On trial at historic Warwick courts

By Pictures by 08/03 Updated: 09/03 14:47

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JUSTICE was once again dealt out at Warwick's historic Crown Court on Friday (March 2), and The Observer's Matthew Salisbury was there to cast an eye over proceedings.

WARWICK'S own Crown Court went on trial – and the verdict was undoubtedly positive.

The Northgate building – shorn of its judge's wig since the opening of the Justice Centre in Leamington – appeared in a guise many in the town hope will become regular, that of a tourist attraction offering a fun burst of living history.

Visitors, many of them rising to the challenge of turning out in costume, passed through the armed guard at the front door and rubbed shoulders with court staff, folk musicians and other town characters.

Those behind this bold use of the building have set 1814 as the year for the re-creaction of the Assizes and there's plenty of information about contemporary Warwick and the wider world on display.

First up for those brave enough is a tour of the court's cells. Taking the steep steps down from the dock – as many a guilty felon had during the court's working life – brings visitors to the narrow, drab corridors below ground.

Deep below the court is a holding cell in use as far back as the 1600s which is little better than an open sewer with leg-chaining facilities. People unlucky enough to find themselves on the wrong side of the law might expect to spend a fair bit of time here in cramped conditions offering, by way of distractions, only the view of people in the street above relieving themselves down into your quarters.

With the famous castle so close, Warwickians may have become slightly immune to the treatment of the unfortunates of the distant past. But the prospect facing their 21st century counterparts, though more sanitary, was hardly more inspiring. In cells little larger than a changing cubicle, those charged could expect to while away the time with little more to do than sit and contemplate the uniformity of the brown walls.

Then, from the vantage point of the public gallery, visitors were able to watch the court in action as it had been back in the 1800s.

Actors in costume staged cut-down versions of trials from the time. Drawing a Jury from those looking on, the court dealt swiftly with miscreants ranging from coin-forgers and horse thieves to the obligatory cheeky harlots.

Add in a tasty buffet and the welcome offerings from sponsors Slaughterhouse Brewery and the evening was one most will have enjoyed.

Those behind the project to bring the Assizes to life will be delighted by the numbers turning out as well as the general success of the evening. There may be a few 'opening night' hitches to iron out but, for a first appearance, this is a trial that should continue.

Visit www.leamingtonobserver to see more pictures.

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