The Royal Courts of Justice, commonly called the Law Courts, is a court building in Westminster which houses the High Court and Court of Appeal of England and Wales. The High Court also sits on circuit and in other major cities. Designed by George Edmund Street, who died before it was completed, it is a large grey stone edifice in the Victorian Gothic style built in the 1870s and opened by Queen Victoria in 1882. It is one of the largest courts in Europe. It is a Grade I listed building.
|Royal Courts of Justice|
|Architectural style||Gothic Revival|
City of Westminster
|Town or city||London|
|Current tenants||HM Courts & Tribunals Service|
|Material||Portland stone ashlar and red bricks with granite, marble and red sandstone dressings and slate and lead roofing|
|Design and construction|
|Architect||George Edmund Street|
|Main contractor||Messrs Bull & Sons|
|Public transit access||Temple|
|Official name||Royal Courts of Justice: The Law Courts, Screen Walls, Gates, Railings and Lamps|
|Designated||5 February 1970|
It is located on Strand within the City of Westminster, near the border with the City of London (Temple Bar). It is surrounded by the four Inns of Court, St Clement Danes church, The Australian High Commission, King's College London and the London School of Economics. The nearest London Underground stations are Chancery Lane and Temple. The Central Criminal Court, widely known as the Old Bailey after its street, is about 1⁄2 mile (0.8 km) to the east — a Crown Court centre with no direct connection with the Royal Courts of Justice.
For centuries these courts were located in Westminster Hall; however, in the 19th century, justices decided that a new purpose built structure was seen as needed. Much of the preparatory legal work was completed by Edwin Wilkins Field including promotion of the Courts of Justice Building Act of 1865 and the Courts of Justice Concentration (Site) Act of 1865. A statue of Field stands in the building. Parliament paid £1,453,000 for the 6-acre (24,000 m2) site upon which 450 houses had to be demolished.
The search for a design for the Law Courts was by way of a competition, a then-common approach to selecting a design and an architect. The competition ran from 1866 to 1867 and the twelve architects competing for the contract each submitted designs for the site. In 1868 it was finally decided that George Edmund Street was the winner. Building was started in 1873 by Messrs Bull & Sons of Southampton. Its masons led a serious strike at an early stage which threatened to extend to the other trades and caused a temporary stoppage of the works. In consequence, foreign workmen were brought in – mostly Germans. This aroused bitter hostility on the part of the men on strike, and the newcomers had to be housed and fed within the building. However, these disputes were eventually settled and the building took eight years to complete; it was officially opened by Queen Victoria on 4 December 1882.
Street died before the building was opened, overcome by the work. The building was paid for by cash accumulated in court from the estates of the intestate to the sum of £700,000. Oak work and fittings in the court cost a further £70,000 and with decoration and furnishing the total cost for the building came to under £1 million.
The building was extended to the designs of Sir Henry Tanner to create the West Green building completed in 1912. The Queen's Building followed in 1968 and the Thomas More Courts were completed in January 1990.
The design involved a symmetrical main frontage of facing The Strand; the central section, which is stepped back, featured a arched doorway leading to the Great Hall; it had a five-part window in a carved surround on the first floor and a gable containing a rose window above. At the top of the gable was a sculpture of Christ with a flèche behind. There towers containing lancet windows on either side of the central section with side wings beyond. Internally, courts are arranged off the Great Hall which ran north–south; there was a courtyard to the east with offices for courtroom staff arranged round the courtyard. The Great Hall contains a bust of Queen Victoria by the sculptor, Alfred Gilbert.
Pevsner described the building as "an object lesson in free composition, with none of the symmetry of the classics, yet not undisciplined where symmetry is abandoned." David Brownlee claimed that it was influenced by the reformist political movement and the High Victorian architectural movement and described it as a "regular mongrel affair" while Turnor described it as the "last great secular building of the Gothic Revival".
- Historic England. "Royal Courts of Justice: The Law Courts, Screen Walls, Gates, Railings and Lamps (1264258)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 18 October 2020.
- "Royal Courts of Justice visitors guide". HM Courts Service. Archived from the original on 24 July 2010. Retrieved 15 December 2008.
- Harper 1983, p. 96.
- "Royal Courts of Justice". E-Architect. Retrieved 21 October 2020.
- "Main (or Great) Hall". The Victoria Web. Retrieved 21 October 2020.
- "Nosing around the Royal Courts of Justice". Chambers Student Guide 2011. Retrieved 18 October 2020.
- Kirk, Tristan (11 January 2021). "New 'Nightingale' courts open in High Court in Covid response". www.standard.co.uk.
- "Bust of Queen Victoria". Victorian Web. Retrieved 21 October 2020.
- Bradley, Simon; Pevsner, Nikolaus; Schofield, John (2003). London 6: Westminster. Yale University Press. pp. 311–314. ISBN 978-0300095951.
- "That 'regular mongrel affair': G. G. Scott's design for the government offices". Cambridge University Press. 12 July 2016. doi:10.2307/1568531. Cite journal requires
- Turnor, Reginald (1950). Nineteenth Century Architecture in Britain. London: Batsford. p. 86.
- Wells, Henry Tanworth. "Queen Victoria Opening of the Royal Courts of Justice, 1882". Art UK. Retrieved 21 October 2020.
- Brownlee, D. (1984). The Law Courts: The Architecture of George Edmund Street. MIT Press.
- Sir John Summerson, Victorian Architecture (1970) pp 77–107
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