ArchitectureLondon

The 10 Oldest Court Buildings in the UK

The Courts of England and Wales have enjoyed a somewhat turbulent history that has taken in the creation and abolishment of innumerate courts, religious overhauls and even the execution of witches.

Until only 650 years ago, the Courts of England Wales used French as the primary language and up until the 20th century many legal terms were still expressed solely in Latin.

The various Courts of England and Wales were merged in 1873 under the Supreme Court of Judicature, but many of their historical buildings are still used today.


Westminster Hall – 1097

The oldest existing part of the Palace of Westminster, the Westminster Hall was the largest hall in Europe when erected. The hall has served a number of judiciary functions, housing the Court of King’s Bench, the Court of Common Pleas and the Court of Chancery until they were amalgamated into the High Court of Justice.

Westminster Hall has housed many of the UK’s most historically significant trials such as the state trial of King Charles I at the end of the English Civil War and the trail of Guy Fawkes.

So protective of Westminster Hall are us Brits that the only foreign leaders granted access to the building since World War 2 are Charles de Gaulle, Nelson Mandela, Pope Benedict XVI, Barack Obama and Aug San Suu Kyi.

Westminster Hall - Brian Rosner


Old Bailey – 1585

Now officially known as the Central Criminal Court of England and Wales, the first mention of a court on the site of the Old Bailey was in 1585.

Sat atop the court is a bronze statue of Lady Justice. Holding a sword in one hand and the scales of justice in the other, the statue reportedly represents blind justice.

Much of the Old Bailey building was heavily damaged during The Blitz, but the restored halls were opened again by 1952.

Old Bailey - Amanda Slater


Aylesbury County Hall – 1740

Despite being named for neighbouring Buckingham, Aylesbury is the county town of Buckinghamshire, thanks in part to its larger population and predominant Court of Quarter Sessions, housed in County Hall.

The 18th century architecture of the building has been somewhat overshadowed by the adjoining 1960s office block built to accommodate an expanding workforce. This office block has been built in the brutalist style that was prevalent in the decade and has received a decidedly mixed reaction from the public.

Aylesbury by Roland Turner


Bow Street Magistrates’ Court – 1740

From rather innocuous beginnings, Bow Street Magistrates’ Court became England’s most famous court for much of its life. Established when Westminster Justice, Colonel Sir Thomas de Veil, sat as a magistrate in his home at number 4.

The court’s early days were busied by the rise of crime due to gin consumption. Magistrate Henry Fielding once claimed that every fourth house in Covent Garden was a gin house.

A number of famous defendants have passed through the Bow Street Magistrates’ Court, including Emmeline Pankhurst, the Kray Twins, Oscar Wilde and General Pinochet.

Bow Street - Leonard Bentley


Bristol Guildhall – 1840s

Across the road from the current Bristol Crown Court, Bristol Guildhall has most recently been moonlighting as Bristol’s Arts Centre. Built by famed British architect Richard Shackleton Pope, Bristol Guildhall was the city’s Crown Court venue for more than 150 years.

The beautiful façade and interiors were used for the sets of the TV series Crown Court.

Bristol Guildhall - Tim Green


House of Lords, Westminster Palace – 1851

Until the establishment of the Supreme Court in 2009, the House of Lords was still the final court of appeal in the British judicial system. Made up of Lords Temporal and Lords Spiritual, the House of Lords also scrutinises legal bills that have been given approval by the House of Commons.

The House of Lords was once the court that tried peers charged with treason or felony and was presided over by the Lord Chancellor.

House of Lords - Peter Broster


Royal Courts of Justice – 1882

Housing both the High Court and Court of Appeal of England and Wales, the Royal Courts of Justice is still incredibly pertinent in the UK judiciary system. Formally opened in 1882 by Queen Victoria, the courts are still publicly accessible to members of the public.

The building of the courts was nearly compromised following a serious masons strike. Construction was resumed when foreign workmen – mostly German – were brought in to continue the work.

Royal Courts of Justice - Anthony Majanlahti


Victoria Law Courts – 1891

The Grade I listed, red brick and terracotta Victoria Law Courts in Birmingham is still to this day the home of the Birmingham Magistrates’ Court. A statue of Queen Victoria, created by Harry Bates, overlooks the entrance.

The Queen herself laid the foundation stone in 1887, during her Golden Jubilee year and was originally built to be the first assize courts in Birmingham.

Victoria Law Courts - Tony Hisgett


Middlesex Guildhall – 1913

Home of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom and of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council; the Middlesex Guildhall stands on the south-west corner of London’s Parliament Square.

Decorated with medieval gargoyles, the art nouveau gothic building was built on the site of a market ageing back to 1750.

Moving the Supreme Court to Middlesex Guildhall attracted significant criticism in 2007. Conservative groups believed that too much renovation work would have to be carried out on the Grade II listed building.
Middlesex Guildhall - Leonard Bentley


Inner London Sessions Crown Court – 1917

The Inner London Sessions Crown Court is the current incarnation on the site upon which there has been judicial building continuously since 1794.

Based in Newington, London, the building is immediately to the north west of the Newington Gardens, the former location of the Horsemonger Lane Gaol – made famous by Charles Dickens’ attendance of public hangings.

Charles Dickens - Jim, The Photographer


Written By

Stephen Breen

Stephen Breen is the senior partner at Breens Solicitors, a law firm with offices in Southport and Liverpool.

Colin
Interior design nerd, co-owner of CSW.