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East Midlands Gainsborough, Lincolnshire

Sweyn Forkbeard and the Mill on the Floss.

Ignored by the tourists, Gainsborough is a market town in the north west corner of Lincolnshire. It is a pleasant small town with a lot going for it.

It has a long history and was one of the capital cities of Anglo-Saxon Mercia. Sweyn Forkbeard and his son Canute defeated the Anglo-Saxon Army of Ethelread the Unready here in 1013. Sweyn was killed when he was thrown by his horse in Gainsborough a few weeks later and has rather disappeared from history as Canute became King of England. Now his name is remembered by the Wetherspoons pub on Silver Street.

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After that excitement, Gainsborough returned to its role as a rural backwater. The Domesday Book records a population of 80 farmers and villains.

Gainsborough’s other claim to fame is that it is thought to be the inspiration for the fictional town of St Ogg’s in George Eliot’s ‘Mill on the Floss’.

Gainsborough is on the River Trent which is tidal as far as here. It boasts a tidal bore, the Aegir, although this isn’t as big or as famous as the Severn bore.

In the Middle Ages, Gainsborough was a major wool centre and thriving inland port. Once the railways arrived in the mid C19th, the port was no longer as important and the area along the riverside was becoming very run down in the mid C20th. Regeneration plans have resulted in several of the massive, splendid warehouses along the river being turned into flats with a riverside walkway.

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Gainsborough was an important manufacturing centre from the mid C19th. Marshall, Sons & Co based at Britannia Iron Works, a massive site in the centre of Gainsborough, produced steam engines, light aircraft and agricultural machinery, especially tractors. The factory closed in the 1980s. Now the only reminder of the tractors produced is the topiary tractor in the middle of the roundabout on the A631/A159 roundabout.

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Part of the works was demolished for a Tesco super store, but part of the glorious brick facade along the A159 has been preserved.

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A grand entrance leads into Marshall’s Yard Retail Park, with a range of shops and cafes, designed to complement the original facade.

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The central area has been landscaped and has a very popular splash pad.

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This also hosts the popular Farmer’s Market on the second Saturday of the month.

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The original shopping area is along Silver Street and Lord Street, with their many small shops and the cobbled Market Place with its Tuesday and Saturday Market.

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Once an impressive open square with splendid bank buildings and the old Town Hall, the market is a shadow of its former self and some of the shops are beginning to look a bit sad. The money and business has moved to Marshall’s Yard.

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Tucked among the terraces of Victorian housing is an undiscovered gem, Gainsborough Old Hall (#2). It is one of the biggest and best preserved medieval manor houses in England with its timber framing gently sagging with age. It has a splendid Great Hall and untouched Tudor kitchen.

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The Old Hall also has links to the Pilgrim Fathers as Sir William Hickman allowed the Separatists to meet here.

Facing the Old Hall on Cobden Street is the library, which was built in 1905 on land owned by the Hickman family of who stipulated the building must complement the architecture of the Old Hall.

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On the other side of the Old Hall is All Saint’s Church (#7 ). The C15 tower is all that is left of the original medieval church. The inside is a wonderful example of a Georgian church, with a gallery around three sides. Its cafe is popular with oldies providing excellent value with its substantial breakfasts and lunches.

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Gainsborough Heritage Centre in the splendid old Telephone Exchange and Post Office building on North Street is run by enthusiastic volunteers.

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It has an extensive archive collection, old shop fronts. lots of photographs and a rolling programme of exhibitions. It also has a small cafe with a selection of homemade cakes.

A few minutes walk away is the Old Police Station (#8), which is now a fascinating museum and also houses the Old Nick Theatre Company. Volunteers run guided tours of the old police station but it is advisable to prebook.

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Trinity Arts Centre in a redundant church hosts a series of live shows.

And finally we mustn’t forget the Gainsborough Model Railway Club which has one of the largest model railways in ‘O’ gauge, depicting the East Coast Main Line from Kings Cross to Leeds Central. Based near Tesco on Florence Terrace, it is open on some bank holidays and Sundays during the summer.

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Discover Gainbsborough - A Walk through Time
The local council,along with the Heritage Centre, have produced a booklet describing a 90 minute walk around Gainsborough.
 
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Eleanor

1000+ Posts
Gainsborough Old Hall

Gainsborough Old Hall is one of the biggest and best-preserved small medieval manor houses in England.

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It was built in 1460 by Thomas Burgh, who inherited the estate from his mother. The tall brick tower at the north east corner was added by Sir Thomas Burgh in the 1480s. Its outside fortified appearance was entirely for show and intended as a statement of his wealth and status.

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The Old Hall has an illustrious history. Richard III and Henry VIII visited here. Catherine Parr’s first husband was lord here.

The Hall was sold to William Hickman, a wealthy merchant at the end of the C16th, after the death of the last and childless Lord Burgh. Hickman turned the Tudor building into a fashionable residence by encasing much of the building in brick, enlarging the windows and replacing many of the fireplaces. He was also responsible for altering the end of the east block, fly adding an extra floor to the original two floored building.

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Hickman was a fervent Protestant, and the family was sympathetic to the separatist cause and welcomed many radical thinkers to the house. They had connections to the Pilgrim Fathers. He was supportive of local preachers like John Wesley, who preached here.

In 1730, the Hickman family moved out of the Old Hall to nearby Thornock Hall. The Old Hall then had a very chequered history for the rest of the C18th and C19th. The east and west wings were leased out as small workshops and factories. John Wesley continued to preach from the great hall. In 1790, the great hall was leased for use as a town theatre, with a stage at one end, wooden boxes with seats along the walls and a gallery for high ranking customers.

In 1849, Henry Bacon Hickmen, the then owner, paid for repairs to the building,. The theatre was replaced by a Corn Exchange. The east range became an Assembly Room and Library Institute with a busy schedule of lectures, performances, grand balls and soirées, as well as earnest discussions.

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By the end of the C19th, the Assembly rooms were less well used and were leased as a Masonic Lodge. The west range housed tenements and a public house. Much of the surrounding area had been used for housing.

By the middle of the C20th, the building was in a very bad state of repair. The Ministry of Works had turned turned down an offer for the Old Hall, and it was only saved from demolition by the formation of The Friends of Gainsborough Old Hall. They raised substantial funds to restore the building and opened it as a visitor centre and community source. For several years the Old Hall was managed jointly by the Friends, local Council and later by English Heritage as well. Although the Friends still use the Old Hall for lectures, it is now under the sole ownership of English Heritage.

Anyone visiting the Old Hall since it reopened in 2021 will see a very great difference. Many the contents and furniture have been have been removed and returned to the council or their owners. The rooms are bare or minimally furnished. (Nearly all the pictures on Google images and now out of date.) English Heritage has done some restoration work and have opened up the first floor of the west block. In September 202, it still feels very much as if it is very much a work in progress while English Heritage decide the best way to present the building. It will be interesting to see what they decide…

Website

The post code is DN21 2NB. There is some on street parking around the Old Hall but there are large car parks off Ropery Road, along the river.

cont...
 
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Eleanor

1000+ Posts
Gainsborough Old Hall cont...

The Old Hall is surrounded by C19th Victoria housing and sits in an expanse of grass with mature trees including old fashioned varieies of mulberry and medlar. In the summer there are flowers beds between the two wings.

It is timber frame and brick built. Looking at the front of the building, it is a beautiful building with a black and white timber frame which is gently sagging with age and the walls of the west wing are beginning to bow outwards. The Great Hall runs across centre of building with two wings off it. The east wing on the right, was the family quarters.

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The west wing on the left, was the lodgings block for the more senior household staff as well as visiting dignitaries. It has an impressive range of massive fireplaces along the outside wall.

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On the rear wall of the great hall is a large stone built bay window.

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The kitchen is brick built and has a massive cupola above it.

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cont...
 

Eleanor

1000+ Posts
Gainsborough Old Hall cont...

Entry is into the east wing, with the ticket office, a small shop and the tea room. The walls are timber frame with plaster, which has the remains of wall paintings.

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The visit begins in the great hall. This along with the medieval kitchens are virtually unchanged since the hall was built.

The great hall is a spectacular space with timber frame walls, oak beam ceiling and originally had a central fire place. This had a louvre above it to remove smoke. This has been removed is now displayed in the east range gallery. The family ate at the high table with the servants seated in decreasing rank at wooden tables along the walls.

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A very stylish stone bay window was added later at at the end away from the kitchen

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Above the doorways are carved panels with a coat of arms.

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There are three doors at the end of the great hall opposite the high table. The one on the left led to the pantry and into the east wing. The central door led to a passage leading to the kitchen. The door on the right led to the Buttery or pantry.

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The lodging block in the east wing, was used by the more senior household staff as well as visiting dignitaries. In the C19th the rooms were used as tenements for local families with a single room containing an entire family. Many took in washing to make ends meet.

The ground floor is now used as the Education Centre. A modern spiral staircase leads to a series of empty rooms on the first floor.

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Each room had a window, fireplace and small latrine off.

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The timber frame walls are infilled with wattle and daub and then covered with a lime wash plaster.

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The ceiling is open to the rafters and rooms on the third floor with their fireplaces can be seen through the beams.

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The door on the left led into the Buttery. This was the preserve of the butler who oversaw the serving of drinks during meals. Stocks of ale, beer and wines were kept in the cellar. Supplies for each meal were carried upstairs in large pitchers and poured into jugs which were placed on the tables.

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cont...
 
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Eleanor

1000+ Posts
Gainsborough Old Hall cont...

The kitchen is reached down a short corridor through the central door and is one of most complete medieval kitchens to survive in England. It would originally have been surrounded by other buildings, including dairy, bakehouse, brewhouse, barns and stores. The kitchen fed between 50-100 people every day. Only males worked in the kitchen and the head cook could watch and supervise from the gallery above. Finished dishes were placed on the serving hatch to be collected and taken into the great hall.

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Near it is the clerk’s room where he kept his records and stored spices and other valuables.

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There is a hoist in the kitchen which would have been used to haul sacks of flour for storage well above the kitchen and away from rats. In a corner below the gallery are two brick ovens heated by hot coals or wood, which were used for backing sweet or savoury pastries.

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Off the central area are smaller rooms that would have been working areas to prepare dainties or else used for storage .

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The floor is made of bricks and there is a large central louvre to remove smells. There is no insulation under the tiles so the kitchen always staid cool.

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There were two large open fires. One had a spit for roasting meat. The wooden bar above the fireplace had hooks to hang meat to dry and smoke to preserve it.

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The other was used for boiling.

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A spiral staircase leads from the kitchen corridor to the steward’s rooms above. The steward was one of the most senior and trusted servants responsible for managing the household and estates His rooms may also have been used to store documents and as a treasury.

There are two rooms, both unfurnished with a small fireplace. Being immediately under the roof it must have been permanently cold and draughty.

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cont...
 

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Eleanor

1000+ Posts
Gainsborough Old Hall cont...

Back through the Great Hall, the visit continues up an impressive curved wooden staircase to the first floor and the private family rooms.

Overlooking the great hall is the gallery chamber or solar, which was a private family room. It had a small opening looking down on the great hall so the family could keep an eye on what was happening. It has retained some of the furnishings from before with wall hangings and furniture similar to that which might have been found in there. Apparently these were “Inspired by medieval manuscripts and objects.” The room does feel incongruous compared with the rest of the building.

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Beyond is the east gallery, a large open space. This was originally two rooms with a larger room used for entertaining family guests and a smaller private chamber which connected to the suite of rooms in the tower block.

When the Old Hall reopened to the public this was a display area with china cabinets. Now it is a large open space with Hickman family portraits on the walls, wooden chests, a large stone fireplace and a carved wooden family coat of arms above the doorway.

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Beyond the fireplace is a huge bay overlooking the what would have been the gardens.

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At one end is the original C15th louvre from the roof of the great hall that drew up smoke from the central hearth. This was removed from the roof in 1958 and rebuilt for display.

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Off is the tower room with a small fireplace and a latrine off. This was probably a private family bedroom.

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A steep spiral staircase gives access to the roof with views across the Old Hall and the town.

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At the far end of the east wing are the small family rooms. In 1600, William Hickman refashioned the end of the range from two storeys into three by the addition of a bedroom between floors. This is now unfurnished apart from an elaborately carved bed and a chair.

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On the ground floor is the panelled dining room, which would have been used for intimate family meals, and has a smaller room off it.

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The ground floor corridor leads back to the tea room, shop and reception area.


I’ve always enjoyed visiting the Old Hall and the way it has survived and reinvented itself many times in its history. This was a very different experience to that described here.

It will be interesting to see how English Heritage decide to develop and present the site.
 
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Eleanor

1000+ Posts
All Saints’ Church


All Saints’ is the parish church and is just across the road from Gainsborough Old Hall (#2 ). Only the C15th tower is left from the medieval church.

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By 1730 the church was considered “too dark and mean and incommodious” to suit the town’s growing population and the decision was made to build a new church. This cost £5230 and was raised by a tax on property and a tax on coal used in the town.

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It is a marvellous example of Georgian architecture and is a huge rectangular building with large windows and a rounded apse at the east end.

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Steps lead up to the west door below the tower. Above the door are two carved faces. One is supposed to be Henry V, the other a Bishop of Lincoln. Inside is a large porch with a popular cafe on one side and the vestry on the other. By the door is a stone slab recording the burial of Richard Rollett (1750-1824) who was master sail maker to Captain Cook. Steps lead up to the Gallery.

An oak door leads into the church. This is a large and airy building. Above the west door is the large wooden organ, with the Royal Coat of Arms below it. Beneath it on the back wall of the church are two boards listing all the charities set up to look after the poor of the parish.

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It is a beautiful building with a row of pillars with gilded Corinthian tops on either side of the nave. The ceiling is painted in pale lilac and white, with chandeliers hanging down from it. In the chancel there are three tiny gold cherubs on the ceiling. A large wooden gallery runs along the full length of the south and north walls. In the nave are C18th box pews.

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The chancel in a round apse has scarlet carpet on the floor and a small free standing table. On the east wall is a painting of the last supper. Above it is a stained glass window showing the Ascension of Jesus into Heaven with John the Baptist and St Paul.

There is a large marble pulpit with a mosaic inlay on one side of the chancel and a small marble font on the other side with cherubs round the bowl.

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Tucked away in a corner is an eagle lectern.

To the left of the chancel is the Lady Chapel. The altar was the former high altar and has red panels with symbols associated with the death of Christ. Above is a stained glass window with people coming to the feet of Christ for succour and aid.

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The other stained glass windows in the nave show Biblical scenes and were given in memory of wealthy parishioners.

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On the walls are memorial stones to the great and godly of the parish. On the north wall is a long tapestry showing the history of Gainsborough, stitched by members of the congregation.

This is a delightful church and well worth stopping to look inside. The cafe is popular with local oldies who come for a cheap meal, cake, hot drink and a chat. There is parking in nearby streets and the post code is DN21 2JR.

Website
 
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Eleanor

1000+ Posts
Old Nick Museum

This was the first purpose built police station in Lincolnshire and was the police headquarters until they moved into their new building in 1972.

It replaced an earlier lock up on the junction of Torr Street and Trinity Street. This was a small brick building with two cells and space for two officers, a constable and member of the watch. The building was inadequate to cope with the number of prisoners and constables using it.

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The building was eventually pulled down to to build a McDonalds. All that is left is the original name stone which was rescued and built into the wall.

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The Police Station was unusual as it also had a Magistrates Court. Although under the same roof, the Magistrates Court and the Police Station were completely separate and had their own entrance. After standing empty for several years, the building was taken over by the Old Nick Theatre Company. The Magistrates Court has been turned into a stage and the Police Station is now a museum.

Building began in 1850 and the Police Station opened in 1860 with a Superintendent, sergeant and six constables. It is a splendid display of pomp and importance with decorative pale and red brick and carved stone capitals at the front and side. The Magistrates Court was entered through the main door on Spring Gardens.

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A sign was hung on the door with details of the court.
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The Police Station was entered through the side door on from Cross Street.

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The Superintendent of Police and his family lived at the back of the police station, and this part of the building has a very plain and functional appearance.

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Entry to the Police Station was through a sturdy door.

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Just inside the door was the noticeboard, which would have had all the latest information on it.

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It also includes a press cutting about the only prisoner who managed to escape from the prison while exercising in the yard.

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There is also a copy of a birth certificate of the only child to have been born in the police station. A serving policeman’s wife was expecting her first child and came in to tell her husband she was experiencing pains. The sergeant realised she was in labour, but the child was born before help arrived. The child was a boy and went on to become a police officer in London.

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Opposite is now the telephone exchange. Originally this would have been a blank wall and the exchange would only have been accessible from the enquiry office. It would have received calls from all over the county. The manual equipment is still waiting to be restored when funds are available.

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There is also a rare hand phone dating from 1910 which was one of the early phones and only had five numbers as people never imagined needing more!

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Beyond the telephone exchange is the enquiry office which had a big brass bell members of the public could ring to get attention. A sliding window opened into the sergeant’s office behind. This is now the reception and shop area. The birch rod, which was used to punish boys up to the age of 14 by strokes to the bare buttocks, hung on the wall until the station closed, although its use was abolished in 1948.

On the wall above the fire is a picture of Philip Bicknell who was a Chief Superintendent and designed the Bicknell Lamp which replaced the use of candles.

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At the end of the corridor is the charge desk where prisoner’s could be booked in. Their name and address were filled in on a charge sheet along with their offence and date it was committed. They were then either bailed to appear in court, or led through to the cells for more serious charges.

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There are old fashioned handcuffs which look more like manacles than handcuffs.

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The keys to the cells hang on the wall.

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The names of prisoners were written on the big board on the wall.

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cont...
 
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Eleanor

1000+ Posts
Old Nick Museum cont...

A heavy iron gate leads to the cells. These were holding cells until the prisoner went before the Magistrate for sentencing.

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Three photographs were taken, a front view and left and right profile.

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Until a female cell was added in 1930, these cells held both men and women, as well as children as young as eight years old.

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Originally the cells were designed to hold one prisoner with a solid wood shelf bed. Increasing population in the late C19th as well as increasing numbers of public houses, resulted in increased crime rates. There were a lot of repeat offenders, especially for drunk and disorderly offences or domestic violence.

Bunk beds were added to the cells that could now hold up to six prisoners, although overcrowding still meant some were sleeping on the floor. The 1911 census list 11 occupants in the two cells.

The cells have been restored to what they may have been like when built, apart for the toilet which was added in1930. Before then, prisoners were supplied with a bucket.

The graffiti on the inside of the door has been left untouched.

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The cell door has a small spy hole and also a trap door for food to be pushed through. This was done using a long handle, so the prisoner couldn’t grab the hand and arm of a prison officer.

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Cells had been built with a small window overlooking the corridor, but this was bricked up after a prisoner broke the glass and hung themself from the bars.

The only washing facility was a basin at the end of the corridor, which originally just had cold water.

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Prisoners were allowed two forty minute periods of exercise a day in a small enclosed yard overlooked by the charge room. Drainpipes were set back in the brickwork so they couldn’t be climbed. The yard had a heavy metal grille over the top, which was placed here after a prisoner managed to escape by climbing the wall. This has since been removed as unsafe.

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The Police Officers had their own urinal, toilet and wash basin off the corridor which was used by both sexes until a separate women’s area was added in 1930. The new extension can be recognised by the glazed tiles on the bottom of the walls rather than bricks.

Serving officers reported to the day room at the front of the building at the start of every shift, when the officer of the day allocate their duties. In the centre is a large table and the personal lockers would have been arranged round the walls. Men had to change into into uniform when they reported for duty and store their clothes in the wooden lockers. They could write up their reports here. In later years, the room was also used as a training room. as well as a recreation room with a dart board.

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Further along the corridor is the interview room which was also used to finger print suspects. In the corner was an alcove with police instruction booklets and manuals.

A female cell was added in 1930. Again this was originally a single cell, although later slept up to four in bunk beds. The first woman to be held in this cell was a Mary Maloney who was held for ‘importuning’.

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Beyond is the women’s exercise area which was smaller than the men’s. This now holds a replica of the pillory from the Market Square, which was used until 1830 as a punishment by public humiliation for offences like dishonest trading, public intoxication , blasphemy , fortune telling and arson.

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There is also a blue Police Box, much beloved by the younger visitors.

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At the far end of the corridor is the women’s day room. This also doubled up as a medical room and had a hot water heater. On the wall is a photograph of Edith Smith who joined the police in 1914 and was the first female police officer with powers of arrest. She was based in Gainsborough before moving to Grantham.
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cont...
 

Eleanor

1000+ Posts
Old Nick Prison cont...

The Police Superintendent and his family had accommodation in the police station, which was accessed by a separate entrance off Cross Street.

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It was separated from the main police station by a sturdy door across the corridor by the charge desk. The ground floor was the living quarters with sitting room, office, dining room and kitchen. Bedrooms were on the two floors above.

A new house was built for the Superintendant and his family on Gainas Avenue in 1951. The Sitting room then became a general admin office.

The first room was the sitting room, which is decorated as it might have looked at the start of the C20th.

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Next to it was the office. The Superintendent’s ceremonial cane is on the floor, next to his briefcase

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The display case on the wall contains the birch as well as an early police whistle, wooden truncheon and a wooden rattle also used by the police.

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Beyond is the family dining room. This was also used to entertain important guests and dignitaries. The superintendent had a status to maintain.

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The kitchen was beyond. The superintendent’s wife was responsible for cooking meals for the prisoners as well as her family.

A door leads into the back yard with stables and a hay loft above. A horse and trap was provided for the superintendent, but he had to pay for feed and shoeing.

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Next to it was the kennels and a workshop which was used for maintenance and repair of police vehicles.

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The Magistrates Court was completely separate from the police station and entered through the front door. A splendid staircase lead to the courtroom on the first floor.

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This is now a small theatre.

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The magistrates bench was directly inside the door and facing the public gallery. Court officers sat along the wall between. The prisoners were brought up a stone staircase from the cells to the dock facing the magistrates. They were handcuffed to a police officer after one attempted to attack the magistrate in 1870.

Behind the magistrates court was the robing room, which is now used as the principal dressing room for the theatre company. Beyond it was the court office and a room for paying fees levied by the courts. This is now a small bar used for events.

The Superintendent’s bedroom is another dressing room and the two children’s bedrooms on the top floor are used for storing costumes.

This makes a fascinating visit. I was taken round by an enthusiastic and knowledgeable volunteer. The museum has worked closely with both the Police and English Heritage to preserver the fabric and history of the museum, along with many artefacts. There are still a few retired officers who can remember serving here.

There is some parking behind the building, or failing that there is parking in Marshall’s Yard just across the road. The post code is DN21 2AY. There is a small charge for entry. It was the best value £3 I’ve spent in a long time!

Website
 
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