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From our blog:

Urchins, Sprogs and Guttersnipes - The Facts!

20 March 2017

Here are a few facts taken from our new displays which tell the tales of not so lucky children in Victorian Ripon…

#1 An Urchin is a young boy or girl, especially poorly or raggedly dressed...

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Our elegant Georgian Courthouse remains virtually unchanged since it was built in 1830. Following closure of the Magistrates Court in 1998 it was opened as a museum a year later. In 2005 its interiors were redecorated in the original colour scheme used when the building opened at Michelmas 1830. The permanent display offers an illustrated history of the use of the Courthouse, suitable for all ages.

The museum is housed in the former Quarter Sessions Courthouse built in 1830 to replace its medieval predecessor and the interior of the courtroom has not changed much since then. After Quarter Sessions ceased in 1953 the court continued as a Magistrates Court until it closed in 1998. The building is an important part of the museum.

The Liberty of Ripon was a territory which had, since Saxon times, enjoyed its own independence as a county, although within the West Riding of Yorkshire. In the Middle Ages the Liberty was the feudal possession of the Archbishop of York.

The museum consists of three rooms: the Jury Room, where there are a pair of Halberds displayed on the wall. These were carried during a ceremony to open each Quarter Sessions in a procession of Magistrates with the Gaoler and Master of the House of Correction. Also on display are books containing not only the statutes which the court had to follow, but a host of Justices' Manuals and Guides from the 18th and 19th Centuries. These contained advice for the Justices about criminal matters and also their duties as supervisors of the Poor Law, taxation, public health and all aspects of local government.

In the Justices' Retiring Room there are portraits of many past magistrates including Charles Oxley who served as a Justice from 1811 to 1873. He was the first Chairman of Petty Sessions, supervised the Poor Law as first Chairman of the Poor Law Guardians and was a member of the committee responsible for building the Prison in 1816 together with this building in 1830.

In the Court Room are the seats for the Justices raised in a high position over the rest of the court. In the well sat the Clerk to the Court and any advocates representing the defendants. The three boxes facing the Justices are, left to right, two docks and the witness box. Imagine having to stand so close to an accused person while giving evidence for the prosecution. From these boxes men and women were fined, sentenced to hard labour and transported to Australia. An audio visual presentation (approx. running time 10 mins.) gives examples of actual cases.

Behind the dock are the benches which were occupied by the township or parish officers in attendance - Constables, Surveyors of the Highways and Overseers of the Poor. The strange box in the centre is where defendants in custody awaited their appearance before the bench, having been brought up from a cell below. The roof over this holding box was placed there to protect prisoners from missiles thrown down from the public gallery behind!

Suitably attired model figures enable visitors to see what a typical 19th Century scene would have been like inside the Court Room. Feel what it was like to be sentenced to be transported thousands of miles across the oceans to a strange land where survival was not guaranteed.

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Opening Times

The Workhouse museum is open 11.00 - 16.00 and the Courthouse and Prison and Police Museums are open 13.00 - 16.00. Come and see whats new! Special opening event 

Full opening times


Adult (16+) £4.50*
Concession (60+/Students) £4.00*
Child (6-15yrs) £3.75*
Child (5yrs and under) FREE
* Admissions are inclusive of a donation. If you are not a UK taxpayer or do not wish to make a charitable donation the admission prices are as follows: Adult £4,00 Conc £3.40, Child £3.40

Did you know?

Most punishments before the Victorian period were physical, from the stocks through whipping and hard labour to transportation and execution.


[The Courthouse is] very educational and a great experience. Thank you for the kids’ questionnaires. Superb idea to get them involved. The magnetic boards are very clear and kept the children occupied. We will be back.

Judith, Patrick & Sophia Woods


  • The Courthouse Museum consists of three rooms plus entrance hall.
  • The Courthouse has three steps at the entrance (with handrails).
  • The floors of the Courtroom are on several levels.
  • Doorway from Jury Room into Magistrates Retiring Room is too narrow for wheelchair access.
  • There are no toilets available for visitors’ use. Public Toilets are located nearby, to the left of the Courthouse.