Heritage Category:
Listed Building
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Statutory Address:

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

West Devon (District Authority)
National Grid Reference:
SX 48224 74409




Purpose-built combined court and police station with former police accommodation block and fire engine house. Circa 1848, incorporating some late-C15 fabric. Late C19 and late C20 alterations. Designed initially by John Foulston and then by Theophilus Jones for the Duke of Bedford.

MATERIALS: Mostly Hurdwick stone with granite dressings and an embattled parapet above a moulded cornice. Crocketted pinnacles to the parapets. The roofs are slate. The window openings consist largely of square-headed frames with hoodmoulds and arched head lights.

PLAN: Linear plan on the site of historic plots that define the south east side of the monastic Great Court of Tavistock Abbey. From north to south the group comprises the former police accommodation block and fire engine house which is built on a different alignment to the rest of the range and is currently the police station; a three storey building known as Trowte's House incorporating a late-C15 structure within its fabric; and at the south end, the Guildhall which has a courtroom to the ground floor and a semi-basement that was the original police station.

EXTERIOR: The principal (west) elevation is built in a Gothic style and from left to right, can be described thus: the two storey former accommodation block which is built of rubble with a distinct change of masonry from Hurdwick stone to slatestone at the first floor sill level. There is a chamfered granite entrance doorway to the far left, and a wide Tudor-arched doorway with a plank doors to the former fire engine house to the far right, and a two-light window between. At first floor are two matching windows. The three storey Trowte's House to the right is tower-like in character with a projecting stair turret to the front left. This has a chamfered Tudor-arched doorway to the ground floor. There are windows on the right return; the lower one is a three-centred arched window under a wide relieving arch, and the second floor window is a single-light with segmental head. To the right of the turret, steps lead down to a semi-basement and a moulded Tudor-arched doorway with a cover strip door below a glazed overlight. There is a two-light window to the right. The first floor window above is similar but set askew relative to the relieving arch above. There is a single second floor window with segmental-arched head and square-headed hoodmould. The Guildhall is a single storey building with a semi-basement. The central bay rises to a gable and a single-light window with a cusped head. It has a projecting single storey porch with an embattled parapet. Steps lead up to a round-headed moulded outer doorway with spandrels carved with quatrefoil. The porch has single light windows in its return. To the left of the porch is a three-light window, lighting the magistrates' end of the courtroom and to the right, are two two-light windows. The semi-basement level has granite windows to the former cells, some of which retain their bars, and there is a door into the cell block with vertical plans, glazed above the middle rail. There is a three-light upper floor window in the south gable end of the building and a single-light slit window with an iron grille at ground level.

The rear elevation from left to right (south to north) comprises: the rear wall of the Guildhall which has two secondary brick buttresses against it. The ground floor openings, which are mostly enlargements of earlier openings have chamfered architraves, and there is a doorway close to the north end of the block. There are four first floor windows, lighting the court, similar in style to those on the front. A scar-line in the masonry indicates the position of a former wash-house in the yard. The rear of Trowte's House incorporates the remains of a relieving arch to a small window at the north end. Two cells added in 1892 are located in a single storey block which projects into the yard. There is a three-light window to the magistrates' retiring room on the first floor. A single storey one-room block projects off the rear of the accommodation block at the north end and a doorway leads from this into the service yard.

INTERIOR: The plan of the accommodation block has been amended slightly in the later C20. The parlour (now the police reception area) has a mid-C19 ceiling rose, at the rear is a kitchen (now an office)with a fireplace in its south wall. The style of doors with long vertical panels is found throughout the whole range. The fire engine house, which occupied the full width of the building, has been slightly reduced in length and width since 1890. A staircase with stick balusters and chamfered newel post gives access to the first floor where north-south corridor has been inserted.The former bedrooms (now offices) retain C19 fire surrounds. Access into Trowte's House is via a doorway from the semi-basement. It opens onto a north-south corridor with a three/six pane formerly sliding sash in a partition that marks the position of a former police reception area. Toward the rear of the building is an irregularly-shaped room with doorways leading into the two 1892 cells which remain in use. The first floor is the intact magistrates' retiring room which has a granite chimneypiece and a cornice. There are arched doorways leading to the courtroom, a cupboard in the north east corner, and the stair turret. The second floor was a caretaker's quarters by 1914. It has small rooms to the rear with C19 doors and there is a granite fire surround. Roof dormers have been inserted to provide additional light.

The Guildhall is entered via the porch which has a barrel ceiling with timber ribs. Paired, square-headed timber doors with lozenge-shaped glazed peepholes lead into the court. The left one gives access to the north end of the court; the right door leads into the public gallery. The courtroom has a segmental-arched ceiling divided into panels by moulded ribs and moulded frames to the ceiling vents. At the north end is the raised magistrates' bench which has Gothic detailing. The wall behind is decorated with three pointed moulded arches. The outer ones have arched doorways leading into Trowte's House; the centre arch is blind but has a gilded Statue of Justice. Above the arches is a painted Royal Arms, flanked by the Arms of the Prince of Wales and the Bedford Arms. The dock is accessed via stairs, reached from the cells below. The public end of the court retains raking seats with panelled backs and square-shouldered ends. The semi-basement beneath the court contains cells on either side of a corridor which is paved with granite and incorporates a drain. The cell block is divided in two by reinforced doors. The room at the north end of the cells was the original police reception area.

SUBSIDIARY FEATURES: The semi-basement area in front of Trowte's House and the Guildhall is railed off from Guildhall Square by stout railings with spear finials; there are two gateways through the railings. To the rear is a narrow yard that runs the length of the range. It is bounded by tall rubble walls with granite coping and is divided into three separate sections by cross walls.

HISTORY: In 1823 the Plymouth architect John Foulston was commissioned by the sixth Duke of Bedford to repair the `old buildings' in the square, including Trowte's House, a late-C15 structure that was later incorporated into the Guildhall and police station complex. The 1830s saw not only the creation of a Tavistock police force, but public pressure for a purpose-built court. By 1847 the seventh Duke's architect, Theophilus Jones, was working on designs for a Guildhall. This was a combination building, which incorporated a police station and cells in a semi-basement below the courtroom. It was designed in conjunction with amendments to Trowte's House, absorbing that building into the court as a magistrates' room; and the development of police accommodation and a fire engine house to the north. The whole project was forward-thinking in terms of public law, order and safety and the connections between them.

Re-planning following a flood in the late C19 meant that the whole police station effectively moved north, into Trowte's House, although the basement below the Guildhall continued to be used for prisoner access. Tavistock became the headquarters of a division of the county constabulary from 1856 until 1921, when it became a sub-divisional headquarters. In about 1969 the northern part of the range ceased to be used as accommodation and the police station expanded into this building. The court closed in circa 1996-7.

REASON FOR DESIGNATION DECISION: The Guildhall and police station complex are designated at Grade II* for the following principal reasons: * It is an important survival of one of the earliest combined police station and courtrooms in England * The exterior is exceptionally well-preserved. It is a striking Gothic composition that displays a high level of architectural distinction and successfully conveys the importance of the complex * Notwithstanding some limited internal alteration and changes to the function of some parts of the buildings the historic plan form remains clearly readable and the interiors retain a great number of internal features. * It incorporates a late-C15 building which formed part of the Great Court of Tavistock Abbey and as such is a rare survival of a monastic outer court building. * Group value with rich time-depth of designated assets in the immediate vicinity: the Grade II abbey gatehouse to the north west; the Grade II library immediately to the north, and the scheduled medieval remains of Tavistock Abbey.

SOURCES: Keystone Historic Buildings Consultants, `An Assessment of Tavistock Police Station and Guildhall, Guildhall Square, Tavistock' (2005), for English Heritage B. Cherry and N. Pevsner, `The Buildings of England - Devon' (1989), pp 783 A. Brodie, G. Winter, & S. Porter, `The Law Court 1800-2000: Development and Function' (2000), for English Heritage


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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

Images of England

Images of England was a photographic record of every listed building in England, created as a snap shot of listed buildings at the turn of the millennium. These photographs of the exterior of listed buildings were taken by volunteers between 1999 and 2008. The project was supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Date: 09 Jun 2002
Reference: IOE01/08921/33
Rights: Copyright IoE Mr David J. Rippon. Source Historic England Archive
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