Boston Sessions House
Heritage Category: Listed Building
List Entry Number: 1388845
Date first listed: 14-Feb-1975
Date of most recent amendment: 08-Dec-2011
Statutory Address: Former Sessions House, Church Close, Boston, Lincolnshire
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Statutory Address: Former Sessions House, Church Close, Boston, Lincolnshire
The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.
District: Boston (District Authority)
Parish: Non Civil Parish
National Grid Reference: TF 32714 44262
Former Sessions House in Tudor Gothic style built in 1841-42 to the designs of Charles Kirk.
Reasons for Designation
* Architectural interest: it is a skilfully composed building with dramatic elevational quality and finely detailed Gothic interiors, displaying a high quality of materials and craftsmanship. * Architect: it is by Charles Kirk, a successful Sleaford-based architect, whose family firm has over thirty buildings on the List. * Historical interest: it is an accomplished example of a mid-C19 law court, demonstrating the typically complex circulation routes, courtroom layout, and suite of Magistrate’s rooms. * Intactness: the plan form, and interior fixtures and fittings, notably in the courtroom and Magistrate’s rooms, have survived virtually unaltered.
Despite some fluctuation in its fortunes Boston remained a prosperous port and market town from the middle ages into the C19, its social, economic and political history reflected in its town plan and buildings. From the C12 to the C15 it was one of the busiest ports in England, its wealth based principally on the trade in wool, cloth and luxury goods. Boston's market was first recorded between 1125 and 1135, and the annual fair was one of the great trade fairs of Europe. The medieval town grew around streets on either side of the River Witham, now the High Street to the west and South Street to the east. The latter opens to a wide market place to the north, from which narrow medieval lanes travel east and north to Church Street, St Botolph's Church and Wormgate.
The medieval period is represented by fragments of the Dominican friary surviving as the Blackfriars Arts Centre (Grade II*) on Spain Lane, the only visible evidence of the four friaries established in the town in the C12 and C13. Evidence of the town's thriving C14 and C15 engagement in the North Sea wool trade survives in the Guildhall (Grade I) of the Guild of St Mary, one of several religious guilds in the town at this period. Following the incorporation of Boston as a borough in 1545 and the dissolution of the religious guilds two years later, the assets of the Guild of St Mary, including the Guildhall, were transferred to the Corporation. Later C18 fen drainage and the construction of the Grand Sluice realised the value of the Corporation's estate, the increase in income funding significant building projects in the town, including the Exchange Buildings of 1770-1772 (formerly the Corporation Buildings) to the west of the Market Place (Grade II*). This renewed prosperity continued into the first half of the C19, when agricultural enclosure generated new wealth from a now highly productive rural hinterland. The corporation invested in further public building, notably the Assembly Rooms, completed in 1822 (Grade II*) to the north of the Exchange Buildings. The Grade II listed buildings that form an irregular terrace, 42-50 Market Place, also date to the first half of the C19, as do eight Grade II listed warehouses. Between the mid-C18 and mid-C19 the town's suburbs grew to the north-west and east of the Market Place, with limited development to the west of the river.
Boston continued to thrive economically until the construction of the railway in 1848; this brought a station and growth to the west of the town, but withdrew outgoing goods from the port. A new dock constructed by the corporation to the south of the town in 1884 renewed seaborne trade and brought development to an area of previously agricultural land. By the late C19 the town had reached almost its present extent. Although there was new building within the town in the C20, notably the construction of the inner ring road, John Adams Way, much historic fabric has been retained; this is reflected in the comprehensive coverage of Boston in the National Heritage List for England.
The Holland Quarter Sessions had sat at St Mary’s Guildhall since 1660 but in 1840 a Grand Jury called for an improvement in conditions. The Sessions House was duly built between 1841 and 1842 to designs by Charles Kirk who was also responsible for the near identical Sessions House in Spalding (listed at Grade II in 1975) which was completed in 1843. The new building accommodated the sittings of the Quarter Sessions and the Kirton and Skirbeck Bench. It has been subject to very few alterations, most of which have been carried out in the custody and service areas located to the rear of the ground floor. The custody area has four cells which were labelled on the original plans (the location of which is now unknown) as ‘Male Felon at Hard Labour’, ‘Male Felon not at Hard Labour’, ‘Female Felon at Hard Labour’ and ‘Common Ward’. They were later partly used for storage and were updated in the 1990s, involving the replacement of the original doors. The rooms to the east, which included a caretaker’s flat, have undergone some alterations, including the replacement of a fireplace. In the public entrance hall a glazed security foyer has been inserted, and in the Court Room a security screen has been added to the dock. The only extension has been a small, C20 brick addition above the single-storey element on the west side. The Sessions House ceased to be used as a Magistrates Court in 2003.
Charles Kirk came from a Leicestershire family that had long been connected with the building trade, and his father, William, was a surveyor and monumental mason. Kirk was given a commission in Sleaford in the late 1820s and afterwards he stayed in the town, designing many of its new buildings, including Carre’s Grammar School in Tudor Gothic style (1834) and Westholme, a large house in Chateau Gothic style (1849), both of which are listed at Grade II. He went into partnership with Thomas Parry who had started as an articled clerk in his firm; and after Kirk’s death, his son (also called Charles) succeeded as head of the firm, continuing the partnership with Parry.
MATERIALS: Ashlared stone frontage and brown brick sides and rear with stone dressings. Lead roofs.
PLAN: The building is rectangular, almost square on plan. Its complicated configuration is based on the different circulation routes for different users, all of whom were to be kept separate. The principal (south) elevation contains three entrances, that in the right hand (east) tower opening into the Magistrate’s hall which leads up the most elaborate flight of stairs to the Magistrate’s Robing Room on the first floor and then to the strong room on the second floor. The entrance in the left hand (west) tower provides access for lawyers to their much plainer staircase leading to their waiting room on the first floor. This waiting room and the Magistrate’s Robing Room have direct access to the former Magistrate’s Retiring Room, which occupies the central three bays of the frontage, and from here into the Court Room. The central, public entrance opens into the main hall which leads to the even plainer rear staircase up to the public gallery. The cells, located in the centre of the ground floor, have a separate staircase leading straight into the dock. The Court Room itself, which occupies the rear, three-storey part of the building, can thereby be accessed directly by different users with a minimum possibility of contact.
EXTERIOR: The symmetrical frontage has a two-storey, three-bay centre, flanked by advanced tower-like wings of three storeys. It has deeply crenellated, Gothic panelled parapets, with the Royal Arms at the centre, and a cornice with carved foliation. The centre bays are subdivided by stepped buttresses which rise through the parapet and are surmounted by tall, shield-bearing lions. The central entrance doorway has a moulded arch surround and double-leaf, plank and muntin doors, with a traceried panel above. It is flanked by two-light windows with a transom and cusped heads which also have a traceried panel above. The first floor has a tall, central, three-light window with a transom, tracery to the head and a rectangular hoodmould, flanked by similar two-light windows. The identical towers have a moulded plinth and set-back, stepped buttresses. The single doorways have carved spandrels and rectangular hoodmoulds with headstops in the form of carved figures, including a blindfolded woman representing Justice. Above are canted oriels with stone roofs and Gothic panelled bases. The second floor has two narrow single-light windows. All the windows have moulded surrounds.
The side elevations of the towers have a two-light window on the ground floor and narrow, single-light, blind windows with traceried heads on the upper floors, all with rectangular hoodmoulds. From here the sides of the building are constructed of brown brick and, whilst much plainer, still have some embellishments including crenellated parapets. The two-storey east elevation has, from the left, single-light windows on a higher level than the centre on the ground and first floors, which light the staircase. This is followed by four two-light windows, with a door in between the last two. All the windows have stone blocked architraves with square heads. The elevation terminates in an octagonal, crenellated turret with blind arrow slits. The more complicated west elevation continues from the tower in a two-storey section of two bays, divided by stepped buttresses, with similar windows to the east elevation lighting the staircase, followed by a Tudor arch opening on the left pierced by a window. After this, there is a single-storey element with five more Tudor arch openings, either with large double doors, pierced by windows, or blind. Above this has been built a C20 flat-roofed, single-storey extension in buff brick with three pairs of narrow, single-light windows. Behind these two elements is the three-storey external wall of the Court Room which has a row of six two-light Gothic windows with square-headed, blocked surrounds, giving the impression of a clerestory.
This ecclesiastical character is fully developed in the rear elevation which could be mistaken for a church. The main, central element presents a crenellated, shallow-pitched gable, flanked by stepped buttresses, and surmounted at either end by cylindrical stone chimney stacks. The head of the gable is pierced by a quatrefoil window, and there are three Gothic arch windows which light the Court Room within. The large, central window has four-lights with traceried heads and is blind beneath the transom where the public gallery is located inside. The flanking windows have two lights, and all have blocked surrounds.
INTERIOR: The interior has survived with a remarkable degree of intactness, particularly in the areas dedicated to judicial procedures. High quality materials are used throughout for the joinery, fireplaces, and other fittings, even down to the bell levers with lion’s heads, all of which display a high level of craftsmanship. The interior decoration is characterised by a consistency of Gothic detailing, including six-panelled, Gothic arch doors set in surrounds with Gothic panelled soffits and jambs. The principal areas of interest are the elaborately decorated Court Room, the Magistrate’s Retiring and Robing Rooms, and the Magistrate’s private staircase. The staircase is accessed via an arcade consisting of Gothic arches, two wide and one narrow, which have clustered piers with moulded capitals and bases, one of which forms the newel post, and archivolts which disappear into the walls. The elegant, winding, cantilevered staircase has an open string, stone steps, and timber handrail. It has a pair of metal balusters (part stick and part twisted) per tread which, instead of standing on the treads, are carried past the ends of the steps to terminate in pendants. This gives the impression that the stairs are floating upwards, apparently without support. The Court Room retains all its original fittings, which are grained to resemble oak. The Magistrate’s bench is on a dais at the south end, the dock containing two stands is opposite (now with a C20 glazed security screen), and the large table for legal representatives is in between. This is flanked by the witness stand and the benches for the jury, whilst the public gallery is at the north end. The upper half of the great Court Room is clad in a sombre ashlar, pierced by the three Gothic windows at the rear and the clerestory on the west side. The lower half is panelled (also grained) with linenfold panelling around the Magistrate’s dais, and plainer vertical planks around the rest of the room. The richly moulded roof trusses have Queen posts, flanked by cusped aches diminishing in size, and pierced spandrels with the same pattern. The trusses are supported on large carved stone corbels in the form of various figures. There is one room to the west of the Court and three rooms to the east, all relatively plain but mostly retaining fireplaces, which are used by the jury and lawyers. The Magistrate’s Retiring Room has linenfold panelling (which also covers the doors in this room) with a dado moulding and the suggestion of crenellations along the top. The grey marble fireplace has a moulded Tudor arch opening, above which are five panels with quatrefoils, flanked by pilasters. The grate and fender, in the form of a miniature Gothic arcade, are both intact. The cambered ceiling is divided into six main panels by moulded timber ribs, each then further divided into four, and embellished with carved bosses in the form of sleeping dragons. The principal ribs are supported by slender curved braces resting on foliated corbels. The original gas chandelier, decorated with cusped panels, still hangs. This room leads directly into the Magistrate’s Robing Room which is characterised by a rib vault, its moulded timber ribs painted white, springing from corbels and decorated at their meeting point with foliage. The plainer, grey marble fireplace is complete with fender and irons, and even retains two tall gas light fittings with Gothic panels on the mantlepiece. The gas chandelier also survives, as does the blind box above the oriel window. In the strong room, located at the top of the Magistrate’s staircase, there are fitted timber cupboards and drawers across the whole of the west wall, evidently for the storage of legal documents. The door is lined with metal and the plain, stone fireplace has fitted iron shutters, to minimise fire risk.
The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.
Legacy System number: 486306
Legacy System: LBS
Books and journals
Pevsner, N, Harris, J, Antram, N, The Buildings of England: Lincolnshire, (1989)
Save Britain's Heritage, , Silence in Court, (2004)
‘Journal and Account Book of Charles Kirk of Sleaford, builder and architect’ (MISC DON 1015) (Lincolnshire Archives),
‘The Sessions House at Boston’, Vic Bannister (Boston Library),
Cope-Faulkner, Paul, Boston Town Historic Environment Baseline Study, 2005,
Hewlings, R, The Public Buildings of Boston 1702-1822, 1988,
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