Thursday 4 September 2008

That was the court that was...

There is a lot of noise and fury over the future of the Police Station - often the fight is charicatured as not being necessary. There can often be an atmosphere of "there there, don't you worry - it'll all be alright".

But in fact there is form on this topic.

The fight to save the police station is not a new thing and those who claim to have suddenly discovered it are bein a little silly and 'over-reaching themselves'.

Hampstead Police Station also contained a magistrates court - opened in 1913 with the station it has it's own side entrance (pictured below) - indeed the name plate is still on the side of the building.

The National Archives at Kew have a full record of the magistrates court and the on-line catalogue and it can be seen here

Thinking this through I realised that there is a whole wealth of lines of inquiry for here: it's where Ruth Ellis was held and charged before going on to become the tragic heroine - the last woman to be hanged in Britain. The magistrates court itself was build after the demand from the victorian era - the Thames Court had so many cases of child abuse - both labour and sexual that there was a need for a court more locally based (a reflection of both the growth of population and housing and also with regards to the concerns over child labour there mass of building work).

David Nobbs cut his journalistic teeth there when working as a court reporter there for the St Pancras Chronicle before going onto That Was The Week That Was.

The intersting thing with the closure story (the closures kicked in in 1997?) was that they were not universally opposed. Hampstead magistrates' court contained only one courtroom, and actually little space. According to one barrister who usedit before it closed it was a small as a "a toilet, or perhaps a large cupboard," she concedes.

On 11th September 1998 the Independent wrote: "In place of the smaller courthouses are springing up a smaller number of buildings, each one housing a greater number of courtrooms, larger space and greater facilities. The most recent to open in inner London was the seven-courtroom West London magistrates' court in Hammersmith. In almost every respect, the new buildings represent an improvement - except for hard-up defendants and witnesses who have to fork out for bus or Tube fares for the privilege of appearing in court."

But the issue remains what now for the preserved and listed magistrates court - perhaps a training centre for schools and police, a film set, a visit attraction - there are some intelligent options that are not simply mothballing and neglect, that could actually yield a benefit to the community.

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