2-storey, attic and basement, Scots Baronial in style former sheriff court by Thomas Brown and James Maitland Wardrop dating from 1866-68 and situated on a prominent corner site (now a funeral directors premises, 2016). The building has crowstepped gables and a distinctive 4-stage circular tower with a tall candle-snuffer roof in a re-entrant angle on the east elevation. It is built in snecked rubble with a base course, continuous string course above the ground floor with hoodmoulding and has a cornice. Some of the first floor windows have pedimented or semi-circular dormerheads with carved panels depicting historical and armorial subjects. The windows to the former courtroom at the rear are round-arched.
The 4-bay entrance elevation faces west (Hope Street). Steps lead to an off-centre timber entrance door with a fanlight above, and which has a surrounding moulded doorpiece with carved panels above. The gabled bays on either side are slightly advanced and have stone-mullioned tripartite windows at the ground floor with carved panels above. The first floor windows are rectangular with cornices and strapwork details above. The far right bay is recessed and there is a corner turret with small, narrow window at the upper storey.
The 5-bay south elevation (West Bridge Street) is asymmetrical with a pair of near central gables. The gable to the left has a canted re-entrant angle with a timber door and a carved panel above. Above is a corbelled, square turret with a quatrefoil dummy gunloop and a bellcast candlesnuffer roof and spirelet. At the west end of the elevation is a studded door and high set small horizontal barred windows of the former ground floor cells.
The windows are mostly timber sash and case. The tripartite windows have a single pane over 2-pane glazing pattern and the rectangular windows have a 2-pane over 4-pane glazing pattern. There are grey slates to the roof and tall ashlar chimney stacks.
The interior was seen in 2014 and is arranged around a former courtroom at first floor. The courtroom has a timber hammerbeam ceiling. There is a fine, open-well stone stair with ornate iron balusters and at the first floor landing there are square urn balusters with large square newel posts. There is an ornate coved ceiling with a large rectangular lantern light over the stair. Some of the larger rooms have cornicing and carved fire surrounds.
There is a low coped boundary wall to the south and west. A pair of panelled gatepiers are situated in the boundary wall to the west and are topped by spiral metal lamp stands.
Statement of Special Interest
The former Falkirk Sheriff Court is a significant and imposing example of civic architecture and forms a focal point in the streetscape of Falkirk town centre. Designed by the prolific court architects Brown and Wardrop, it is elaborately detailed with carved stonework to the exterior, including in panels above the windows and pediments, and has distinctive architectural features such as the round tower with tall candle-snuffer roof and shaped pedimented dormerheads. The interior is also of high quality, retaining much of its mid-19th century decorative scheme, including finely detailed timberwork in the former courtroom and a well-detailed staircase.
Age and Rarity
Falkirk Sheriff Court was built between 1866 and 1868 at a cost of £7,000 and replaced a number of temporary premises. When built, the court house contained a courtroom, associated rooms and cells as shown in plans from 1864 by Wardrop and Brown (Canmore ID 221579). The building is described in the Falkirk Herald of 15 October 1868 as being 'ample and elegant' with 'numerous turrets and crow-step gables which….greatly enhance the general effect'. A police station wing was added to the south elevation in 1870 and was demolished before 1969. A second courtroom was added in the late 1970s. A new courthouse was built in Falkirk and opened in 1990 and consequently this one at Hope Street was closed. The building is now used by a funeral directors firm.
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 this 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 post 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 many relying 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 accommodating the numerous types of court and holding cells.
The former Sheriff Court at Falkirk is a well-detailed example of a Scots Baronial court house with elaborate stone detailing and high quality decorative features to the interior (see Architectural and Historic Interest section below). As the design dates from 1868 it is among the first phase of sheriff court buildings to be designed and built after the 1860 Act, a significant period of court house building in Scotland.
Architectural or Historic Interest
Courts were often highly decorated buildings in keeping with them being high status civic buildings and although no longer functioning as a court, much of the mid-19th century decorative scheme remains at the former Falkirk Sheriff Court building. The imposing timber hammerbeam roof in the former courtroom has some fine decorative detailing, particularly in the brackets. The ornate balusters in the main staircase make this feature a focal point in the building. The detailing to the ancillary rooms and circulation spaces is typical for its date. The basement level has retained the former cells and these are now used as storage.
The layout of the interior rooms has retained much of its 19th century plan. Placing offices around a central first floor courtroom is standard for a court house. The building was extended by the addition of the Police Station in 1870. It retains the same footprint as that shown on the 2nd edition Ordnance Survey map of 1898.
Technological excellence or innovation, material or design quality
As prime civic buildings courts usually have a significant amount of decorative work on the exterior. The former Falkirk Sheriff Court is no exception to this with carved stonework details particularly to its street elevations, which have been largely unaltered since the mid-19th century. This detailing includes elaborately carved panels above the windows, a prominent circular tower and crowstepped gables. The features of this style were reminiscent of those used in traditional fortified Scots building and are therefore highly appropriate for the use in a building connected with law and justice.
Thomas Brown and James Maitland Wardrop formed a prolific and highly successful architectural firm based in Edinburgh. Thomas Brown II (1806-circa 1872) began his architectural career in his father's firm. He probably worked in the office of William Burn prior to being appointed as architect to the Prison Board of Scotland in 1837 and setting up his own independent office in Edinburgh. James Maitland Wardrop (1823-1882) was articled to Thomas Brown, becoming a partner in the practice in 1849. As architect to the Prison Board of Scotland, Brown had extensive experience in designing county court houses and prisons, the design work of which Wardrop gradually took over, including the court houses of Alloa (1863, LB20970
, Forfar (1869, LB31609) and Stirling (designed 1866, built 1874, LB41108). The practice were also highly successful at remodelling and designing country houses, with their work accomplished examples of the Franco-Baronial style and later pioneering examples of neo-Georgian. Their Franco-Baronial style was undoubtedly influenced from previously working in the office of David Bryce, and Wardrop became a serious rival to him.
The former court building is prominently sited at a corner junction of Hope Street and West Bridge Street at the west end of Falkirk town centre. It is a bold and somewhat isolated example of Victorian public architecture in this part of Falkirk. The scale of the building, including the round tower and its high quality stonework detailing is indicative of an important civic building. It is situated in the Falkirk Conservation Area.
There are no known regional variations.
Close Historical Associations
There are no known associations with a person or event of national importance at present (2016).
Statutory address and listed building record revised in 2017 as part of Former Scottish Court Houses listing review, 2014-16. Previously listed as 'Sheriff Court House Buildings, Hope Street and West Bridge Street'.