Historic Building Details

HB Ref No:

Extent of Listing:
Courts, railings & gates

Date of Construction:
1920 - 1939

Address :
Royal Courts of Justice Chichester Street Belfast BT1 3JY

Town Parks

Survey 2:

Date of Listing:

Date of De-listing:

Current Use:
Court House

Former Use
Court House

Conservation Area:

Industrial Archaeology:





OS Map No:
130/13 SE

IG Ref:
J3435 7406

Owner Category


Exterior Description And Setting

Detached symmetrical multi-bay three-storey over basement (with attic) Portland limestone clad neo-classical courthouse, built c.1933, to the designs of James G. West. Quadrangular on plan with advanced corner pavilion blocks, arranged around a central courtyard having mirrored principal elevations facing north onto Chichester Street and south onto May Street. Enclosed by decorative iron railings on balustrade stone wall to north and south with a tall stone-clad wall enclosing the east side elevation to Victoria Street. Pitched natural slate roofs hidden behind stone parapet having moulded coping. Decorative iron hoppers with Royal insignia to the internal courtyard elevations only and cast-iron downpipes. Portland limestone ashlar walling with rock-faced rusticated plinth course and a full-span modillioned cornice below attic-storey with coffer panels and full entablature enriched with egg-and-dart, leaf-and-dart and bead mouldings. Machine-made red brick walling to the courtyard elevations laid in Dutch bond. Square-headed window openings with multi-pane powder-coated steel casement windows. Colonnaded principal north elevation is thirteen windows wide with a central tetrastyle portico in antis. Portico articulated by four Corinthian columns on rock-faced rusticated plinths supporting continuous entablature, responding Corinthian pilasters within the portico having three panels to the soffit. All windows flanked by Giant order engaged Corinthian columns including the corner pavilions fully framed by additional pairs of Corinthian pilasters. Segmental-headed window openings to the attic-storey on the pavilion blocks with architrave surrounds and set within a semi-circular recess having stepped keystones embellished with cartouches. Architrave window surrounds to first floor with stepped keystones, cornices and moulded sills with shallow apron panels. Gibbsian-type architrave surrounds to the ground floor windows with segmental pediments and a continuous sill course. Decoratively carved Royal coat of arms to the central first floor window within the portico. Square-headed door opening to the portico with Gibbsian-type architrave surround embellished with leaf-and-dart mouldings, stepped keystone and decorative lintel cornice. Original double-leaf hardwood doors each having five panels with decorative mouldings and brass door furniture. Door opens onto stone paved portico with four nosed steps and a pair of elaborate cast-iron lamp standards. The west pavilion has a further square-headed door opening with Gibbsian-type architrave surround, double-leaf timber doors (as per above), plain stone lintel and multi-pane overlight, opening onto four nosed stone steps. East side elevation is nineteen windows wide with advanced corner pavilion blocks, detailed as per front elevation. Pilastered secondary south elevation is thirteen windows wide with a central tetrastyle portico in antis. Portico articulated by two Corinthian columns and two Corinthian corner pilasters on rock-faced rusticated plinths supporting continuous entablature. All window openings detailed as per north front elevation flanked by full-height Corinthian pilasters. Central square-headed door opening detailed as per front elevation. West side elevation is eighteen windows wide with advanced corner pavilion blocks, detailed as per front elevation. Symmetrical four-storey red brick elevations to the internal courtyard with a three-storey block to the centre, set on a north-south axis, possibly having additional storeys added c.1950. Each elevation has a central gabled projection with the former courtyard infilled with late twentieth-century flat-roofed single-storey structures. Gauged brick flat-arched window openings with powder-coated multi-pane steel casement windows and masonry sills flanked by shallow brick pilasters having limestone heads. Limestone ashlar coping throughout with circular stone panels to the north and south gables inscribed; ‘A.D. 1932’ to the north and having a ‘Hand of Ulster’ carving to the south. Circular steel windows to occuli to the east and west projections. Setting Fronting onto Chichester Street with its east side elevation fronting onto Victoria Street and secondary elevation fronting onto May Street. Small lawned front area to the north with both north and south elevations enclosed by iron railings on balustraded Portland limestone wall and surmounted by decorative cast-iron lamps. Elaborate cast-iron gates face each pavilion block to both north and south elevations framed by decorative cast-iron lamps. Bitmac paved parking areas to east, south and west. East elevation enclosed to the street by double-height Portland limestone wall with continuous mouldings presenting a defensive character to the streetscape. Detached single-storey Portland limestone gate lodge located to the northwest having symmetrical elevations and continuous cornice below parapet. Square-headed window openings with multi-pane steel casement windows. Recessed central square-headed door opening to the north and east elevations flanked by Doric columns and having double-leaf hardwood panelled doors with multi-pane overlights. Roof: Natural slate RWG: Cast-iron Walling: Portland limestone ashlar Windows: steel


West, James. Grey.

Historical Information

The Royal Courts of Justice, a four-storey 13-bay state building in neo-classical style, was constructed in 1928-33. Under the Government of Ireland Act (1920), it was required that the British Government should provide a Courts of Justice for the newly-created Northern Ireland state. The building was designed by an English architect articled to the Government Office of Works, Sir James Grey West (1881-1951); West, who became chief architect of the Office of Works in 1934, was also appointed Director of Post-War Planning during the Second World War, and the Royal Courts of Justice is his only work to be completed in Northern Ireland (Dictionary of Scottish Architects). Although the Courts were designed by an English architect, a local structural engineer, Peter Hogarth, was appointed to oversee the execution of West’s design. Hogarth was the head of Hogarth Ltd, a firm of engineering consultants based in Belfast, and was also appointed structural engineer to the contemporary Ulster Museum (completed in 1929); the builders contracted to realise West’s design were Stewart & Partners of Belfast who went on to build Stormont (Irish Builder, p. 21; Dictionary of Irish Architects; Dictionary of Scottish Architects). The Ordnance Survey maps show that the Royal Courts of Justice were constructed on the site of the former Chichester market which was demolished in the late-1920s to make way for the new edifice; the adjoining grain markets were not demolished until after the completion of the Courts and can be seen on the fourth edition of the Ordnance Survey maps (1931) standing alongside the new building. The market site was purchased by the government from the Belfast Corporation for £55,000 and the foundation stone laid on 19th October 1929; in that year the cost of construction was estimated at £170,000. After over three years of construction, the Belfast Telegraph records that the Royal Courts of Justice were opened on 13th April 1933 by Lord Craigavon (the first Prime Minister of Northern Ireland - James Craig) and the Northern Ireland Chief Justice, Sir William Moore and Lady Moore; the official opening did not take place until the 31st May when the Governor of Northern Ireland, the Duke of Abercorn, presided over the opening ceremony (Belfast Telegraph; Belfast Newsletter). In 1935 the First General Revaluation of property in Northern Ireland notes that, when completed, the Royal Courts of Justice were originally valued at a total of £11,650. The Courts survived the heavy bombardment of the markets area during the 1941 Belfast Blitz and in the aftermath of the Second World War the building was reassessed under the second general revaluation which commenced in 1956. By the end of the project in 1972 the value of the Royal Courts of Justice had been increased to a total of £15,464. With the partition of Ireland under the Government of Ireland Act (1920), Northern Ireland was established as an autonomous region of the United Kingdom. Government, parliamentary and cultural headquarters that had formerly had their headquarters in Dublin were hastily set up in the capital of the new state; examples of public buildings constructed in the first decades of Northern Ireland’s history include the Parliament Building at Stormont (1932) and the Ulster Museum (1929). As part of this state-sanctioned building scheme the Royal Courts of Justice were constructed in 1928-33. Brett states that the Courts are a politically significant building in the formation of Northern Ireland and together with earlier edifices such as the City Hall and the Assembly Buildings, ‘architecturally they constitute the corporate expression of embattled Unionism, and of an effort (perhaps largely unconscious) to convert a brash and sprawling industrial centre into a politico-religious capital city … [external expressions that Belfast required] as the capital of a subordinate government’ (Brett, p. 54). The Courts website states that the building was ‘designed in a style intended to convey the dignity and tradition of the law;’ the building was constructed in a neo-classical style employing Portland stone and giant Corinthian columns to demonstrate this effect. Due to the proximity of the site to the River Lagan, and the colossal size of the building, 1,153 concrete piles were sunk 40ft into the ground to provide an adequate foundation. The steel frame of the building was erected between 1928 and October 1929 when the first stone was laid. Dixon states that the Royal Courts of Justice ‘demonstrates with grand facades of giant columns and ornate window frames the lasting popularity of the early-18th century style of James Gibbs,’ the British architect who was responsible for St. Martin-in-the-fields church in London and the Radcliffe Camera at Oxford University (Dixon, pp 189-191). Patton described the Royal Courts of Justice as an ‘imposing steel-framed Portland stone building in neo-classical style with Gibbsian surrounds to ground floor windows, giant order Corinthian columns in end pavilions supporting dentilled cornice above second floor, and plain attic floor above; small pane steel windows. Heavy cast iron lanterns and gates to boundary walls’ (Patton, p. 63-65). The Courts website notes that the interior was finished in Italian Travertine marble; the most impressive portion of the interior is the 140ft long central hall which possessed marble coats of arms at each end and also includes marble war memorials which ‘pay tribute to those members of the bar and the solicitor’s profession killed in the First and Second World War’ (Courts website). As a government institution, the Royal Courts of Justice were frequently targeted during the Troubles resulting in the erection of the permanent security boundary wall on Oxford Street and the construction of neo-classical sentry-boxes along Chichester Street in 1992 (Patton, p. 65). References Primary Sources 1. PRONI OS/6/1/61/4 – Fourth Edition Ordnance Survey Map 1931 2. PRONI OS/6/1/61/5 – Fifth Edition Ordnance Survey Map 1938 3. PRONI VAL/12/B/43/C/40-44 - Annual Revisions 1924-1930 4. PRONI VAL/3/B/3/14 – First General Revaluation of Northern Ireland 1935 5. PRONI VAL/4/B/7/42 – Second General Revaluation of Northern Ireland 1956-1972 6. Irish Builder, Vol. 98 (14 Jan 1956) 7. Belfast Street Directories (1901-1943) 8. Belfast Newsletter (24 Aug 1929; 31 May 1933) 9. Belfast Telegraph (13 Apr 1933) 10. First Survey Record – HB26/50/180 (1983) 11. First Survey Image – HB26/50/180 (1976) 12. Ordnance Survey Map – 130-13SE (1959) Secondary Sources 1. Dixon, H., ‘An introduction to Ulster Architecture’ Belfast: Ulster Architectural Heritage Society, 2008. 2. Larmour, P., ‘Belfast: An illustrated architectural guide’ Belfast: Ulster Architectural Heritage Society, 1987. 3. Patton, M., ‘Central Belfast: An historical gazetteer’ Belfast: Ulster Architectural Heritage Society, 1993. Online Resources 1. Dictionary of Irish Architects - http://www.dia.ie 2. Dictionary of Scottish Architects - http://www.scottisharchitects.org.uk/ 3. Royal Courts of Justice website – http://www.courtsni.gov.uk/en-gb/aboutus/rcj/pages/royal%20courts%20of%20justice%20customer%20information.aspx

Criteria for Listing

Architectural Interest

A. Style B. Proportion C. Ornamentation D. Plan Form E. Spatial Organisation F. Structural System H-. Alterations detracting from building I. Quality and survival of Interior J. Setting

Historic Interest

V. Authorship W. Northern Ireland/International Interest Y. Social, Cultural or Economic Importance


Detached symmetrical multi-bay three-storey over basement with attic Portland limestone clad neo-classical courthouse, built c.1933, to the designs of James G. West. Quadrangular on plan with advanced corner pavilion blocks. Together with Stormont Parliament Buildings, this large public building was one of the last to be built in a classical idiom in Europe, which was meant to represent the gravitas of the state. The austerity of the façades is enlivened by Gibbsian details and refined stone carvings. Much original historic fabric and fine detailing survive and the structural system is of note, as is the history of the site. It is a fine example of this type of major civic structure in a revived classical idiom.

General Comments

Date of Survey

Wednesday, November 28, 2012