Albert J Pitcher and John Wilson Paterson (H M Office of Works), 1934-7 (with modifications to elevations by George Washington Brown); Alexander Carrick, architectural sculpture. 3-storey, basement and attic, 7-bay, rectangular-plan, symmetrical neo-Georgian classical court building occupying an island site in city-centre location. Pedimented and Giant Doric pilastered breakfront centrepiece to principal elevation; Giant Doric pilastered secondary entrances to long, side elevations. Darney stone ashlar, rusticated ground floor with bold key-blocked openings; frieze cill course with stone balustrade to window aprons; deep corniced eaves and blocking course. Triglyph, metope and guttae frieze to pedimented centrepiece; semi-abstract carved figure of Justice to triangular pediment. Multi-pane timber windows throughout.
The interior, seen in 2014, was comprehensively remodelled circa 1992-4 for conversion from Sheriff Court to High Court use. Remodelling included new principal stair leading to upper courtroom lobby and extensive barrel-vaulted T-plan roof above. Principal central courtrooms also remodelled and additional smaller courtrooms created from previous office accommodation. Original 1930s monumental neo-Classical treatment to secondary side entrances and lobby to principal courtrooms remain, including key-blocked polished stone architraves and monument polished stone seating. Holding cells and archives stores to basement.
Statement of Special Interest
The High Court (former Sheriff Court) in Edinburgh is a significant and rare example of an interwar civic commission and is an important example of interwar neo-Georgian architecture in Scotland. With dwindling departmental budgets and the increasing threat of conflict in Europe, relatively few government commissions were built during the 1930s. The context of Edinburgh's classical architecture was respected by the Office of Works architects and the result was an overtly academic treatment with a severely symmetrical plan and elevations. The building is located in one of Scotland's most outstanding historic urban settings at a key junction on Edinburgh's Royal Mile.
The former Sheriff Court of Edinburgh, built in 1934-7, was erected following a protracted procurement and architectural appointment process (begun in 1912) whereby the HM Office of Works considered the erection of new public buildings in Edinburgh including the National Library of Scotland and the Scottish Office buildings at Calton Hill, where it was originally intended to locate the new sheriff court building. Public debate about the location and the appearance of these buildings in historic locations in Scotland's capital required informed artistic and architectural advice from outside the Office of Works. Robert Lorimer and then George Washington Browne, on behalf of Royal Fine Art Society, commented on and contributed to the scheme.
The budget for building the sheriff court was limited due to competing projects and it was decided that Office of Works architects would lead this particular commission. The chosen location in High Street near Parliament House and the soon to be demolished Italian Renaissance Sheriff Court house by David Bryce of 1865-7 (the chosen the site of the new National Library) was significant. The original location was planned as a wing of the new government buildings at Calton Hill but this never materialised due to numerous political complications, but also especially the excessive distance between Calton Hill and Parliament House.
Albert J Pitcher was the co-ordinating architect in London under Chief Architect, Sir Richard John Allison, at the Directorate of Works in Whitehall overseeing the Calton Hill government buildings and sheriff court schemes.
John Wilson Paterson (1887-1969) was Chief Architect at the Edinburgh H M Office of Works, responsible for New Works and Ancient Monuments. He put forward proposals for new government buildings at Calton Hill in 1929 and 1930 which included a wing for the new sheriff court. Controversy raged about the use of public office architects and the lack of open competition for such an important architectural commission. In the end, Paterson was charged with preparing a revised plan for a new stand-alone building in the Lawnmarket for the sheriff court.
Alexander Carrick (1882-1966) was a prolific monumental and architectural sculptor, teaching and eventually becoming Head of Sculpture at the Edinburgh College of Art. He was responsible for a number of war memorials in the early 1920s and later worked on prestigious public and private architectural commissions, including Cardiff Castle, Scotland's National War Memorial and the Reid Memorial Church. While working at the Edinburgh Sheriff Court, Carrick was also employed by the Office of Works to carve the large heraldic panel at St Andrew's House (1934-39).
The development of the court house as a building type in Scotland follows the history of the Scottish legal system and wider government reforms. The majority of purpose-built court houses were constructed in the 19th century as by this time there was an increase in the separation of civic, administrative and penal functions into separate civic and institutional buildings, and the resultant surge of public building was promoted by new institutional bodies. The introduction of the Sheriff Court Houses (Scotland) Act of 1860 gave a major impetus to the increase and improvement of court accommodation and the provision of central funding was followed by the most active period of sheriff court house construction in the history of the Scottish legal system, and many new court houses were built or reworked after this date.
Court houses constructed after 1860 generally had a solely legal purpose and did not incorporate a prison, other than temporary holding cells. The courts were designed in a variety of architectural styles but often relied heavily on Scots Baronial features to reference the fortified Scottish building tradition. Newly constructed court buildings in the second half of the 19th century dispensed with large public spaces such as county halls and instead provided bespoke office accommodation for the sheriff, judge and clerks, and accommodated the numerous types of court and holding cells.
Statutory address and listed building record revised as part of the Scottish Courts Listing Review 2014-15. Previously listed as '413-431 Lawnmarket'.
Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland: http://www.rcahms.gov.uk/canmore.html CANMORE ID 74115.
Gifford, J. et al. (1984 and Revised 1988) The Buildings of Scotland: Edinburgh. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books. p.188.
Walker, D. (1989) St Andrews House: An Edinburgh Controversy 1912-1939. Edinburgh: Historic Scotland. pp.8-19.
Dictionary of Scottish Architects, Sheriff Courthouse; at http://www.scottisharchitects.org.uk/building_full.php?id=212577 [accessed 13 November 2014].
Dictionary of Scottish Architects, J Wilson Paterson at http://www.scottisharchitects.org.uk/architect_full.php?id=201676 [accessed 13 November 2014].
Alexander Carrick Sculptor,
http://www.alexandercarricksculptor.co.uk/#/welcome-page/4517986851 [accessed 13 November 2014].
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Printed: 18/10/2019 22:52