In transcribing the following passage from the online version I have expanded abbreviations and added paragraphing, subtitles, links, and illustrations. — George P. Landow

The Law Courts

Illumination of the Council House on the Occasion of the Queen’s Visit, March 20th, 1887.

A Corner of the New Law Courts

In 1884 the judicial system of Birmingham was completed by the grant of Assizes to the borough, which had been sought for by the Town Council for nearly thirty years. The first effort to obtain a grant of Assizes was made in 1857, a second was made in 1859, a third in 1863, and a fourth in 1864. This last application would have been, and indeed was granted in 1866, but there existed at that time no building in the town in which Assizes could be held. The Council proposed certain alterations at the Public Office, to fit them for the purpose of Assize Courts, but the Home Office declined to make a conditional order, intimating, however, that on receiving a certificate that adequate courts and suitable lodgings for the judges had been provided, a grant of Assizes would be made to the town.

With this object in view the Corporation allotted the space on the Edmund Street side of the Council House site for the Assize Courts, but ultimately finding that the land would be inadequate for the purpose, they directed the Improvement Committee to reserve a plot of land in Corporation Street as a site for the proposed courts. In 1883 the General Purposes Committee were instructed “to consider the whole question of the steps to be taken for constituting Birmingham a town for the holding of Assizes, or for the establishment of periodical sittings in the Borough of the High Court of Justice.” In the following year this committee had the gratification of reporting that their negociations had been successful, and that Birmingham was about to be constituted an Assize town, but that the grant of Assizes was made on the distinct understanding that suitable Courts should be erected as soon as possible. The first Assize was opened on the 1st of August, 1884, by Baron Huddleston and Mr. Justice Wills, who attended Divine service at St. Martin’s church on the opening day. It is worthy of mention that this was the first circuit of Mr. Justice Wills, who is a native of Birmingham, and the son of a Birmingham magistrate. For the accommodation of the judges, lodgings were obtained at “West Grove,” Edgbaston, and the premises were subsequently purchased as permanent judges’ lodgings.

Left: Victoria Courts: The Great Hall.Right: Victoria Courts: Entrance to Corridor. (From a photograph by Harold Baker)

In 1886 the Council obtained a number of competitive designs for the proposed law Courts, all of them manifesting a high degree of ability, and the choice fell on a beautiful set of designs by Messrs. Aston Webb and Ingress Bell, who were appointed architects of the projected building. The first stone was laid by Her Majesty the Queen during the Jubilee year (on the 20th of March, 1877) and the occasion of Her Majesty’s visit was observed as one of great rejoicing. The roadway, from Small Heath station, at which the Queen alighted, to the Town Hall, and thence to the site of the courts, was lined with spectators, and the whole line of route gaily decorated, several fine triumphal arches being erected. Addresses were presented to Her Majesty at the Town Hall, where she partook of luncheon, and from thence she drove to the site of the proposed building, where she laid the foundation stone, in the presence of a large assemblage of representative citizens. In the evening the chief public buildings and business premises were illuminated on an unusually brilliant scale, one of the principal features of the display being the picking out of the facade and tower of the Council House with coloured lamps.

Illumination of the Council House on the Occasion of the Queen’s Visit, March 20th, 1887.

In commemoration of this visit of Her Majesty to Birmingham, the Mayor (Mr. Thomas Martineau) received the honour of knighthood.

The courts occupied about four years in building, and were designed to accommodate not only the Assizes, but also the Quarter Sessions, Petty Sessions, and Coroner’s Court. The architects adopted a kind of Renaissance as the style of the building, in which the principal features resemble those of the French style of Francis I., essentially Gothic in spirit and grouping; the material used being a rich warm-toned terra-cotta for the exterior, with a like material, but of a buff colour, for the interior. The main building departs from the line of the street in order to preserve a rectangular conformation of the chief apartments, but by the projection of the south angle of the facade the street line is preserved in the lower frontage of the building, while at the same time the projecting portion carries the eye back to the main feature and charm of the front, the public hall, emphasised by the octagonal turrets which terminate the corridors, and accentuate, so to say, the three blocks of the composition. The large public hall which occupies the front portion of the building forms one of the distinguishing features of the building. It is a noble hall, with an open timber roof, and walls of a cool grey tone, enriched with sculpture, and lighted by five large windows which were filled with designs in stained glass in illustration of the local events of Her Majesty’s reign, designed by Mr. H. Walter Lonsdale and executed by Messrs. Heaton, Butler, and Bayne. These constitute the only memorial in Birmingham of the Queen’s Jubilee.

Victoria Courts: The Bar Library. (From a Photograph by Harold Baker)

The façade of the building is richly decorated with sculpture. That in the centre gable bears the Royal Arms, and in the gables at each end of the frontage are emblematic figures by Mr. Aumonier, representing the arts and crafts of Birmingham. The pinnacle of the central gable is surmounted by a figure of Justice, by Mr. Frith. The richest portion of the external decoration is in the central entrance porch, which is adorned by a statue of Her Majesty by Mr. Harry Bates, and four spandril figures, representing the attributes of Justice, designed by Mr. Walter Crane and executed by Mr. Frith. In the space underneath the statue of the Queen is a group representing St. George and the Dragon. Besides these are many charming little figures in various parts of the facade, all of which were executed by Mr. Frith.

Victoria Courts: The Bar Library. (From a Photograph by Harold Baker)

Access is obtained by the gabled entrance in the centre of the frontage, into the public hall above described, which is 80 feet long by 40 feet wide; from this hall access is obtained by means of a broad central corridor to the magistrates’ courts, of which there are three, and is then intersected by a transverse corridor, beyond which are the judges’ courts (on either side of the main corridor), which are panelled and fitted up in oak, beautifully carved, and, like the rest of the building, are lighted with incandescent electric lamps. At the end of the corridor is the library for the use of barristers attending the assizes, of which there are a considerable number, as the members of both the Oxford and Midland circuits practise in Birmingham, where the two circuits join. This is a very beautiful apartment, the fine panelled ceiling reminding one of some of the ceilings in old Elizabethan mansions. The two courts of assize have each retiring rooms for the judges, communicating directly with the bench, and from galleries on the side of each court access is obtained to the upper corridors, communicating with the grand jury room, the magistrates’ room (a very fine apartment), and other private rooms and offices. From one part of each of the upper corridors a fine view is obtained of the great public hall, the corridors at this point forming galleries overlooking the hall from either end. The whole building is enriched and adorned with choice examples of carved woodwork point forming galleries overlooking the hall from either end. The whole building is enriched and adorned with choice examples of carved woodwork and of modelling in terra-c

Related material


Dent, Robert K. The Making of Birmingham: Being a History of the Rise & Growth of the Midland Metropolis. Birmingham: J. L. Allday, 1894. Birmingham: Hall and English, 1886. 398-403. HathiTrust online version of a copy in the University of California Library. Web. 4 October 2022.

Last modified 14 October 2022

otta, and it has received the highest praise from good judges of architecture.

The building, which received the name of the Victoria Law Courts, was opened by the Prince and Princess of Wales on the 21st of July, 1891, and the first assize held therein was opened by the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Coleridge, on the 30th of July in the same year.