Old Shire Hall and Magistrates Court


Heritage Category:
Listed Building
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Statutory Address:
Honey Hill, Bury St Edmunds, IP33 1RS


© Crown Copyright and database right 2020. All rights reserved. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100024900.
© British Crown and SeaZone Solutions Limited 2020. All rights reserved. Licence number 102006.006.
Use of this data is subject to Terms and Conditions.

The above map is for quick reference purposes only and may not be to scale. For a copy of the full scale map, please see the attached PDF - 1460009.pdf

The PDF will be generated from our live systems and may take a few minutes to download depending on how busy our servers are. We apologise for this delay.

This copy shows the entry on 23-Oct-2020 at 04:05:37.


Statutory Address:
Honey Hill, Bury St Edmunds, IP33 1RS

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

West Suffolk (District Authority)
Bury St. Edmunds
National Grid Reference:


Former Shire Hall, rebuilt around 1750 and remodelled in the early and mid-C19, now Magistrates and Crown Courts; and Shire Hall, built 1906-7 to the designs of A A Hunt, now Old Shire Hall.

Reasons for Designation

The Old Shire Hall and Magistrates Court are listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:

Architectural interest: * for the architectural quality of the C18 court building, remodelled in the early C19, and again between 1841 and 1842 to the designs of William McIntosh Brookes, an accomplished architect with a number of listed churches and public buildings to his name; * for the architectural quality of the shire hall, an impressive civic building constructed in the Edwardian Baroque style between 1906 and 1907, to the designs of A A Hunt, County Architect of West Suffolk; * for the survival of a high proportion of historic interior features of significant architectural quality, including the C19 interior decoration, panelling and fixed furniture of the court rooms, and the interior decoration, panelling and fireplaces of the early C20 shire hall.

Historic interest: * for the important civic role the shire hall and law courts have played in the history and government of Bury St Edmunds and St Edmundsbury.

Group value: * for the strong group value the Old Shire Hall and Magistrates Court holds with a number of nearby listed buildings, especially the attached St Margaret’s House (listed at Grade II*), as well as the scheduled remains of St Edmund’s Abbey and St Margaret’s Gate, and the Grade II-registered gardens and precincts of St Edmund’s Abbey.


St Edmund's Abbey was one of the four of five most powerful and wealthy Benedictine monasteries in England in the medieval period. It was dissolved in 1539, and although the main gates and much of the precinct wall remain intact, the claustral buildings became a quarry for the town. Along with the Church of St Edmund, the abbey also contained the churches of St Margaret, St Mary and St James. The ruins of the Church of St Margaret and a monastic free school stood at the south end of the precinct adjacent St Margaret’s Gate (demolished in 1760), at the corner of Honey Hill and Schoolhall Street. In 1578 Thomas Badby (then owner of the site of the old abbey) gifted the Guildhall Feoffees the former monastic school as a Shire House for the use of the assizes and sessions, and for public meetings for inhabitants of the town. By about 1584, the assizes were held at the new Shire House, having moved into town from their previous site at Shirehouse Heath. 

The Shire House is recorded as being a thatched building in 1609, and is shown on Downing’s map of Bury in 1740 and Dury’s map in 1764 as a rectangular-plan building on the site of what is now the court building. The Warren maps of Bury in 1748 and 1776 identify the ‘Shire Hall formily [sic] St Margts’. It is probable that the Shire Hall was rebuilt in the mid- to late C18. A guide to Bury St Edmunds in 1821 records the courts as being improved in 1804 and again in 1818, with the entrance to the Crown Court from the church yard, and the Nisi Prius Court from the street. The Shire Hall was remodelled and extended in the Greek Revival style by William McIntosh Brookes between 1841 and 1842, with the addition of a portico of eight fluted columns facing north to the churchyard. The two court rooms were again remodelled at that time. William McIntosh Brookes (1800-49) was educated at Peterhouse, Cambridge, and designed Gisbourne Court at that college (1825-6, Tudor Gothic, listed at Grade I), the County Gaol in Ipswich (1836-7, also Tudor Gothic, listed at Grade II), and a number of churches, including the Church of St Peter and St Paul in Albury, Surrey (1840-1, Romanesque Revival, listed at Grade II), and the Catholic Apostolic Church with Pugin, also in Albury (1840, Perpendicular, listed at Grade II*). The Magpie Inn stood immediately north-west of the courts and was demolished in 1871; the ground was fenced and planted, and now forms the car park west of the courts. The 1883 Ordnance Survey Town Plan of Bury shows the Shire Hall comprising: the rectangular-plan court building at the south end; the attached portico-fronted extension by McIntosh Brookes in the north-east corner; an attached rectangular-plan building in the north-west corner; and an attached rectangular-plan glazed building to the east end of the south elevation (presumably a glasshouse for St Margaret’s House, and demolished around 1965 when the New Shire Hall was constructed).

The Greek Revival extension by McIntosh Brookes was demolished around 1906, and a new Shire Hall built to the designs of A A Hunt between 1906 and 1907. Archie Hunt (1868-1949) was born in Harlow, Essex, and became Archie Ainsworth (AA) Hunt following his marriage in 1896. He practiced in Sudbury from 1889, and in 1908 was appointed part-time County Architect for West Suffolk, moving his practice to 51 Abbeygate Street in Bury St Edmunds. He specialised in church restoration and repairs and for many years was Diocesan Architect. In 1919 he went into partnership with George Lister Coates (1880-1958), and the practice became Hunt and Coates. Hunt is associated with a number of buildings in Bury: houses for Barbrooke builders in Cemetery Road and Queens Road; Suffolk Regiment Cottage Homes on Out Risbygate (1903); and almshouses at College Square (1909), none of which are listed. Elsewhere, he designed an extension to Newmarket police station in 1905 (not listed), Rod Bridge in Long Melford with Percy J Sheldon, Essex County Council Surveyor, in 1909-11 (not listed), and a war memorial at the Church of St Mary in Polstead in 1921 (listed at Grade II).

The Shire Hall is attached to the east to St Margaret’s House, an early-C18 house incorporating a C17 timber-framed core and a length of the C13 south precinct wall of the abbey (listed at Grade II*). St Margaret’s House remained a private residence until it was purchased by West Suffolk County Council in 1932, and was utilised as Council offices until it was sold and converted to private residential accommodation around 2010. The stair hall in the south-east corner of Hunt’s Shire Hall, constructed in 1906-7, has blocked door openings to St Margaret’s, showing the two buildings were interconnected in the early to mid-C20. A new Shire Hall was constructed on Raingate Street in the 1960s as part of a civic scheme by McMorran and Whitby, which also included a new record office and police station. The Magistrates and Crown Courts at Old Shire Hall ceased in 2016 and the building has since been closed to the public.


Former Shire Hall, rebuilt around 1750 and remodelled in the early and mid-C19, now Magistrates and Crown Courts; and Shire Hall, built 1906-7 to the designs of A A Hunt, now Old Shire Hall. MATERIALS: the court building has red brick walls laid in Flemish bond, and a slate roof covering. The Old Shire Hall has red brick walls laid in English bond, yellow stone dressings, and a clay-tile roof covering.

PLAN: the court building is rectangular in plan, and laid out on an east-west axis at the corner of Honey Hill and Raingate Street. The Old Shire Hall is roughly T-shaped in plan, attached to the north side of the court building, providing two light-wells between the two buildings. Together, the two buildings form a roughly rectangular-plan building.

EXTERIOR: the court building is two storeys in height, with a slate-covered roof, hipped to the east and gabled to the west. The roof has two mid-C19 rectangular-plan flat-roofed lanterns to the apex, and an early-C20 chimneystack to the north slope. The walls were constructed in red brick laid in Flemish bond in the mid- to late C18. A pediment, rendered Doric entablature, and rendered engaged pilasters were added to the west gable when the building was remodelled and extended in 1841-2 (though the majority of triglyphs have since been removed from the cornice). The elevations show evidence of a number of blocked or altered window and door openings with segmental arches; the west elevation shows evidence of a central door opening, presumably blocked when the extension was added to the north in 1906-7. The east and west elevations each have a tripartite window opening on the upper level, that on the west elevation framed by engaged pilasters, and that on the east elevation having a fluted surround. The south elevation retains four mid- to late-C18 window openings on the upper level, each having a six-over-six pane timber sash window; the east window has been blocked internally and the second from east has a pronounced quoined surround. The ground floor has a variety of window and door openings to the basement.

The Old Shire Hall was constructed in the Edwardian Baroque style between 1906 and 1907, with eleven bays and three storeys over a raised basement. The roof is generally hipped with a clay-tile roof covering and tall red brick chimneystacks. The walls are constructed of red brick laid in English bond over a rusticated yellow stone basement, with yellow stone dressings throughout, including quoins, window and door surrounds, a cornice and plinth course to the first floor, a broken stringcourse to the second floor, and pediments over. The front (north) elevation has eleven bays arranged as three-bay pavilions and a single bay, either side of three central bays. The three central bays have a rusticated ground floor with engaged Ionic columns and a cartouche under an open segmental pediment, giant engaged Ionic columns and pilasters spanning the first and second floors, and an open segmental pediment to the central bay of the second floor, framed by a larger triangular pediment. The central entrance has double-leaf timber-panelled doors, with a small timber pediment and plain round-arched overlight. The side pavilions have a segmental pediment over the central bay of the second floor. The west elevation has four bays, with an open pediment over the two central bays, which slightly break forward. The south bay of the ground floor has an oeil-de-boeuf window over a round-arched door surround, which contains a tympanum carved ‘PUBLIC / ENTRANCE’, and double-leaf half-glazed doors. The raised basement has Diocletian multi-paned sash windows, and the upper floors have single-pane sash windows. The rear (south) and east elevations are constructed of red brick, without any dressed stone.

INTERIOR: the court building includes courtrooms to the interior: Court 1 to the west end and Court 3 to the east end. Court 1 is roughly square in plan, and retains a number of features from when the building was remodelled in 1841-2, including: a dentilled cornice; a viewing gallery on the west wall with an arcade of three segmental arches on square pilasters; a raised platform for the magistrates on the east wall, with a canted timber-panelled balcony incorporating a late-C19 or early-C20 magistrate’s desk; and timber panelling to the walls, with a pediment on carved consoles behind the magistrate’s desk. The furniture appears to be a mixture of mid-C19 and early C20. It is likely that the courtroom may have originally been accessed from a central door on the west wall, and a door was introduced to the west end of the north wall when the building was extended in 1906-7. It is probable that the location of the dock and access from the basement may have also been reconfigured in the early C20, and the furniture of the dock was certainly replaced in the late C20 or early C21. Court 3 is rectangular in plan, with an apsidal west end. The south wall retains one C18 window with deep reveals and a mid-C19 fluted surround; evidence of another blocked window opening is visible to the east. The east wall has tripartite sash windows in a mid-C19 fluted surround with paterae, and carved consoles to the two central mullions. The apsidal west end has a raised platform, C19 timber panelling incorporating a central pediment on carved consoles, and a timber-panelled balcony with a late-C19 or early-C20 magistrate’s desk. The courtroom has a mixture of furniture including mid-C19 tiered stalls; an early-C20 tiered viewing gallery to the east end with a mixture of early-C20 benches and late-C20 chairs; and a late-C20 or early-C21 dock, the access route to which appears to have been reconfigured in the early C20. The viewing gallery has double-leaf doors and a fluted door surround, possibly relocated to the viewing gallery when the building was extended in 1906-7. Court 1 and Court 3 are interconnected by retiring rooms and magistrates’ rooms on the upper ground floor, with access from the main staircase of the early-C20 extension. The basement level under the courts contains a number of cells and interview rooms, with evidence of disused cells and access routes to the courtrooms, presumably reconfigured in the early C20. The extension to the north by A A Hunt of 1906-7 is roughly T-shaped in plan, with a central stair winding around a late-C20 elevator, a light well to the east and west of the stair, and offices to the north of a corridor overlooking the churchyard to the north. The central entrance from the north elevation has a flight of steps to half-glazed doors in a classical timber surround to the stair hall. The main stair has cantilevered cast-concrete steps with a mixture of metal scrolled and plain stick balusters under a molded wooden handrail, a panelled plinth, and round-arched stained-glass windows to the east and west walls. At each landing of the stairs, there are round-arched openings to the corridors to the east and west, flanked by engaged pilasters and containing half-glazed doors. The half-landing between the first and second floors retains an early-C20 Venetian window, with stained glass insignia of Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk and Sudbury within a foliated margin. The basement, upper ground, first and second floor levels retain their early-C20 plan form, plain cornicing, and doors, however some fireplaces in offices have been blocked. The file stores in the basement retain their early-C20 fire-resistant security doors, tiled floors and glazed tiled walls. The two waiting rooms and Court 2 on the first floor, and the central room of the second floor, retain ornate cornicing, half timber-panelled walls and carved wooden fire surrounds. Court 2 is certainly the grandest room, with engaged Ionic pilasters, and a round-arched timber-panelled fire surround to the centre of the east wall. The south-east corner of the early-C20 extension contains a stair hall with cantilevered cast-concrete steps, metal stick balusters under a molded wooden handrail, and glazed-tiled walls. The stair hall has blocked door openings to the first and second floors of St Margaret’s House to the east, and a door to the viewing gallery of Court 3 to the south.


Books and journals
Bettley, J, Pevsner, N, The Buildings of England: Suffolk: West, (2015), 53, 54, 143, 159, 400, 430
Curl, James Stevens, Wilson, Susan, Oxford Dictionary of Architecture, (2015), 117
Deck, J, A Guide to the Town, Abbey and Antiquities of Bury St. Edmunds, (1821)
Simpkin, Marshall, History, Gazetteer and Directory of Suffolk: Comprising a General Survey of the County, and Separate Historical, Statistical and Topographical Descriptions of All the Hundreds, Boroughs, Towns, Ports, Parishes, Townships, Chapelries, Villages, Hamlets, Manors and Unions, (1874), 568, 579
Taylor, Martin, Bury St Edmunds at Work: People and Industries Through the Years, (2017)
Taylor, Martin, Bury St Edmunds History Tour, (2016)
Taylor, Martin, A-Z of Bury St Edmunds: Places, People, History (2016)
Bury Past & Present Society, ‘Churchyard, Magpie Inn’, accessed 10 September 2018 from http://www.burypastandpresent.org.uk/search.php
St Edmundsbury Chronicle 2000, accessed 10 September 2018 from http://www.stedmundsburychronicle.co.uk
Suffolk Artists, Archie Ainsworth Hunt, accessed 10 September 2018 from https://suffolkartists.co.uk/index.cgi?choice=painter&pid=1919
Ordnance Survey, 1:500 Town Plan, Bury St Edmunds, (1883)
Suffolk County Council, SCCAS REPORT No. 2014/025, ‘Monitoring at St Margaret’s House Bury St Edmunds BSE 440’, (2014), http://grey-lit-suffolkarchaeology.s3.amazonaws.com/2014_025.pdf
Tithe map, (1845)
Warren Map of Bury St Edmunds, revised publication, (1776), http://www.stedmundsburychronicle.co.uk/warrenmap.htm


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

Your Contributions

Do you know more about this entry?

The following information has been contributed by users volunteering for our Enriching The List project. For small corrections to the List Entry please see our Minor Amendments procedure.

The information and images below are the opinion of the contributor, are not part of the official entry and do not represent the official position of Historic England. We have not checked that the contributions below are factually accurate. Please see our terms and conditions. If you wish to report an issue with a contribution or have a question please email [email protected].