When I heard the news that the Middlesex Guildhall at Westminster was to become The Supreme Court my immediate reaction was, a little bit more of Middlesex is to disappear.
However, I believe that the original name is to be retained. Standing as it is so close to Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament, the site is bound to be an historic one, built as the Abbey was on marshland. In the very early days the site was occupied by the Abbey's Sanctury Tower and Old Belfry.
It was a large structure housing two bells which were rung at coronations and funerals, In those far off days, there was the custom that a person being pursued could obtain sanctury in a church or church building, and here standing on a island, the tower would house fugitives from the law, looked after by the monks of St Peter’s, the old name of the Abbey. The building was partially demolished at the dissolution of the monastries by Henry VIII, and turned into an inn called the Three Tuns.
In 1750, it was demolished to make way for the Westminster Market, and remained so for the next 50 years. In 1800, the site was taken over by the justices and the first Courthouse was built. In 1889 this was replaced by the first Middlesex Guildhall which housed the early Middlesex County Council and the Quarter Sessions. However, this building soon proved to be too small and a larger building was called for.
Designed by architect James Gibson with much external and internal decoration, the new building of Portland Stone the foundation stone was laid by Duke of Bedford, Lord Lieutenant of the County of Middlesex in 1912. The completed Guildhall was opened by HRH Price Arthur of Connaught on December 19, 1913, just before the First World War. It was described as art nouveau Gothic and cost over £111,000, a great deal of money at that time.
For the Coronation of King George VI, the building was turned into a broadcasting station, relaying the ceremony to the world. It has also been a fine grandstand for the many royal and other occasions at the Abbey.
In 1964 Middlesex ceased as an administrative and judicial area and the Guildhall was later converted to become a Crown Court centre with seven busy criminal courtrooms. In 1983 I was called up for jury service to attend at the Middlesex Guildhall. The swearing in ceremony took place in the splendour of the main court. One case I sat on was in this court with the judge in full robes and wig peering down at us, and the age old courtesy of bowing taking place.
Renovation work has recently taken place in the building in its conversion to the Supreme Court and has revealed hidden panelling, carving and stained glass windows in connection with the old county of Middlesex and will in future be on show. In addition to new courtrooms, the public areas will include a cafe and exhibition space, which will now go on my visiting wish list.