Shirehall Museum

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Things to do


Date of travel

February, 2017

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This is a lovely C16th flint building which was probably the hostel for visitors to “Walsingham Priory.”:

During the C18th and C19th, Walsingham was a thriving legal and administrative centre, with the Quarter and Petty Sessions held in the Shirehall. The Georgian Court room still survives and was in use until 1971. The chairman sat at the high desk at one end, flanked by his fellow magistrates. On the wall behind is the Royal Coat of Arms. Below him was the clerk’s desk. The lawyers sat round the central well with the witnesses sitting opposite the chairman. The jury sat on the bench down the right hand side. The prisoners stood in a dock at the back of the court, near the police constables.

A steep flight of wooden steps leads up to the Public Gallery with wooden benches. The front rows had a good view down into the court room.

The Witness’ waiting room now houses a small local museum covering crime and punishment. There are old photographs as well as a cattle cake crusher, portable bellows, mangle and a display of brick and clay pipe making equipment.

A doorway leads out into the grounds of “Walsingham Priory.”:

Just a short distance away is the “Bridewell,”: set up as a House of Correction in 1598, to house vagrants and beggars, with the intention to train them in useful trades. This was rebuilt in 1787 to the plans of John Howard, the prison reformer. The original building contained eight cells, including a special dark cell (used for punishment within the prison itself), a chapel and day room.The prison was enlarged in 1822 when a further 16 cells were added. The prison was run on the silent system, like “Lincoln Prison.”: This was designed to keep prisoners in isolation and away from the corrupting influence of other prisoners and encourage their rehabilitation. Five tread wheels were installed for grinding corn. These served as both exercise and punishment for the inmates.

The Bridewell closed when the Quarter Sessions were moved from Walsingham in 1861 and the prison has survived virtually untouched.

Entry to both the Bridewell and the Priory is included in the cost of the ticket to the Bridewell. The key for the Bridewell is kept at the Shirehall Museum. The Museum is closed between November and the end of January. It is open 10-4 during February for visitors to Walsingham Priory Snowdrops. During the rest of the year it is open 11-4 (closed 1-2 in March). Unfortunately I didn’t have time to visit the Bridewell.

There is limited parking outside the Shirehall Museum, otherwise there is Old Mill car park off Coker’s Hill. The post code is NR22 6BP and the grid reference is TF 934368.


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