The building that houses both The Supreme Court and the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council has a rich legal history that is evident in its design and decoration.
The neo-gothic building started life as the Middlesex Guildhall in 1913 and housed two Courts and the offices of Middlesex County Council. As such, it is a fine example of skilfully-blended contemporary construction techniques and architecture deliberately rooted in history.
At the time of construction the choice of a Gothic style was unusual, but the well-known critic Nikolaus Pevsner classified it as a very free interpretation of Gothic, with an almost art nouveau flavour.
Designed by Scottish architect James Gibson (1864 – 1951), the building is situated opposite the Houses of Parliament, and flanked by the Treasury and Westminster Abbey. Gibson demonstrated a modern approach to his design by “keeping it quite distinct in scale and style so as to preserve its own individuality”.
The Supreme Court building stands on the western edge of Thorney Island and was originally part of the sanctuary grounds of Westminster Abbey.
The exterior of the building is decorated with ornamental statues, a piecework parapet and corner turrets.
The original entrance hall was modest in size and decoration. The walls in the entrance and grand staircase are plaster, painted to look like stonework.
When the Government announced its intention to establish The Supreme Court, the Middlesex Guildhall was chosen as the most appropriate location.
To create a suitable home for The Supreme Court, renovation works at the Middlesex Guildhall were wide-ranging yet sensitive, enhancing the historic fabric of the building.
The Supreme Court of the United Kingdom: History, Art, Architecture
For those interested in the civic and legal history of the Supreme Court building, a commemorative book dedicated the topic was published in 2010 to document the refurbishment of the Middlesex Guildhall.
The book, edited by esteemed architectural historian Chris Miele, contains a number of pieces and essays by eminent judges, including Justices of the Supreme Court and other distinguished contributors. The colourful publication is packed with images and plans which vividly portray the history and architecture of the building, including its decorative arts. The book also analyses the court's highly symbolic location on world-famous Parliament Square, and discusses the representative qualities of court architecture around the world.
The book is available to purchase from the cafe on the lower ground floor of the court, priced just £10 for softback and £25 for hardback (these prices have been reduced as a special offer to mark the court's third anniversary).