To mark Noirwich Crime Writing Festival and in recognition of the Castle’s fascinating history of crime and punishment, Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery will be hosting a series of free events suitable for all ages.
At 9:20pm on the 28 November 1848 a police officer arrived at Stanfield Hall estate to what was described as a ‘scene of utter dismay’. The landlord Isaac Jermy and his son, also called Isaac Jermy, had been horrifically murdered by a masked intruder who had forced his way into their home and opened fire with two pistols. Two other members of the household had also been injured in the affray. In the early hours of the following day police officers arrested a farmer on the estate who had borrowed money from the family. In order to avoid repaying his loan, which was due to mature two days after the murders, he had concocted a complex plan to do away with his masters.
For over 500 years Norwich Castle was used as the county gaol and you can explore the darker side of the building’s history today in the lower floor of the Norman keep. Until its closure in 1887 thousands of Norfolk’s debtors and criminals were confined behind the castle’s walls. Yet perhaps the most infamous of all of the castle’s inmates was the farmer arrested for the 1848 murders – James Blomfield Rush.
Originally incarcerated in Wymondham Bridewell, Rush was committed to Norwich Castle to stand trial, which began the following March.
The case attracted an enormous public following with even the monarch taking a keen interest. At 49 years of age Rush was every bit the caricature of the Victorian villain with his large lumbering frame, bad temper and money woes. The victims had not only been wealthy landowners, but Isaac Jermy senior had been Recorder for the city of Norwich. Also of interest was Rush’s decision to defend himself at his murder trial with his own mistress appearing as one of the 41 prosecution witnesses called against him. Such was the interest in the trial that even the Sheriff of Norfolk sold tickets to ensure the best seats for those willing to pay for them.
On the 21 April 1849 James Blomfield Rush was executed in front of a crowd of thousands, many of whom had made their way up from London. Buried within the prison walls his tombstone reads simply ‘JBR 1849’. Visit the castle today and you can still explore the dungeons – a perfect accompaniment to Noirwich.
This morning the above unhappy malefactor paid the forfeit of his life to the offended laws of his country. No execution of late years has attracted so large an assemblage of spectators, some thousands being present. About nine o’clock he took some refreshment, and shortly afterwards the sheriff arrived at the castle, and immediately proceeded to the condemned cell. The usual melancholy preparations having been completed, Rush was brought to the room where he was to be pinioned. He appeared quite calm and collected, and walked with a firm step. The melancholy procession then proceeded to the scaffold, which he mounted without any assistance, and in less than a minute the drop fell, and the wretched culprit was launched into eternity. Source
Noirwich: Crime and Punishment
Saturday 10 September, 10.30am, Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery, free admission to event only
Join historians from Norwich Castle Museum as they reveal objects used to punish ‘criminals’ of the past. Visit our prison exhibition and venture into the Castle dungeons to hear the extraordinary stories about its prisoners and experience first-hand crime and punishment, medieval style! Don’t forget to check out the exciting collection of local tales of murder, mystery and mayhem, specially selected by the Norfolk and Norwich Millennium Library.
Bounce and Crime Time
Monday 12 & Tuesday 13 September, 10.30am – 11.15am & 11.30am – 12.15pm, Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery, free admission
Norfolk & Norwich Festival and Norwich Castle bring you ‘Bounce & Crime Time’! FREE family and toddler events as part of Noirwich 2016, featuring amazing local storytelling favourite, Hannah Woodhall. Tickets are free, but booking essential: call Norwich Castle on 01603 495897 or 01603 493625 to reserve in advance. Ages 2+
Noirwich Courtroom Drama
Friday 16 September, 1.30pm, meet at Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery, free admission to event only
Take a tour of the prison exhibition at Norwich Castle Museum with our expert guide and explore the history of Crime and Punishment in Norwich: see the James Rush death mask and take prisoners’ route along a secret passage into the Shirehall Courtroom for a re-enactment of his trial. Don’t forget to check out the exciting collection of local tales of murder, mystery and mayhem, specially selected by the Norfolk & Norwich Millennium Library!