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Take a look inside what a jail used to look like at museum’s stunning display

PUBLISHED: 15:41 14 March 2017 | UPDATED: 20:43 14 March 2017

Wymondham Heritage Museum reopens for the new season.
 A new prisoner display in the cellars. Picture: SONYA DUNCAN

Wymondham Heritage Museum reopens for the new season. A new prisoner display in the cellars. Picture: SONYA DUNCAN

ARCHANT EASTERN DAILY PRESS (01603) 772434

It is a building steeped in a Norfolk town’s deepest and darkest history.

Wymondham Heritage Museum reopens for the new season. Picture: SONYA DUNCANWymondham Heritage Museum reopens for the new season. Picture: SONYA DUNCAN

And as Wymondham Heritage Museum prepares to officially open its doors for its new season, organisers hope a £6,000 series of improvements over the winter will persuade the area’s current residents to delve into its past.

The museum in Norwich Road has been a focal point for the town throughout the ages, not only as a prison – or “house of correction”, as it was known in the 1600s – but also as a police station and magistrates’ court.

It can even claim to have shaped how today’s prisons look – for it was prison reformer John Howard’s visit to the site in 1779 that persuaded him the dreadful, cramped conditions needed to improve, not just in Wymondham but across the country.

One of the revamped sections of the museum remembers the old dungeons where even women and children were sent for some of the most trivial offences, with special sound effects to recreate the prison experience back then.

Wymondham Heritage Museum reopens for the new season.
 Sarah Standley with the new pubs of Wymondham display. Picture: SONYA DUNCANWymondham Heritage Museum reopens for the new season. Sarah Standley with the new pubs of Wymondham display. Picture: SONYA DUNCAN

“We’ve developed it just to demonstrate what life was like,” said Mike Foyle, chairman of the museum’s management committee.

“There are certain things in life which shouldn’t be forgotten.

“It’s all very well living in the modern age where people are used to having it easy. It is good to show the dreadful conditions these people lived in.”

However the museum offers a much wider trip down memory lane, with a display of the domestic appliances of yester-year including what wheelchairs were like hundreds of years ago and old hand irons.

Wymondham Heritage Museum reopens for the new season. New interactive displays. Picture: SONYA DUNCANWymondham Heritage Museum reopens for the new season. New interactive displays. Picture: SONYA DUNCAN

For 2017 parts of the museum – including the entrance, where the old court bench is used as the front desk – have been renovated, with new flooring.

It has also been given a more interactive feel, with touch-screen displays offering even more information on the items displayed, while its new exhibition on Wymondham’s past and present pubs hopes to draw in the punters.

Other exhibitions include the history of brush-making in the town to the story of Wymondham’s most famous inhabitant Robert Kett, who led Kett’s Rebellion – the most serious outbreak of unrest during Edward VI’s reign.

“There’s been a museum here for the past 20 years,” Mr Foyle said. “It was beginning to look 20 years old.

Wymondham Heritage Museum. Picture: SONYA DUNCANWymondham Heritage Museum. Picture: SONYA DUNCAN

“This is the phase one of the new development and we thought that we’ve got to bring it up to the latest standard.

“People don’t want to come round and just look at things. People want to touch and interact with something.

“We’d like to see more people from the town visiting and more young people.

“One of the disadvantages of us being at this end of town is that people go elsewhere.

“The reaction of people when they visit is absolutely superb – we get people from all over the country and all over the world.

“We had 1,000 visitors last year and we’d like to double our footfall this year.”

Organisers are also starting to plan the second phase of its improvements to take place over this coming winter, although exact projects and costs are still to be determined.

The museum is continuing to look for volunteers who can help to run the attraction, either by greeting visitors as they arrive or helping to research upcoming exhibitions and displays.

Bev Bevan, governor at Norwich Prison, will officially open Wymondham Heritage Museum for its 2017 season on Monday, March 20 at 10.30am.

However the museum is already open for visitors between 10am and 4pm, Monday to Saturday, and between 1pm and 4pm on Sundays.

Admission is £4 for adults, £3 for concessions, £1 for children and free for under-fives.

A family ticket is £8, while season tickets are £7.

For more information, call the museum during opening hours on 01953 600205 or visit www.wymondhamheritagemuseum.co.uk

Have you got a Wymondham story? Contact South and West Norfolk editor Andrew Papworth on andrew.papworth@archant.co.uk

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