Designed by Thomas Brown II and constructed from 1849-50, it is a 2-storey, 3-bay, and roughly rectangular-plan, Gothic Tudor style former court house. The principal elevation is symmetrical with a projecting centre block and flanking lower 2-storey, single bay wings. It is constructed of tooled ashlar and polished ashlar dressings. There is an arcaded ground floor loggia to the centre block with 3 round headed arches linked by a hoodmould and string course. The central round headed doorway is recessed with a fanlight above and with similarly detailed narrow flanking windows. The first floor centre bay has triple round arched lancets rising into a crowstepped gable. There are long flanking windows under pedimented gablets with thistle and fleur-de-lys decorative finials. The flanking wings have round headed windows and similar gablets over the first floor windows. There is a simple bellcote on the east gable apex with crowsteps. There are corniced end stacks, a slate roof, and a stone ridge course. There is a First World War memorial plaque to the Seaforth Highlanders over the central arcade.
The interior was not seen in 2014, however it is known to have a first floor courtroom with a shallow pitched Gothic arch ribbed ceiling and painted bosses on the central ridge, with predominantly original 1850 courtroom fittings, and the 1914 carved Royal coat of arms of Scotland. There is a shallow timber gallery opposite the bench, with moulded panels. There is a stone stair with a cast iron balustrade and timber handrail. The secondary rooms, offices and passages include decorative cornicing and panelled doors, and a number of fireplaces (many now boarded up).
Statement of Special Interest
The former Dornoch County Buildings is an important example of a mid-19th century court house designed in the Gothic Tudor style by the renowned architect, Thomas Brown II. Built in high quality materials, its distinctive symmetrical principal elevation with ground floor loggia and first floor lancet windows under gableted dormers make it one of the most prominent buildings in this burgh town centre. It is part of a pair of historic judicial buildings with the adjacent jail and this setting aids our understanding of Scotland's legal and civic legacy.
Age and Rarity
The former Dornoch Sheriff Court House was built in 1849-1850 by the architect to the Prison Board of Scotland, Thomas Brown II. Constructed on Castle Street or 'The Square' of Dornoch, the site was previously occupied by an episcopal palace, gifted by Bishop Robert Stewart to John, the 11th Earl of Sutherland in 1557. The building was constructed with screen walls abutting the adjacent former prison to the east (listed at category B, LB24638), which was constructed in 1842-44 and also designed by Brown.
The construction of the County Building began in 1849 and consisted of two parallel 2-storey rectangular blocks with pitched slated roofs. The 1st Edition Ordnance Survey Map (surveyed 1879), in comparison with modern maps, shows that the footprint of the building is largely unchanged.
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.
Dornoch Sheriff Court is a well-detailed example of a mid-19th century civic building in the Highlands that just predates the significant Sheriff Court Houses (Scotland) Act of 1860.
Architectural or Historic Interest
Courts were often highly decorated buildings in keeping with them being high status civic buildings and it is understood that much of the 1849-50 scheme at Dornoch remains intact, including the public gallery balcony seating to the principal courtroom.
The plan form of the 1849-50 court house is typical for its date with the main courtroom located on the first floor. There has been some slight modification to the surrounding offices, including some later partitions and changes to room functions, which is not unusual in a building of this type in continuous use, however the basic internal plan remains.
Technological excellence or innovation, material or design quality
From the early 19th century court houses or county buildings were designed in a form that consciously distinguished them from the architecture of other established civic buildings. In contrast to town hall or tolbooth buildings which traditionally favoured a vertical emphasis with the addition of spires or steeples, court houses were more often designed to a maximum of two storeys and with a horizontal design emphasis to a long street façade.
Dornoch Sheriff Court exemplifies this use of horizontal lines by a wide gabled and symmetrical principal elevation with an arcaded loggia at the ground floor. The design is similar to Brown's Dingwall Sheriff Court of 1842 (listed at category B, LB24500) with a similarly proportioned and symmetrical principal elevation, the few discreet crowstepped gables and first floor window pediments.
As architect to the Prison Board of Scotland, Thomas Brown II had extensive experience in designing county court houses and prisons (the design work of which his partner Thomas Wardrop gradually took over), such as at Dingwall (1842) and Inverness (1833), and which later included the court houses of Wigtown (1862), Alloa (1863), Forfar (1869) and Stirling (designed 1866, built 1874). The practice was also highly successful at remodelling and designing country houses, with their work accomplished examples of the French Baronial style and later pioneering examples of neo-Georgian. The modest Tudor Gothic style adopted at Dornoch was undoubtedly influenced from both Brown previously working in the offices of William Burn.
Dornoch Sheriff Court appears somewhat plain compared to Brown's later public commissions. However according to the Burgh Council minutes quoted in Mackay's The Ancient Tolbooths of Dornoch it was deliberately approved for the building to be 'divested of all external ornament, agreeably to the desire of His Grace the Duke of Sutherland' (1896, pp.31-32).
The former court house is prominently positioned on Castle Street in Dornoch and is a distinctive important civic building in the streetscape, particularly with its wide gabled frontage and loggia. It forms a good historic judicial group with the adjacent former jail (see separate listing) and this setting aids our understanding of Scotland's legal and civic legacy.
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 Former Scottish Court Houses Listing Review 2014-16. Previously listed as 'Castle Street County Buildings and Court House'.
Canmore http://canmore.org.uk/ CANMORE ID 93408
Ordnance Survey (1879) Sutherland, Sheet CXII. 6 inches to the mile. 1st Edition. Southampton: Ordnance Survey.
National Archives of Scotland, Unsigned and undated plans and elevations, RMP 21389-21397.
Gifford, J. (1992) Buildings of Scotland: Highlands and Islands. London: Penguin Books Ltd. pp.567-568.
Groome, F. H. (ed.), 1883. The Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland; a survey of Scottish topography, statistical, biographical, and historical, 1st Ed., Vol II. London: William Mackenzie. p.362.
The Scottish Civic Trust (1983) Historic Buildings at Work. Glasgow: The Scottish Civic Trust. p.79.
Mackay, H.M. (1896) The Ancient Tolbooths of Dornoch. Edinburgh: Neill and Company. pp.31-32
Dictionary of Scottish Architects. Thomas Brown II at http://www.scottisharchitects.org.uk/architect_full.php?id=200146 [accessed 03/11/2014].
Historic Scotland (2014) Scottish Courts Preliminary Report at https://www.historicenvironment.scot/media/3337/scottish-courts-preliminary-report.pdf [accessed 03/11/2014].
Further information provided by Scottish Courts Service (2014).
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Printed: 15/05/2021 17:44