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Banff Sheriff Court and Justice of the Peace Court, including boundary walls and railings, Low Street, Banff

A Category B Listed Building in Banff, Aberdeenshire

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Latitude: 57.6631 / 57°39'47"N

Longitude: -2.5216 / 2°31'17"W

OS Eastings: 368979

OS Northings: 863812

OS Grid: NJ689638

Mapcode National: GBR N84G.MJX

Mapcode Global: WH8LW.7NH7

Entry Name: Banff Sheriff Court and Justice of the Peace Court, including boundary walls and railings, Low Street, Banff

Listing Date: 22 February 1972

Last Amended: 9 September 2015

Category: B

Source: Historic Scotland

Source ID: 405636

Historic Scotland Designation Reference: LB22039

Building Class: Cultural

Location: Banff

County: Aberdeenshire

Town: Banff

Electoral Ward: Banff and District

Traditional County: Banffshire

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James Matthews, 1868-71. 2-storey, 7-bay with 5 bay return Renaissance, palazzo type court house with slightly advanced 3-bay centre and balustraded portico supported by paired Corinthian columns. Rectangular plan comprising U-plan with void of U infilled with double height courtroom. Tooled ashlar with polished ashlar dressings to principal (east) elevation and south elevation. Channelled quoins. Base course and string course between ground and first floor. Deep moulded and modillioned cornice below balustraded parapet and wide, panelled stacks to the centre. Segmental-headed keystoned ground floor aproned windows with moulded jambs. Keystoned round-headed first floor windows linked at impost level by decorative bandcourse with floral motif. North and rear elevations are harled with plain ashlar dressings.

4-pane glazing in timber sash and case frames. Grey slates, pitched roof with a piended roof to the courtroom. Plain blocked wallhead; corniced wallhead stack. Modillioned corniced stacks to side and rear elevations.

The interior, seen in 2014, is arranged around a south facing ground floor courtroom and north facing council chamber at first floor. Dog-leg staircase to the north of the plan with decorative cast iron balusters. Courtroom has panelled timber fittings included witness box with curved sounding board. Tall round-arched niches flank judges bench. Coombed and coffered ceiling with modillioned cornice. Iron fireplace with marble mantelpiece to judge's chambers. Predominantly panelled doors and moulded architraves. The council chamber has been refurbished but retains panelled timber doors in moulded architraves, including one with semicircular fanlight, and a moulded cornice.

Ashlar boundary walls with copes and topped by cast iron railings with fleur-de-lys decoration.

Statement of Interest

Banff Sheriff Court is a significant example of civic architecture and is an imposing Italianate style court house. Constructed from high quality materials and with a wealth of classical detailing to its south and east elevation, including a Corinthian portico and elaborate string course, it forms a focal point in the streetscape of the town centre of Banff. Internally the building retains much of its mid-19th century decorative scheme and the plan form is little altered. The coffered plaster ceiling and timber fixtures to the main courtroom are of notable quality.

James Matthews of Matthews and Mackenzie designed Banff Sheriff Court in 1868. He was assisted by his leading draughtsman, John Bridgeford Pirie. An article in the Aberdeen Journal of 29 September 1869 records that the design was revised to provide two holding cells and it was proposed that land to the rear of the building should be excavated for this purpose. This would also increase the light to the ground floor courtroom. The building was opened by Sheriff Gordon on 28 January 1871 and cost £7,214. The exterior of the building is largely unaltered with the footprint remaining as that shown on the Ordnance Survey map of 1904. As well as its legal function the building was designed to accommodate other civic functions, including the County Hall (now a council chamber), which is located on the first floor.

James Matthews (1819-1898) was articled to Archibald Simpson in 1834 and worked under the supervision of Simpson s assistant Thomas Mackenzie.From 1844 Matthews and Mackenzie went into partnership with offices in Elgin, Aberdeen and Inverness (with William Lawrie).They undertook variety of public and private commissions across the north of Scotland and were accomplished in the classical and Italianate style which they had developed from Simpson s late work.Other court houses the practice was responsible for include Kingussie, Portree, Fort William and Lochmaddy (see separate listings) and Matthews also entered the competition for the Aberdeen Municipal Buildings and Tolbooth. The style of each court house is varied, with Banff their only Italianate design.

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 the 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.

Court houses constructed after 1860 generally had a solely legal purpose and did not incorporate a prison, other than temporary holding cells. The courts were designed in a variety of architectural styles but often relied heavily on Scots Baronial features to reference the fortified Scottish building tradition. Newly constructed court buildings in the second half of the 19th century dispensed with large public spaces such as county halls and instead provided bespoke office accommodation for the sheriff, judge and clerks, and accommodated the numerous types of court and holding cells.

Statutory address and listed building record revised as part of the Scottish Courts Listing Review 2014-15. Previously listed as 'Low Street, Court House'.

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