Friday was Nottingham Council House’s 80th birthday – it really does not seem that long ago that I was there for its 75th. The building was open for tours all day and that meant that it was impossible to book a room for a meeting.
Coincidentally, a chap I know vaguely through the Flickr website took up his birthday present of a hot air balloon trip over Nottingham, and took a whole set of photos documenting it, including this brilliant aerial shot of the city centre centred on the Council House. So, his photo of the building from the air captured it on its 80th birthday.
Towards the bottom of the aerial shot is Nottingham’s Guildhall on Burton Street (behind the Cornerhouse). So when we couldn’t book a room in the Council House, we relocated our meeting to the Guildhall. I misread the agenda and for the first time in ages was early for a meeting. 40 minutes early.
Our meeting room was the Magistrates’ Retiring Room, which is a connecting room between Court I and Court II. The Guildhall was Nottingham’s magistrates court until the early 90s when business moved to the much larger modern magistrates court near the canal. Since then, many of the rooms in the Guildhall have remained, essentially unchanged and unvisited. My 40 minutes was enough to have a poke around and look and see.
I had a longer look around Court 2 and took some phonecam pics while I was there:
Your seat would be allocated by your role – these two have “JURORS” and “WITNESSES” in gold lettering on them.
(Hang on a minute…? Jurors? Maybe this wasn’t a magistrate court but a crown court, but in that case, why are there three seats at the top of the room? My understanding is that magistrate cases are heard by three magistrates and crown cases by one judge…?)
The dock has a staircase…
… directly to the cells in the basement of the Guildhall
These cells are mostly used for council storage these days
Most of the time I was in Court 2, it was dead silent, and I could hear pigeons cooing and scratching in the ceiling above.
Then a staff member came through, who was clearly giving a young woman a tour of the rooms, so I skulked in a corner and listened in to what was being explained. And there were some interesting facts I learned: although the courtrooms are mostly unused, they are occasionally hired out to film and tv crews who making period drama about courts before about the 1960s. They are also used by law students at Nottingham Trent for practice / training trials and moot competitions. I butted in and asked questions too, and was told the door to the public galleries was through the Marshall Room on the first floor.
The building is fascinating, and must have an interesting history. There are lots of interesting features like the courtrooms and cells. There’s a huge, beautiful foyer, empty and unused, with boards detailing former mayors and sheriffs, colums, tiles, mosaics and so on. There are also lower brick corridors that connect it to the other buildings on the same city block, like the Central Police Station and the fire brigade. The Guildhall is currently one of many office buildings for the City Council, and it makes a pretty useless office, and is fairly unpleasant for those that work there.