The Royal Courts of Justice - Strand, London, UK
Posted by: Groundspeak Premium Member Master Mariner
N 51° 30.812 W 000° 06.789
30U E 700305 N 5710885
Quick Description: The Royal Courts of Justice stand on the north side of Strand in central London. Building started in 1873 and the courts were opened by Queen Victoria in 1882.
Location: London, United Kingdom
Date Posted: 4/26/2013 10:19:44 AM
Waymark Code: WMGZ3E
Published By: Groundspeak Premium Member razalas
Views: 6

Long Description:

The Scottish Architects website has a biography about George Edmund Street:

George Edmund Street was born at Woodford, Essex on 20 June 1824, the son of Thomas Street, a London solicitor and his second wife Mary Anne Millington. He was educated at Mitchan and at Camberwell Collegiate School, but in 1839 his father retired taking the family to Crediton, Devon. Early in 1840 he was sent to London to train as a solicitor but in May his father died and he returned to live with his mother first at Crediton and then at Exeter. He took lessons in drawing and painting from an uncle by marriage, Thomas Haseler, in Taunton, and studied the medieval architecture of Devon. In the spring of 1841 he was articled to Haseler's cousin Owen Carter for two years only followed by a further year as an assistant. In 1844 Street's mother went to live at Lee with her eldest son Thomas Henry, a solicitor in the family firm, enabling Street to seek experience with George Gilbert Scott and his partner William Bonython Moffat. While with Scott and Moffat, Street and his brother Thomas travelled and sketched extensively in Sussex, Lincolnshire, Northamptonshire, Yorkshire and Cumbria. In 1845 he joined the Ecclesiological Society to which he was to contribute papers from 1848 until 1863.

In 1847 while still an employee of Scott's Street was commissioned to design a new church at Biscovey in Cornwall. This was followed by other Cornwall commissions enabling him to set up his own office in London in 1849, but in 1850 through the influence of a client the Rev William Butler, the Vicar of Wantage, he was appointed architect to the Diocese of Oxford and moved office first to Wantage and then Oxford where in May 1852 he married Mariquita Proctor and took Edmund Sedding as assistant. The appointment of Philip Webb followed two years later in 1854.

In 1850 Street travelled in France the first of many visits to the Continent; and in the following year and again in 1854 he toured northern Germany and published in 'The Ecclesiologist'; and in 1855 he published the hugely influential 'Brick and Marble in the Middle Ages: Notes of a Tour in the North of Italy', based on his extensive tour there in 1853. In 1855-56 he entered the international competition for the new cathedral at Lille, coming second to Henry Clutton and William Burges, the executed building being an amalgam of the two designs concocted by a previously unsuccessful competitor based in Lille.

In 1856 Street returned to London and was appointed architect for the Crimea church in Constantinople, as the winning design by Burges could not be made to fit the site. His practice was essentially an ecclesiastical and collegiate one with commissions for churches as far afield as Paris, Vevey, Lausanne, Genoa and Rome until he was appointed architect for the London Law Courts in 1868 following an unsatisfactory competition in which he had been invited to take part. Street had particularly good connections in Yorkshire through the patronage of the Sykes family and in Aberdeenshire, initially through the Earl of Crawford & Balcarres's additions to Dunecht begun in 1867, although the Rev Frederick George Lee may have obtained a sketch design from him for St Mary's Carden Place, Aberdeen some years earlier. In the limited competition for St Mary's Episcopal Cathedral Edinburgh in 1872 his design was recommended by the assessor, Euan Christian, but the actual appointment went to George Gilbert Scott.

In 1861- 63 Street made a series of study tours of Spain which resulted in his major book 'Some account of Gothic architecture in Spain', published in 1865, but from about 1870 onwards the sources of his architecture were more English than continental and at Marlborough College he even experimented with 'Queen Anne' in deference to the original buildings there. Street was elected ARA in 1866 and a full Academician in 1871, becoming the Academy's Professor of Architecture in 1880. He was Royal Gold Medallist in 1874 and was appointed a Chevalier of the Legion d'Honneur in 1878. His last two years were, however, clouded by personal tragedy and official harassment from the First Commissioner of Works, Acton Smee Ayrton. His first wife died following a tour of France and Switzerland in October 1874; in January 1876 he married Jessie Holland, but the marriage only lasted eight weeks as she died of a fever during a study tour in Rome.

Street commenced his RA lectures in the Spring of 1881 but in the summer he began to suffer from severe headaches. He died of a stroke on 18 December of that year. The practice was continued by his son Arthur Edmund Street who published his lectures as an appendix to his Memoir."

The building is Grade I listed with the entry at the English Heritage website telling us:

"Law Courts. 1866 competition,won by G E Street finally in 1868, work only begun, to modified design,in 1874 when Philip Webb was Street's chief assistant and completed 1882 under final supervision of Street's son A E Street and Arthur Blomfield. Portland stone for principal Strand and west elevations, red brick back with lavish stone dressings, banding and chequerwork to east and north elevations, slate roofs. Serious, consistent and "rational" application of C13 English Gothic style, fulfilling a highly demanding brief for a monumental programme and developing a varied, but carefully balanced, composition to be seen in perspective with highly inventive detailing, despite the vast scale and a certain lack of coherence in consequence. Mainly 3 storeys. Controlled asymmetry with 6-bay east wing terminating just before end in lofty clock tower and a 15-bay,virtually symmetrical composition about the major axis of the main entrance and Salle des Pas Perdus of the Great Hall. The hall gable end and great window are set back behind portal archway recessed in turn between polygonal towers with slated spires. Double or triplet-shafted windows in link-ranges and in gabled bays with tourelles-bartizans. Triple arched gateway into east court acts as link to east wing. The Great. Hall gable contains a rose and is flanked by corner turrets with lucarne and gallet stone spires. The Great Hall ridge is crowned by a fllche. The east and north brick and stone elevations have more of the lively inventiveness and love of pattern of Street's earlier, smaller scale works. The lofty brick and stone north east tower was built while Philip Webb was Street's principal assistant. The major internal feature is the vast Salle des Pas Perdus, rib-vaulted and shafted with blind arcading, with rich stiff leaf carving to doorways and diapering; lancets or grouped lancets with geometrical tracery; spiral staircases lead off with courtrooms ranged on either side and to the north. Fine quality of execution throughout despite the size of the building. In the Hall a very dignified seated statue commemorating Street, by H H Armstead, was set up in 1886."

The Student Chambers website gives an insight into what happens here:

History of the RCJ:
Until the late 19th century, a number of separate courts existed all around London. The Chancery Court, featured in Dickens’Bleak House, was one of these. The site upon which the RCJ now stands was in those days a slum – around 450 houses occupied by more than 4,000 people. When it was decided that London’s courts should be brought under one roof, the land was bought from Middlesex County Council for £1.4m – that’s about £55m in today’s money – and the people were cleared out.

A leading architect of the day, George Edmund Street, won the competition to design the new building, and construction began in 1873. It took more than eight years to complete, due in part to a stonemasons strike. Masons were shipped over from the continent to keep work going, and housed within the building to protect them from the wrath of their striking English counterparts. Supplies came in through a secret underground tunnel.

The finished building contained 35 million Portland stone bricks, more than 3.5 miles of corridor and over 1,000 clocks (many of these have to be wound by hand; a man dubbed The Dawn Winder by Radio 4 comes in a couple of mornings every week to do this). Street died a year before the RCJ was completed, but his son took over and was present at the opening ceremony, where Queen Victoria expressed the hope that “the uniting together in one place of the various branches of Judicature in this Supreme Court will conduce to the more efficient and speedy administration of justice to my subjects.”"

Architect: George Edmund Street

Prize received: RIBA Royal Gold Medal

In what year: 1874

Website about the Architect: [Web Link]

Website about the building: [Web Link]

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