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Listed Building
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Ordnance survey map of SHIRE HALL
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Statutory Address:

The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

East Hertfordshire (District Authority)
National Grid Reference:
TL 32672 12596



TL3212NE FORE STREET 817-1/17/63 (North side) 10/02/50 No.15 Shire Hall


Assembly rooms and courthouse (cornmarket 1771-1849). 1767-71, Architect James Adam, altered 1885, County Surveyor Urban A Smith, attic added 1902, restored 1988-90, County Architect John Onslow, Project Architect Russell Moye. Brown stock brick (north elevation red-brown brick), Flemish bond, with Portland stone ashlar dressings, columns, entablature and cornice, hipped Welsh slated roof with lead roll hips. EXTERIOR: 4 storeys (including 2 mezzanines). Principal elevation faces east, tripartite composition with projecting wings and recessed centre, each subdivided into 3 bays. Tall 12 paned sash windows, recessed under rubbed brick flat arches, with stone sills, alternate vertically with squat 6 paned fixed sashes, with coursed brickwork taken across their heads. Plat band at main first-floor level. Centre has restored 'great window' (1988-1990), design based on contemporary engravings, giant 18:30:18-pane sashes recessed between an Ionic order in antis, with pedestals to columns and pilasters linked by blind balustrades each with a moulded top rail and band, and swagged frieze with paterae. Moulded cornice with blocking piece runs around building perimeter at eaves level. Ground floor has triple arched entry (the central arch slightly higher) with brick antae with stone plinths, capitals and semicircular arches with moulded surrounds, recessed modern plate-glass screen and entrance doors and recessed brick panel and first floor plat band. North elevation of red-brown brick, and of 9 bays. Tripartite division, with central projecting segmental bow window; outer facades blank with first floor having large recessed panels, corresponding to windows on east elevation, with yellow rubbed brick flat arches and smaller recesses above. First floor plat band, ground floor with similar outer panels, flanking central higher semicircular arched panel; central bow has three 12 and 15 paned sashes on first and ground floors, with blank panels above the former. West elevation of 9 bays, with break forward of extreme left and right bays. First floor with 5 central recessed 12-pane sash windows beneath rubbed brick arches, 2 similar-sized blank panels left and right and 9 small blank panels above. First floor plat band. Ground floor has recessed panel with

rubbed brick arch set within semicircular arched panel, with stone plinth and impost blocks to first bay left and right. Centre has 7 bay arcade with stone antae, impost blocks and semicircular stone arches, with recessed modern plate glass doors and screens. South elevation generally as north elevation but brown brick throughout: above cornice level is a clock erected in 1824, supplied by John Briant, the Hertford bell founder, supported on iron girders and brackets, with a slate hung enclosure and roof with moulded barge boards added 1866. INTERIOR: the interior was comprehensively refurbished in 1988-90, with restoration of the major Adam interiors, but an acceptance of the use of a more frankly modern design in fittings and finishes elsewhere. The ground floor west room, originally an open arcaded corn exchange is now subdivided for magistrates' accommodation, with custodial cells on the first floor mezzanine. The entrance hall has restored apsidal ends, leading into the central foyer with a spiral stair which rises to the first floor Round Room. The north and south courts have been restored to their original dimensions, with Tuscan Doric columns reinstated as gallery supports in the latter, and ceiling cornices reinstated to original profiles. The first-floor Round Room or Rotunda was originally planned as the Hertford Council Chamber, is toplit by a central oculus, and has 4 large semicircular headed niches on the diagonals. The spiral stair from the ground floor has brass handrails and toughened glass balusters surrounding its well. The vestibule or ante-room on the east front behind the restored 'grand window', has restored apsidal ends arch with 2 smaller niches within, Ionic pilasters, and a dentil frieze. The two courtrooms are of similar proportions: the Family Court (north room) has a restored cornice with plain frieze, ovolo band, upper cyma cornice, bold core, and gilded guilloche and rosette band, the old Council Chamber (south room) has a similar cornice, and a mid C18 white marble chimneypiece with heavy carved egg-and-dart surround, pilasters with rope and buds, consoles with acanthus leaves, and friezed with carved scrolls, shells and rosettes. The Assembly Room on the east side has 5 bays, with apsidal ends, 50 feet by 25 feet; central entrance on west wall. Tuscan Doric columns in antis form screens to the apses, moulded bases, fluted necking and egg-and-dart moulding to the echinus. Ceiling originally vaulted, but due to settlement and the lack of restraint to the assembly room roof below collar level, the vault was replaced with a ceiling 4 feet lower, c1800, with a dentil frieze and cornice, bold cove, and gilded guilloche band with acanthus leaves. HISTORICAL NOTE: Shire Hall was built on the site of The

Sessions House, 1627, erected by Charter of Charles I, but inadequate for its purpose by mid C18. By Act of Parliament of George III, 1768, a levy was imposed to finance a new Shire Hall. Advertisements were placed for a design to incorporate 2 courts, a room for the Corporation of Hertford, and both with and without a County Room; six applicants were shortlisted and Robert and James Adam were selected, with an initial cost of »4950, exceeded by »2500 (partly accounted for by the decision to include the County Room (Assembly Room) after all). James Adam took charge of the project which was constructed between April 1769 and April 1771 (the original undertaking had stipulated Michaelmas 1770). The arcaded western ground floor was used by the Corn Exchange until 1849. The Assembly Room, has been identified with Jane Austen's 'Pride and Prejudice', with Hertford as the fictional 'Merrytown', and the room was used throughout the century as a concert and theatrical venue. The Hertford Board of Guardians of the Poor met in the building from 1835 until 1930, and Hertford Borough Council held its meetings there for many years, and County Council quarterly meetings alternated between Shire Hall and St Albans between 1889 and 1939. The Quarter Sessions and Assizes were held in the building until 1971, when the Crown Court was created, and moved to St Albans, but it continues to be used by the local bench, County Court and Coroner's Court. The position of the building created an impediment to traffic flow from the 1920s, and it was suggested that the building should be demolished: in the early 1930s it was proposed to alter the building substantially to accommodate the County Council, but the project was abandoned when the Leahoe site in Pegs Lane was acquired. In collaboration with the Home Office, the County Council restored the building 1988-90, and the project was Commended by The Civic Trust in 1992. (Turnor L: History of Hertford: Hertford: 1830-: 290-2; Victoria History of the Counties of England: Hertfordshire: London: 1902-1912: 490-1; East Herts Archaeological Society Newsletter: Shire Hall: Hertford: 1949-1953; Hertfordshire Countryside: Moodey G: Old buildings in the County Town: Letchworth: 1946-1973: 46; The Buildings of England: Pevsner N: Hertfordshire: Harmondsworth: 1977-: 186; Page FM: History of Hertford: Hertford: 1993-: 111,123-4; Architectural Review: Bolton AT: 1918-: 68-73; Hertfordshire Countryside: Campbell D: The Shire Hall: Letchworth: 1970-: 186; Hertfordshire County Architects: The Restoration of Shire Hall, Hertford: 1990-).

Listing NGR: TL3267212596


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

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Books and journals
Doubleday, AH, The Victoria History of the County of Hertford, (1902), 490-491
Hertfordshire County Architects, , The Restoration of Shire Hall Hertford, (1990)
Page, F M, History of Hertford, (1993), 111 123-4
Pevsner, N, Cherry, B, The Buildings of England: Hertfordshire, (1977), 186
Turnor, L , History of Hertford, (1830), 290-292
'East Hertfordshire Archaeological Society Newsletter' in East Hertfordshire Archaeological Society Newsletter, (1949-1953)
'Hertfordshire Countryside' in Hertfordshire Countryside, (1946-1973), 46
'Hertfordshire Countryside' in Hertfordshire Countryside, (1970), 186
Bolton, A T, 'Architectural Review' in April, (1918), 68-73


This building is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as amended for its special architectural or historic interest.

End of official listing

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Date: 05 Jun 2001
Reference: IOE01/03119/15
Rights: Copyright IoE Mr A. Gude. Source Historic England Archive
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