Royal Courts of Justice: West Green Building

Overview

Heritage Category:
Listed Building
Grade:
II*
List Entry Number:
1469747
Date first listed:
20-Apr-2020
Statutory Address:
The Strand, Westminster, London, WC2A 2LL

Map

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Location

Statutory Address:
The Strand, Westminster, London, WC2A 2LL

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

County:
Greater London Authority
District:
City of Westminster (London Borough)
Parish:
Non Civil Parish
National Grid Reference:
TQ3091181162

Summary

A courtroom building, erected in 1909 – 1912 to the designs of Sir Henry Tanner in a Gothic revival style that closely matches the neighbouring, earlier building of George Edmund Street.

Reasons for Designation

The West Green Building, The Royal Courts of Justice, Strand, London, erected 1909-12, is listed at Grade II* for the following principal reasons:

Architectural interest: * in style it is an act of respect by Sir Henry Tanner for the neighbouring building of 1871-1882 designed by GE Street. Externally, it replicates motifs from the earlier design but it does so with inventiveness, best seen in the east and west flanks and the connecting bridge. Internally it shows Tanner’s talent in inventing impressive spaces in an Edwardian idiom;

* the courtrooms, staircase and foyers survive with a high degree of their original layout and fabric and form an impressive flow of architectural spaces.

Historic interest: * the building is the final statement of the C19 reform of the legal system, and the requirement for a series of additional courtrooms in the Strand complex to house Courts of Appeal, resulting from the Judiciary Act of 1875.

Group value: * with the many listed buildings along the Strand and Carey Street, most particularly the Law Courts building by Street (Grade I).

History

In the early C19 the London Law Courts were grouped alongside the Palace of Westminster. The architect John Soane had designed a new series of superior courts for common law and equity in 1820 which were connected to the north flank of Westminster Hall and used parts of its abundant space as partitioned courtrooms and also as a gathering place. As the C19 progressed and the rise of Britain as an industrial and trading nation created more litigation the limitations of this cramped series of courts became obvious. At the same time the existing legal system divided into Equity and Chancery, with complex overlap between the two, and a growing backlog of cases which could take years to conclude, created a strong desire amongst politicians for reform.

Royal Commissions tasked with considering an overhaul of the legal system were set up in the 1850s and their work eventually led to a series of parliamentary acts, notably the Common Law Procedure and Chancery Acts of 1852, the Chancery Act of 1858 and the Common Law Acts of 1854 and 1860. The Judicature Act of 1873 finally fused the two systems of Common Law and Equity.

Although Westminster continued to be regarded as the home of the Chancery division, in practice the limitations in number and size of the Soane courts had caused the establishment of further courts across London. Makeshift arrangements included partitioned areas in Lincoln’s Inn hall and caused one commentator to note that ‘The Lord Chancellor of England now sits by sufferance in a dining hall!’. Following petitions from lawyers a Parliamentary Select Committee was set up in 1841. The Committee commissioned a design from Sir Charles Barry for a new court house to be built on Lincoln’s Inn Fields and although this Doric design was not followed, its plan of a central hall with circulatory passages separating lawyers, witnesses and the public perpetuated elements of the Soane plan at Westminster and proved influential.

Instead of Lincoln’s Inn Fields, which was regarded as one of the ‘lungs of London’, the present site was chosen; an area of seven acres to the north of the Strand of ancient and poor-quality housing. This slum property could be acquired relatively cheaply and it was conveniently positioned close to the Temple and Lincoln’s Inn. In June 1865 the legislation for the new building and its financing was passed.

A competition was mounted in 1866-1867 and eleven architects were invited to compete, including some of the most respected members of the profession at that time. All but one alternative scheme were in a Gothic style, although this had not been a stipulation. The joint winners were declared as EM Barry, for the quality of his planning, and GE Street for his elevations. The two could not agree and in 1868 Street became the sole architect subject to a radical revision of his initial plan. This delay was followed by another while a site on the new Embankment was considered and plans drawn, but the initial Strand site was eventually agreed. The final plan was drawn by 1870 and the foundation stone was laid in 1874.

Construction proved difficult, with numerous constraints from the Treasury and the eventual bankruptcy of the contractor, Bull of Southampton, but Street’s mastery of the brief, his attention to all details so that there could be no confusion as to what was intended (with almost all drawings coming from his own hand) and his calm determination led to the completion of the building and it was opened with ceremony by Queen Victoria in December 1882. Street had died the year before and was succeeded by his son, Arthur Edmund Street and Sir Arthur Blomfield who completed work on the site. The total cost was almost £2 million. Although its style was out of fashion by the time of its completion the building was seen as the last hurrah for the High Victorian phase of the Gothic revival and admired as such. The much younger architect Robert Kerr bad farewell to the Gothic Revival in a speech delivered in 1884 but described the law courts as 'a monument of artistic resolution, and, of course, of artistic skill'.

The passing of the Judicature Act, during construction of the main building, meant that a new Court of Appeal was also required and for which no provision had been made in the original plan. Street prepared drawings for an annex to the main building which would have matched its architectural style and have had similar planning. Application was made to the Treasury for a new building to the west the site, but funding was not forthcoming. In the event, various alterations were made to the existing plan to squeeze extra courtroom space into the building during its construction and, when this also proved inadequate, the northern bar room was fitted out as courtroom one of the Court of Appeal (and remains as a courtroom to this day).

The annex, now known as the West Green Building, was finally approved in 1908. The design was by Sir Henry Tanner the Chief Architect in the Office of Works. His scheme supplied four more courts, together with associated offices and service rooms. As a tribute to Street and in the interest of artistic continuity, many of the motifs used in his design are transferred from Street’s western front of the Royal Courts of Justice, designed in 1870. Internally, the pre-existing system of tall court rooms approached at different levels from broad corridors was also transferred across from the older building.

A V1 rocket hit the law courts during the Second World War and badly damaged the Bankruptcy Buildings which were eventually demolished in 1964 and made way for the Queen’s Courts Building, the Thomas More Office Tower and the Thomas More Courts. The bomb also damaged the north-western corner of the West Green building, including the staircase tower and flank wall of the building which were rebuilt in a plainer style. The original four courts remain, but the office and service spaces have been adapted so that the building now contains eight courtrooms of various sizes.

Details

The West Green Building, a courtroom building, erected in 1909-1912 to the designs of Sir Henry Tanner in a Gothic revival style that closely matches the neighbouring, earlier building of George Edmund Street.

MATERIALS: Portland stone with granite and red sandstone dressings and a slate roof with lead fixtures.

PLAN: three floors with a semi-exposed basement which is revealed on the south side due to the slope of the land, and attic. Broad public foyer spaces on the ground and first floors span the full width of the building, linked by a semi-circular staircase. The upper foyer was designed to give access to the public galleries in each court. The lower foyer gives access to the well of each court and is connected to the Main Building of the Law Courts by means of a lobby and open colonnade on the eastern flank of he West Green Building.

EXTERIOR: the south front is symmetrical and replicates motifs seen on the west front of the main courtroom building designed by Street. There is a decorative band below the first-floor windows and at second floor level is a continuous shallow colonnade in the thickness of the wall with red sandstone columns. The front has five bays with tourelles at the corners. At the centre is a wide, projecting bay which has two and three-light windows and a gable with crocketed coping crowned by a statue of Henry II. To either side of this are bays with first-floor, square oriels supported on buttresses and to either side again are single lancets. The corner tourelles start at first-floor level and are supported by columns at the corners of the building. Attic dormers have gabled heads and there are prominent chimneys to the ridge.

The west flank has a projecting gable at right with tourelles to the corners. There are three windows to each floor with decorative bands and a shallow colonnade, as before. To left of this are three, paired lights at ground-floor level and three, two-light casements to the second floor with a gabled and crocketed surround, shared by all three. At left again is a square, projecting bay and beyond this a stair turret. Parts of the turret and the walling to its left were rebuilt with less structural decoration after war damage.

The east flank has a gable with tourelles at left, as seen on the west flank. To right of this and projecting is a square staircase tower which has four tiers of stepped windows climbing its side. To right again is a colonnaded walkway with pedestrian openings at right and left and three glazed and traceried windows to the centre. Above these, at first-floor level, are a series of small lancets with carved surrounds. A central gable has three further lancets and a small round window to the apex. The wall behind these is recessed and contains the arched upper windows lighting the side walls of the courtrooms.

The West Green building is joined to the main building by a link block which takes the form of an open colonnade at ground floor level with three arches with moulded arches and shafts to the sides. At first floor level are grouped lancets, as before and niches, supported by richly-carved corbels and columns. To the north is a polygonal staircase turret with pointed roof.

The north face is largely blank and abutted by the Queen’s Court building which is the subject of a separate case.

Two roofs run north-south above the courts. At the centre of each roof ridge is a flèche, similar, but smaller, to that above the hall of the main courtroom building.

INTERIOR: the building has broad corridors with flagged floors at both principal levels. Court rooms have wooden panelling to their lower walls and bare stonework above, with panelled ceilings and galleries to the rear facing the bench, as in the main courthouse. The semi-circular staircase has a wrought iron balustrade with wreathed curtail and a hardwood handrail. It is placed behind a screen of thee arches at ground floor level and has a vaulted ceiling with stone ribs. At the west end of the ground-floor corridor is a window with stained glass coats of arms.

Sources

Books and journals
S, Bradley, N, Pevsner, Buildings of England, London 6: Westminster, (2003), 314
Other
Purcell Report, Royal Courts of Justice, Will Holborrow, December 2019

Legal

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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