Statement of Special Interest
The former Peebles County Hall and Jail is a well-detailed example of a mid 19th century civic building in the neo- Jacobean style. It is a good example of the work of Thomas Brown II, architect for the Prison Board of Scotland and has high quality late 19th century alterations by Kinnear and Dick Peddie. Built at the head of the High Street it makes a significant contribution to the streetscape of this historic burgh town.
Age and Rarity
The court house was designed and built in 1843-1845 by the architect to the Prison Board of Scotland, Thomas Brown II. It is on the steep sided Castlehill mound beside the Peebles Old Parish Church at the head of Peebles High Street where the River Tweed and Eddlestone Water meet. It is marked on the Town Plan of Peebles of 1856 as a county hall with a jail at the rear and airing yards. The surviving high boundary walls adjoining the rear elevation of the building enclose the former airing yards.
Internal and some external alterations were carried out by Edinburgh architects, Charles Kinnear and John More Dick Peddie in 1892 when the building became the sheriff court. The remodelling of the principal courtroom on the first floor and the ornamental plasterwork ceiling addition were also carried out at this time.
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, however, prior to this time burgh judicial functions were commonly housed in a single building, such as the tolbooth or town hall. By the 19th century 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 Burgh Police (Scotland) Act of 1833 significantly altered local government in Scotland and marked the beginnings of democratically-elected councils. The period following this Act brought forward stricter financial control of Scottish burghs and few new or major alterations to court houses were carried out until the Sheriff Court Houses (Scotland) Act of 1860. The main exception in this period was the remodelling of prisons or cell accommodation, which following The Prisons Act of 1835 were subject to annual inspection. An 1839 Act transferred the supervision, management and cost of prisons to County Boards. The few court houses that were constructed between 1835 and 1860 typically had a small cell block range, such as Dingwall and Peebles. Cell blocks were also added to the court houses of Nairn, Inverness, Cromarty and Stonehaven (cell block has been demolished). Following the 1860 Act court houses generally had a solely legal purpose and did not incorporate a prison, other than temporary holding cells.
The former Peebles County Hall is a significant example of a public building in the neo-Jacobean style. It is a rare example of a mid 19th century court house built with a jail and represents a period of judicial and penal change in Scotland.
Architectural or Historic Interest
Courts of the mid-19th century tend to be highly decorated buildings in keeping with their high civic status. There are numerous elements of the 19th century interior surviving at the former Peebles court house. Later 20th century internal modifications, for its change to commercial use, have not had a significant impact on the overall character of the interior and the quality of surviving decorative features means that it continues to be readable as a mid-late 19th century public building. It retains its central stair with handrail and cupola and a fine Jacobean plasterwork ceiling of 1892 by Peddie and Kinnear, in the former courtroom. Earlier surviving features from 1844 include the sprung corbel round-arched windows and doorway within the vestibule at ground floor. The survival of four vaulted basement cells adds to the interior interest.
The mid-19th century layout was modified towards the end of the 19th-century by Kinnear and Peddie with elements of the earlier mid-19th century plan surviving, particularly at the entrance lobby and central stairwell. The plan form of the building is not unusual, with the main courtroom located on the first floor, but it has been designed to maximise its sloping site with an outshot to the rear. The survival of the former cells and airing yards walls are also of interest.
Technological excellence or innovation, material or design quality
As key civic buildings, courts usually had a significant amount of decorative work on the exterior and the former Peebles court house is a fine example of mid 19th century court house, which is little altered externally. A number of mid-19th century court houses were built in a Tudor or Jacobean revivalist style with Peebles, first completed in 1845, being a good distinctive example with Jacobean hood mouldings and a strong sense of verticality, accentuated by the distinctive tall octagonal chimney stacks.
The building is an early example of the work of Thomas Brown II, shortly before he entered partnership with James Maitland Wardrop in 1849. 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. 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. The design for Peebles shares similarities to Brown's designs for county court and jail buildings at Dingwall (LB24500) and Dornoch (LB24638) and his later buildings with partner James Maitland including Stornoway (LB41710). 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 partnership of Edinburgh architects Charles George Hood Kinnear and John Dick Peddie (and later his talented son, John More Dick Peddie) existed between 1856 and 1878 and continued as a leading practice in Scotland up to the Second World War. Kinnear's earlier association with William Burn and David Bryce was a significant influence on the practice. The partnership was successful from the beginning with numerous commissions for high status public and commercial buildings, schools and churches across Scotland.
The court house is at the head of the High Street and therefore is a prominent civic building in the historic burgh town of Peebles. The design of the building has been tailored to its site and has distinctive streetscape presence, with its tall octagonal chimney stacks and mullioned windows. To the rear of the building are tall rubble walls enclosing a rectangular plan area, which is marked as airing yards on the Town Plan of Peebles of 1856. The survival of these walls is of interest in aiding our understanding of the building.
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 the Former Scottish Court Houses Listing Review 2014-16). Previously listed as 'High Street, Sheriff Court House, Former County Hall'.