Darwin in use: Shire Hall Historic Courthouse

Shire Hall is a brand new Historic Courthouse museum which re-opened to great acclaim in May 2018.

Shire Hall uses Darwin for their audio tours and for a series of iPad-based family guides. To  find out more about how this works in practise, please see below!


Audio tour

The audio tour uses stop numbers to allow visitors to access audio and to delve deeper into content.

Each stop on the tour’s home page is accessed via a number (relating to a real sign within the actual tour). Each stop auto-plays audio and provides a ‘more info’ panel which gives access to:

  • an audio transcription
  • more audio, going into further detail
  • 100s of archive documents, with pinch and zoom functionality

Visitors can also take selfies as they move around the courthouse and email them home in an automatically generated collage.

Shire Hall have also provided a simple version which simply auto-plays the audio for each stop and then returns to the home page. For visitors with poor sight, Shire Hall staff can lend them the tour running on an iPad. The iPads are normally reserved for the Family Guide, but using Darwin means they can play any story on any registered device!


Hardware setup

The set up is very straightforward and is managed on a day to day basis by volunteers.

iPod Touches

The tour is run on a 32GB iPod touch, running Darwin mPlayer. The tour is a Darwin ‘story’ which Shire Hall can update whenever they wish. Visitors do not see Darwin; they experience the tour as if it were a standalone app.

Charging rack

The iPods are charged on a ParaSync i30 charging rack. This also comes with a free case for each iPod touch. The iPods are held by visitors using a Shire Hall branded lanyard.


Shire Hall allows visitors to use their own headphones, if they have them. Alternatively they can use the provided over-ear headphones, or purchase a disposable pair for £1.99

Payment and deposit

The audio tour is provided with the main entry ticket. For a deposit,  they use a credit card holder (like this one).

Visitor feedback

The tours, being a central part of the visitor experience, have been very successful for Shire Hall. Below are some random visitor quotes, taken with thanks from Tripadvisor!

‘Visited as a family today and very reasonable price for a family ticket at £20. We found the whole thing very interesting. The audio tours available and chance to take selfies and email them to yourself in the various hats and outfits was so good for younger visitors. I loved it too!

The various audio tours available were really interesting featuring 4 real criminal cases.

The visits to the Victorian and Georgian cells were also really interesting. Some very difficult stories to hear.

You got to visit real cells and a real courthouse. Powerful stuff.

Highly recommended.’

‘… Very clever use of different approaches to draw you through the museum, from a well done audio tour where you select the character of a past prisoner, to the trying on of hats in the jury seats only to find little mirrors underneath to see what you look like. Well worth a visit.’

‘The building has been wonderfully restored, the cafe and shop are well stocked and reasonably priced (love the Dorset Star cider) and the audio tour is engaging, informative and makes you think. A really good half day out.’

‘We received a warm welcome – we gift aided as every museum needs our support – in return we got an annual pass with an excellent audio tour – for me unlike other experiences with audio equipment this one was convenient with a proper headphones leaving you to be hands-free – tick v.g. – thank you…

The tour takes you through the Georgian and Victorian cells where prisoners led a sub-human existence whilst awaiting trial and sentencing – and finally up a set of stairs to the courtroom where the trial of the Tolpuddle Martyrs is brought to life and where they faced the class based injustice of the legal system….

Throughout the self-guided tour there are informative guides on hand to provide additional commentary and information as well as answering questions

For me this was an enjoyable informative and salutary experience as it shows how far we have come as a Society – thank you’

‘What a great little museum this is! I thought the audio tour was very good. You could choose to hear from the perspective of one of four possible characters from the past. I had George Loveless, leader of the Tolpuddle Martyrs. It doesn’t cost any extra to use the narration and while I don’t think it would be necessary for the enjoyment of the museum it just added an extra dimension.
I thought the displays were were well laid out and designed and being able to see the preserved cells gave a flavour of the terrible conditions prisoners had to endure.
Albeit we were two adults, we had fun in the courtroom above trying on the judge’s robes and wig and sitting on the bench while we took photos. No-one else around helped!
The exhibition upstairs covering more recent human rights struggles proved equally absorbing.
All in all, very worthwhile.’

Can my museum do this?

Yes! With less than two weeks work you can have a fully working Darwin story installed onto iPod Touches and rent them out to visitors.

Darwin makes it very easy for museums to create their own tours from scratch but if you would like help from us, at any stage of development, please get in touch.

With Darwin we have created a wide range of digital tours and exhibits.  It is at the heart of our digital offering.

Anna Bright

Director, Shire Hall Historic Courthouse

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