Prior to Crown Courts being adopted in the UK in 1956, serious cases were dealt with at Assize Courts.
Manchester Assize Court
Manchester had one of the finest Assize Courts, located on Great Ducie Street in Manchester. This area now houses Strangeways Prison Visitors Centre and Staff Car Park.
It was built in 1864 and was at the time the tallest building in Manchester. It was designed by Alfred Waterhouse.
The building contained sculptures by Thomas Woolner and the firm of O’Shea and Whelan. They depicted lawgivers from history, along with a “drunk woman”, a “good woman”, a scene of the Judgment of Solomon and carvings depicting different punishments throughout history.
Pillars showing medieval torture scenes.
A picture, now housed at Manchester Crown Court, shows the Northern Bar in 1903, seeming grouped near the entrance to the Assize Courts.
Unfortunately the Court was heavily damaged during the Manchester Blitz in 1941, during the second world war.
Some small parts of the building survived and some statues and pillars were recovered but the building was eventually demolished. Some of the statues are now on display on the concourse at Manchester crown Court outside Courts 1-4. These depict various legal figures from history including Sir Thomas More.
Some artefacts are currently in storage in the basement.
4 more statues, pillars showing torture scenes and carved stone heads are shut away in the basement. Some of the scenes from the pillars can be seen here.
Assize Court Founding Plaque
The original founding plaque for the Court has also been retained.
Some remnants of the building can be seen near the Strangeways Visitors Centre.
HMCTS is currently exploring options for the future of the artefacts.
Written by Toby Wilbraham. Toby is a solicitor and Higher Court Advocate within our Crown Court department.