Is The UK's Most Politically Incorrect Museum Really As Shocking As Visitors Claim?
August 13, 2022 1:00 AM ‐ Paranormal
This article is more than one year old and was last updated in June 2023.
Littledean Jail is a dark tourism attraction described on Trip Advisor by those who have visited it as a "morbid collection intended to shock" from "the mind of a very disturbed, Nazi-obsessed teenager."
The Crime Through Time Collection housed in the former jail in the Forest of Dean near Gloucester markets itself as Europe's largest true crime museum. It houses a bizarre and diverse collection of murderabilia, occult artefacts, sleaze, scandal and the taboo.
Proud of its politically incorrect stance on re-telling history through controversial artefacts, shocking exhibitions and salacious displays, the museum's curator, Andy Jones, warns that this isn't an attraction for the easily offended.
A sign outside the old jail describes the attraction as "the UK's most controversial and politically incorrect museum." Adding, "do not visit if easily offended, disturbed, or of a sensitive nature. Certainly not suitable for children."
But is Littledean Jail really as shocking its past visitors have claimed? We had to go and find out.
Part of the reason why we were drawn to the Grade II listed former prison is because it's said to be haunted. The jail dates back to 1791 and was an outstanding example of how a prison should be run, becoming the government's model of the best house of correction. As well as the countless adult criminals who were imprisoned here, there were also plenty of child inmates throughout the jail's grim history of incarceration, violence and death.
Of course all this misery and suffering is said to have left its mark on the building, which is now reputed to be one of the most haunted places in Gloucestershire. There's been so much paranormal activity witnessed in the prison that the attraction now opens its doors to public ghost hunting events.
The activity reported in the museum includes the sighting of the ghost of a little boy called James. It's said that he wanders the cells day and night. His presence has been felt by many visitors who describe him as a friendly and welcoming spirit. The sounds of children crying have also been reported coming from the cells.
Others have reported seeing menacing shadow figures, heard unexplained footsteps, and seen doors slam closed of their own accord. There are reports of the museum's exhibits mysteriously shaking, lights have flickered and objects on display have been thrown by unseen hands.
Perhaps the jail's most unsettling resident spook is that of a former jailer, who is said to make his presence known by touching visitors, throwing things at them, or even appearing in the form of a sinister apparition.
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There are many excellent reviews for the Crime Through Time Collection, but for every good review there's a negative one, but the unhappy reviewers aren't the easily offended or sensitive. Most of the negative reviews liken the museum to a junk shop.
Many are disappointed as they expect to learn what life was like inside a Victorian jail during their visit. After all the prison was world famous and is of architectural importance having been built by the leading prison architect of the day, William Blackburn. However, there is no story of the jail itself and very little of the interior of the building is visible behind the floor-to-ceiling exhibits which hide the true character of the building.
To make matters worse, the exhibits are fairly poorly organised and crammed into every available space. For instance, early on your walk around you'll find a promotional, life-sized Lara Croft figure stood beside a Dalek and a replica of a NASA space suit. Of course none of these three prominent pieces of the collection are anything to do with true crime or prison life.
Most of the walls and even some of the ceilings are covered in clippings from tabloid newspapers and celebrity gossip magazines. The sheer volume of these cuttings is truly overwhelming. You might pick out the odd headline of interest, but chances are you wouldn't have bothered to read most of the stories in the paper when they were originally printed.
There are unsettling photos of dead children, mutilated and deformed bodies, pictures of murder victims, Nazi memorabilia and Klu Klux Klan robes, but none of this was particularly horrific and no more harrowing than anything you'd see in news reports.
What makes these exhibits questionable is not what they depict, but the lack of context. Most of the disturbing images and displays are presented without any real historical depth and have a complete lack of any respect for the victims depicted.
The museum has everything from objects supposedly taken from the home of infamous serial killers Fred and Rosemary West, plus letters and artwork by "Britain's most notorious prisoner" Charles Bronson, who's currently incarcerated at HM Prison Woodhill in Milton Keynes.
The museum really is just a collection of mostly unorganised stuff and a lot of nudity. There is literally boobs and naked celebrities everywhere. From pictures of Emma Watson alongside news stories about underage fake nudes, to an artist's representation of Labour politician Diane Abbott's naked body.
There's also what is claimed to be the UK's biggest and most complete collection relating to the Holocaust, but surely the vast galleries spread over two floors at London's Imperial War Museum would take that title.
The Imperial War Museum, with its wealth of information and carefully curated exhibitions would be the Guardian or perhaps The Times of the museum world. Littledean Jail however is the Daily Mail. The exhibits are merely the equivalent of attention-grabbing tabloid headlines.
Is Littledean Jail the UK's most shocking museum? No. But neither is it the country's best museum. However, as an attraction it is worth a visit - if only to see what all the fuss is about. With so much crammed into such a relatively small building, there will be something of interest to everyone here. The problem is, it won't necessarily be true crime related.
As someone who loves a wander round an antique shop, I enjoyed my visit to the Crime Through Time Collection because really the museum doesn't amount to much more than a cluttered curiosities shop - albeit one where nothing is for sale. None of the items on display feel as valuable as the items on sale in an antique shop, but there are items of interest buried within the mass of things.
What might leave a bitter taste in some visitors' mouths is the cost. Because a walk around Littledean Jail amounts to an experience on a par with a browse of a curiosities shop, it almost feels wrong to have to pay when it's free to get into a shop. Perhaps if Littledean Jail added genuine value to the items on display there by providing more historical context, it might warrant the entry fee.
But at the end of the day, the Crime Through Time Museum at Littledean Jail is one of those places that you just need to see for yourself. You can visit Thursday to Sunday from April through until the end of October. Entry costs £10, but be warned bizarrely the attraction doesn't take card payments. You can find out more at the attraction's official website, littledeanjail.com.
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