ONE of Hereford's most historic buildings will open its doors to the public next month to celebrate its 200th anniversary.

The Shire Hall which was opened in 1817 still has its traditional court room, where prisoners were given the death penalty.

The Grade II listed building holds the sixth oldest working court in the country, which will be open to the public on September 9 when visitors will be able to visit the cells and the court rooms.

Councillor Brian Wilcox, chairman of Herefordshire Council said: "It will be fascinating for people to find out more about the history of the Shire Hall.

"It is hard to believe that people were sent for execution and transportation from here with a number of gruesome stories surrounding the treatment of the dead prisoners, including a prison governor who kept pigs and it was alleged he used to feed them the bodies. It will be a day not to miss."

Prisoners were given the death penalty inside the Shire Hall and an 's' shaped hook which held the black cap that the judge when they were sentencing a prisoner to execution is still by the judges chair .

Executions were carried out in St Peters square where the memorial is now.

The day will also consist of interactive exhibitions, talks by his Honour Judge Pearce-Higgins QC and Rhys Griffith, senior archivist at Herefordshire Archives and Record Centre.

Whilst the death penalty was passed long before Judge Pearce-Higgins began sitting as a judge, he has for the past 13 years sat frequently in the crown court in Hereford and Worcester.

He said: “One of the things I will talk on is the 1922 trial and subsequent hanging of Major Armstrong, the solicitor from Hay on Wye convicted of the murder of his wife, which remains of public interest.”

There will be an unveiling of a plaque celebrating the 200th anniversary of the building by Her Majesty’s Lord-Lieutenant of Herefordshire at 4pm to which all are welcome.

This will be followed by two performances by the Hereford Gilbert and Sullivan Operatic society of ‘Trial by Jury’, performed in the historic crown court room at 5pm and 7pm. Tickets are available for £5 from the Black and White House museum and from Herefordshire Archives and Record Centre in Rotherwas. Tickets will be available from Tuesday, August 15. 

As part of the Heritage Open days The Black and White House Museum will also be opening up its basement containing the impressive room safe from when the building was used as a bank, on Sept 9 from 10am to 4pm.

For more detailed information on the events at The Shire Hall and the Black and White House museum visit the Herefordshire Council's events page online.

Tickets to the Trial by Jury performance are available from Tuesday, August 15 at the Black and White House Museum or by ringing them on 01432 260694 or HARC on 01432 260750