Looking at the Museum of Belize as it stands today, tucked away on a narrow street known as Gaol Lane (the Old-English spelling for Jail) it is curious to realize that it was built more than a century and a half ago and that back then it served as a prison. Yes, construction on “Her Majesty’s Prison” was started in 1855, and completed in 1857. A previous prison, made of wood, was destroyed by fire.
This new structure was built with bricks, known as “London Stocks” brought from England, and used as ballast on ships. This new institution was named “Her Majesty’s Prison”, and faced the Caribbean Sea. Each window in the building designated one cell for one man. In 1910, with an increase in inmates, it had to be extended an additional 30 feet.
As horrific as it sounds to us today, prior to 1857, all executions and floggings took place in public. Eventually, it ceased, with only public floggings taking place up and down Albert and Regent Streets, in downtown Belize City.
Subsequently, executions were carried out in the main corridor of H.M.P., which now serves as the main entrance of the Museum of Belize.
In 1998, the Government of Belize landed over the old prison to the National Institute of Culture and History (NICH) and the Museum of Belize. With financial aid from both Mexico and Taiwan, a complete renovation was done, and the Museum of Belize was officially opened on February 5th, 2002.
Prior to this, the Bliss Institute as well as the former “Government House” also served as interim House of Culture.
House of Culture
Today the Museum of Belize oversees all Houses of Culture, mostly as they relate to Education and Exhibits. Its mandate is to highlight and enhance our culture and historical heritage. In essence, the House of Heritage functions as dynamic, creative community centers where neighbors, residents, and students can come together to learn, teach and pursue their favorite cultural activity. Houses of Culture work with children youth, adults, and senior citizens, as well as the physically impaired in the fields of music, literature, dance, drama and the plastic arts.
They carry out activities at health and disability centers, at homes for children and senior citizens, using schools as the most important venues.
In March 2004, the re-opening of the newly refurbished MOB was celebrated.
It continues to carry out its objectives through planning, policy, marketing, outreach exhibitions as well as activities, tours and art classes.
Drop-in and get a feel for what Belize was like in the past, as well as marvel at the largest insect and butterfly collection permanently on display.
Written by: Nelita Castillo