The Shire Hall is a public building in Stafford, England, completed in 1798 to a design by John Harvey.[1][2] Formerly a courthouse, it housed an art gallery which closed to the public in July 2017.[3][4] The court rooms and cells are preserved.[1] The building, its interiors, and the associated street furniture were grade II* listed on 17 December 1971,[2] when it was described as "One of the finest public buildings in Stafford".[2]

Shire Hall, Stafford
LocationStafford, Staffordshire
Coordinates52°48′26″N 2°07′00″W / 52.8073°N 2.1167°W / 52.8073; -2.1167
ArchitectJohn Harvey
Architectural style(s)Neoclassical style
Listed Building – Grade II*
Designated16 January 1951
Reference no.1298177
Shire Hall, Stafford is located in Staffordshire
Shire Hall, Stafford
Location of Shire Hall, Stafford in Staffordshire

Earlier buildings edit

The current building is the third of similar function on the site.[1] The county court met in Stafford as early as 1176.[1] A shire hall, home to the county court and other civic functions, stood on the north side of what is now Market Square in the 1280s.[1] In the 1580s, the decision was made to rebuild the shire hall, on a new site,[1] but this was not completed until 1607, probably due to difficulties raising the money needed.[1] By 1793, it had been decided, due to the building’s poor condition caused by inadequate maintenance, that a new building was needed,[1] and the Stafford Shire Hall Act 1794 was passed by Parliament.[5]

Architecture edit

Designs were submitted by Samuel Wyatt, then working at nearby Shugborough Hall, and by John Nash, but the one chosen was by John Harvey - his only significant building.[1] Harvey had worked as Wyatt's assistant or pupil,[2] and Wyatt is believed to have been involved in the final Neoclassical style design.[1][2]

Building began in 1795, and the hall was completed in 1798.[1][2] The hall has nine ashlar bays[2] above a rusticated ground floor.[2] The portico has an architrave and pediment, supported by four Doric columns.[1] Figures of Justice and Mercy, by John Rossi and his partner John Bingley, recline on the pediment.[1] A clock was placed between them in 1799, instead of the planned figure of Britannia from Harvery's original design.[1] Also abandoned was Wyatt's proposal to include judges' living accommodation.[1]

Interior edit

Immediately behind the facade is the Great Hall, 72 by 32 by 39 feet (22 m × 10 m × 12 m), with three galleries.[1] Beyond this are the two courtrooms: Court 1 (now open to the public, with displays of museum artefacts related to crime and policing) for the High Court and Court 2, the magistrates' court.[1] The latter has many original fittings, but the former was enlarged by the county surveyor, Charles Trubshaw, and refitted by local joiner Thomas Bull, in 1854.[1]

The 1854 remodelling extended the building over a market for dairy produce, The Butter Market. As a result, a new market hall was built nearby, across the market square.[1] The basement included a guard room (holding cell) for prisoners, and the Mayor of Stafford's office.[1] In 1947, one of the courtrooms was used in the filming of Blanche Fury, starring Stewart Granger.[1]

Judges edit

The memorial to Thomas Noon Talfourd

John Sparrow was Chairman of Stafford Quarter Sessions when the new building opened. His portrait, by William Owen, is in Court 2.[1] Another judge, Thomas Noon Talfourd, collapsed and died while in the court. He is commemorated by a bust, sculpted by John Graham Lough, in Court 1.[1]

Trials edit

Among those tried at the Shire Hall were the forger William Booth, who was convicted before Simon Le Blanc and hanged outside Stafford Gaol in 1812.[6][7] The trial in the case of the murder of Christina Collins was held there in July 1839: Colin Dexter based his eighth Inspector Morse novel, The Wench Is Dead on the case.[6] In 1923, George Stagg was convicted of the murder by shooting of Aston Villa footballer Tommy Ball. His death sentence was commuted, and he died in 1966 in a mental hospital in Birmingham.[8][9] In 1970, Raymond Leslie Morris was convicted of the Cannock Chase murders in the Shire Hall[6] and, in 1979, the spree killer, Barry Williams, was convicted of manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility there.[10]

Shire Hall Gallery edit

The Shire Hall continued to be used as a criminal court until the Stafford Combined Court Centre in Victoria Square opened in 1991.[1] Staffordshire County Council decided to renovate and adapt it, completing the work in 1993 with some funding by English Heritage.[1] The Great Hall became an art gallery, featuring visiting exhibitions and temporary displays of material from the Staffordshire County Museum collection,[1] and occasionally part of the Staffordshire Hoard.[11] The former courtyard was glazed over and is now part of a suite of council offices, including the former Grand Jury Room which retains part of its 18th-century dado.[1] The gallery closed in July 2017.[12] The building continues to be used for one-off events and various options for future use have been submitted to the county council for consideration.[13][14]

See also edit

References edit

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa Anon. The Shire Hall Gallery Guide. Staffordshire County Council.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Historic England. "Shire Hall and Attached Railings, Gates and Lamp Standards, Stafford (1298177)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 23 August 2019.
  3. ^ "Shire Hall Gallery". Staffordshire County Council. Archived from the original on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 14 November 2018.
  4. ^ "The Shire Hall Gallery". Art UK. Retrieved 14 November 2018.
  5. ^ "An Act for Building a New Shire Hall for the County of Stafford, 1794". The Sutherland Collection. Retrieved 23 August 2019.
  6. ^ a b c Anon (2009). Crime and Punishment in Staffordshire. Staffordshire Arts and Museum Service.
  7. ^ "William Booth by an unknown artist". Digital Handsworth. Birmingham City Council. Archived from the original on 3 April 2012. Retrieved 8 November 2011.
  8. ^ Spink, Derrick (4 August 2010). "Villa History – Murder Most Foul". Retrieved 3 November 2011.
  9. ^ Cowan, Mark (6 May 2010). "The star Villa player shot dead by neighbour". Birmingham Mail. From the archives. Retrieved 3 November 2011.
  10. ^ "Gunman who shot 5 sent to Broadmoor". The Glasgow Herald. 27 March 1979. p. 3. Retrieved 4 February 2023.
  11. ^ "Staffordshire horde descend on Westminster". Staffordshire Hoard. 5 July 2011. Archived from the original on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 23 November 2012.
  12. ^ "Farewell vigil as Stafford's Shire Hall locked up". Express and Star. 5 July 2017. Retrieved 23 August 2019.
  13. ^ "Ideas still welcome for the future of Stafford's Shire Hall". Stoke Sentinel. 4 October 2017.
  14. ^ "Stafford's iconic Shire Hall could be brought back to life". Express and Star. 21 May 2019.

External links edit