Of all places where you can break the law surely to do that in a court of law are certainly fool hardy?
Today I freely snapped away with my camera as the judge’s robes and wig provided some much-needed extra colour in the grey washed magistrates court in Dorchester.
It is a very serious offence to take photographs in any British court, in fact its classed as ‘contempt of court’ under section 41 of the Criminal Justice Act 1925.
However my photo session took place in the Shire Hall Historic Courthouse Museum where one of its most famous trials was that of the Tolpuddle Martyrs and today you are allowed to take photographs and even selfies in the body of the court!
HISTORY CHANGED IN THIS HISTORIC COURTHOUSE
The six Martyrs men, whom because they had sworn an oath were brought to court and in doing so really created to first ever Trade Union. Fighting for fair wages for farm workers in 1834 they were tried and sentenced in the Georgian period built courtroom to be transported to Australia for 7 years.
Their trial was followed by mass protests and marches in London and a few years later they were pardoned. Now that courtroom will be forever associated with helping to create the UK’s and the world’s Trade Union movement.
Today that court itself forms part of a brand new multi-media and interactive museum that tells the story of not only those 6 defendants but other people both young and old that have gone through the legal system of their time and how it treated them.
15 YEAR OLD SENTENCED TO DEATH
Murderers, arsonists too have been featured and justice metered out to them with often a one-way trip to the hangman’s rope the result. Sentences up until the late 19th century carried out in public.
Martha Brown’s case where the jury spent 4 hours deliberating in 1856 only to find her guilty of murdering her reported cruel husband, she was the last woman to be publicly hanged in Dorset. Witnessed by a 16 year old Thomas Hardy who used what he had seen to help paint a picture for the tragic end to his book ‘Tess of the d’Urbervilles’.
An older Thomas went on to serve in the court himself as a Magistrate from 1884 to 1919.
On the route around the complex much of which is underground. The tiny cells now with at least some illumination but in Victorian times certainly a much more forbidding, dark and dank place.
Imagine being in one of those tiny cells at the age of fifteen and having to defend yourself in court just above. Also knowing that your friends had turned Queen’s evidence and you alone was the one left in the lonely dock and charged with arson, a capital offence. Sylvester Wilkins (15) on March 30th 1833 lost his life at the end of a rope after the hearing, which took place just three weeks earlier on March 5th!
Tragic stories of many people are told but certainly a great chance to get an insight into justice, its history and the people who were often poor ill-educated and had no real understanding of how the law worked in those bygone days.
The museum is in High West Street in Dorchester with adults £8.50, children £4.50 and family tickets at £20 the museum is open from 10:00am to 17:00pm and there is a smart new café.