears to have been used as a county goal since the fourteenth century. However, following issues of overcrowding in the early eighteenth century, the current building was commissioned.
At this time, the British prison system was struggling under the weight of it’s growing population and it was becoming clear that new buildings had to be found. The commission was awarded to William Wilkins, a Norwich-born architect whose other works include the National Gallery in London’s Trafalgar Square.
In 1822 the new building was opened, it was at street level and immediately to the east of the mound and hosted a new courtroom.
The prisoners would be brought to the court from their cell, walking down a spiral staircase and through a tunnel to the the court holding cell. In this location, they then received their sentence and some were then hanged at the castle gates.
Since it’s closure the courtroom had remained unused but it has recently been restored to its original condition and now hosts occasional reenactments from it’s heyday. It’s a hands-on-museum where visitors are invited to put themselves in the shoes of those who would have experienced it.
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