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Listed Building
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Statutory Address:

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

Cheshire West and Chester (Unitary Authority)
Chester Castle
National Grid Reference:
SJ 40503 65795


SJ 4065 NW CHESTER CASTLE CASTLE SQUARE SJ 4065 NE 4/604 and Assize Courts Block 2/604 (formerly listed as Assize Courts) 1.6.67


Court house block and offices. 1788-1801. By Thomas Harrison of Chester. Keuper sandstone ashlar having slate roof with lead flashings. Set on a sloping site the building has two storeys to the western front and four to the east. E-shaped block. Facade facing Castle Square: 19 bays symmetrically disposed. Projecting plinth, moulded string-course and cornice with modillion frieze and plain attic above, all running around whole of building. Central projecting portion of 7 bays of smooth ashlar, the ranges to either side being of rock-faced rustication. Hexastyle Greek Doric portico with monolithic unfluted columns to centre and second row of columns behind. Coffered ceiling above with rows of ½ mutules to sides of coffers. Plain tympanum and attic above with moulding to top. Within the portico at ground floor level is a recession with three arched niches with flat backs and lateral double doors with fanlights over at the level of whose springing runs a string course. Similar double doors to near sides in concave arched niches. To first floor above all ground floor portico bays are square, slightly recessed, panels with moulded surrounds. To either side of the portico are further double doors with rectangular fanlights over and moulded door surrounds and hoods supported on fluted consoles. Wrought iron lamp brackets immediately above and slightly recessed square panels with moulded surrounds to first floor. Ranges of 5 symmetrically disposed bays to either side. Central double doorways set in slight ground floor projections. Flat head with splayed voussoirs above. Above these is a plain piece of ashlar supporting a cornice with modillion frieze. Ground floor windows to either side of these of 3 x 4 panes and first floor windows of 3 x 2 panes and with flat heads and splayed voussoirs. To either side are slightly projecting single bays with the same window arrangement. To either end are ground floor colonnades of 3 bays with unfluted monolithic Greek Doric columns in antis. The colonnade to left is open to both front and rear, that to right was originally similar but the building of the Nisi Prius Court by T M Lockwood in 1875 behind made it into an entrance porch with ½-columns to the centre rear and ¼-antae to the corners with double doors to the centre of 3 panels each. Plain entablature above. Rear: 19 bays symmetrically disposed. Central bay of smooth ashlar, the remainder of rock-faced rustication with ashlar dressings. Central three bays project slightly with projecting semi-octagonal bay to centre. The lateral bays also project slightly. The lower two floors form one continuous range, the supper two floors, which are the rear of the Castle Square elevation, are flush with the central three-bay and lateral one-bay projections but are otherwise recessed forming two 3-sided courtyards. Ashlar bands run across the front at the level of the ground floor door lintels and the first floor window sills. Ashlar cornice and frieze at level of second floor roof extending across projections as a string course. Central semi-octagonal bay has projecting plinth. Blind doorways to centre of each face with lintels above and lunette windows over. First floor windows have sunken panels below arched windows. Second floor windows of Grand Jury Room have arched heads and sunken panels below and band at level of springing of arches. Third floor paired sash windows of 3 x 4 panes to each face with band extending across facade at level of sills. All the windows have splayed voussoirs. The bays to either side of this central feature and the projecting lateral bays are essentially similar and have cell doors to ground floor with lunette windows above. First floor arched windows, second floor arched windows recessed and set in ashlar surrounds. Single light windows to second floor. Between these are the seven bay two-storey ranges with cell doors to ground floor with lucarnes over. Lunette windows to first floor also. Interior: Shire Hall, now Crown Court; Semi-circular in plan with ambulatory screen of ten monolithic Ionic columns to curved side of room with antae supporting entablature with plain ashlar frieze. Arched and rectangular niches with aedicular surrounds to curved wall with rectangular sunken panels above with moulded surrounds. Coffered ceiling to ambulatory and to semi- circular dome with painted central panels and four late C19 skylights to outer edge. Screen to centre of flat wall of two columns and antae with recess behind originally forming the surround to the judges seat. (Seating plan now reversed.) The plan is very similar to that of Harrison's Gothick Shire Hall at Lancaster Castle of the 1790s and derives ultimately from Gondoin's Chirurgie in the Ecole de Medecine Paris or Palladio's Teatro Olimpico at Vicenza. Two barrel vaulted rooms to either side of Judge's recess with panelled ceilings and lunette windows. Central Waiting Hall: Six plain niches to northern wall with pilasters between supporting Doric entablature. Similar pilasters and frieze to southern wall. Panelled ceiling with central skylight of clear, pink and yellow glass decorated with anthemia. Number 2 Court (added by T M Lockwood in 1875 as a Nisi Prius court room) pilasters to walls bearing Doric entablature. Blank arches between coved wooden panelled ceiling with central rectangular skylight containing coloured glass. Chapel: Segmental barrel vault to nave and semi- octagonal chancel with ambulatory of four Tuscan columns with projecting bases. Northern (ritual western) end now blocked off and galleries removed.

The two courtyards at the right and left of the building were originally exercise yards for the male and female debtors respectively. The semi-octagonal felons jail (now demolished) originally radiated from below the central bay with the governor's house in the right hand wing. The jail was thus the first in England to have been built on the overview principle advocated by John Howard in his State of the Prisons of 1780 and later by Jeremy Bentham in his publication Panopticon of 1791. Harrison also received direct advice as to planning from the prison architect William Blackburn in 1784.

M Dupin said of the building that "The Sessions House and Panoptic prison of Chester are united in the same building which is most assuredly the handsomest of this kind that is to be seen in Europe. The interior arrangements are well-contrived and bespeak much regard for humanity. The architecture is equally simple and majestic". The Builder,( Vol 21, p.204.

The Assize Courts block, still little altered since Harrison's day, demonstrates his international stature as a Neo-classical architect and his obsessive perfectionism in the execution of a major commission.

Sources: Frank Simpson - "Chester Castle AD 907-1925". Journal of Journal of the Architectural, Archaeolo- gical and Historic Society, Chester and North Wales. New Series Vol XXVI Part II. Nikolaus Pevsner and - The Buildings of England : Cheshire. Edward Hubbard J Mordaunt Crook - "The Architecture of Thomas Harrison". Country Life, 22 April 1971. Moira A R Ockrim - "Thomas Harrison and the Rebuilding of Chester Castle: A History and Reassess- ment". Journal of the Chester Archaeolo- gical Society. Vol.66, 1983.

Listing NGR: SJ4050365795


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

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Books and journals
Pevsner, N, Hubbard, E, The Buildings of England: Cheshire, (1971)
'Country Life' in 22 April, (1971)
'Journal of the Architectural Archaeological and Historic Society Chester and NWA' in The Architectural Archaeological and Historic Society , , Vol. 26, ()
'Journal of the Chester Archeaological Society' in Journal of the Chester Archeaological Society, , Vol. 66, (1983)
'The Builder' in The Builder, , Vol. 21, (), 204


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: 24 Jun 2001
Reference: IOE01/03254/08
Rights: Copyright IoE Mr Michael J Tuck. Source Historic England Archive
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