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A tale of two trials in Norwich’s old courthouse

PUBLISHED: 14:31 10 September 2011

Present day magistrates who took on the roles of their predecessors for a mock trial at the Guildhall heritage open day.; Photo: Bill Smith

Present day magistrates who took on the roles of their predecessors for a mock trial at the Guildhall heritage open day.; Photo: Bill Smith

Archant © 2011

It is a tale of two trials in Norwich’s old courthouse this weekend as magistrates celebrate six and a half centuries of the office of Justice of the Peace.

Visitors flocked to the historic Guildhall to watch a re-enactment of a 1361 trial, followed by its modern day equivalent, as part of Norwich’s Heritage Open Days.

The 1361 trial, recreated from records with the help of historians, saw three defendants accused of stealing two chickens and a pig in the dock at the Guildhall’s old courthouse, which was in use until the city’s new courts were opened in 1985.

The woman, her heavily pregnant daughter and her simpleton son were all found guilty and sentenced to be hung despite having no previous convictions.

The 2011 fictional version involved a husband and wife who had gone into a supermarket - Tescobury’s - and had stolen two frozen chickens and some pork by hiding the food in the woman’s long coat.

Both were found guilty and with no previous convictions they were given an 18-month conditional discharge, which means they have to stay out of trouble for that period or they can be re-sentenced for the crime.

Spectator John Hutchin, 69, from Blofield, said: “We have never done the Heritage Open Days before as we have always been on holiday but we thought we would go for it this year and rounded up some friends and here we are.

“We hope to cover four things today and we thoroughly enjoyed this. It was most interesting and enlightening.

“I’m glad we live in the 21st century and not the 14th.”

The Office of Justice of the Peace was created in 1361 and the re-enactment was organised and acted out by current magistrates over Saturday and Sunday to mark the 650-year milestone.

Lynford Brunt, magistrates in the community co-ordinator for Norfolk and a serving magistrate on the Norwich bench, said: “It shows the harshness of 1361 and how we have moved forward and work now in 2011.”

More information about 2011’s Heritage Open Days is available at www.heritagecity.org/hods.


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