Architectural Precedent: The Manchester Assize Courts and Monuments to Law in the Mid-Victorian Era

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This article looks at a much-neglected topic in accounts of the modern legal system: the architecture of law courts. It is argued that a closer examination of radical changes to the ways in which the internal space of the courthouse and courtroom were organised in the mid-nineteenth century can tell us much about how lawyers came to dominate the trial. The essay focuses on the design and planning of the Manchester Assize Courts, a building which can accurately be described as one of the first, if not the first, modern courthouse. It considers how the courthouse came to symbolise new ideas about the civic sphere, the increased reliance on the segregation of participants in the trial, and the role of law in Victorian society. Particular attention is placed on the link between new social and cultural movements and the architect, Alfred Waterhouse.

Keywords: Alfred Waterhouse; Legal architecture; Manchester; Victorian legal system; civic pride; professionalisation

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: January 1, 2008

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  • Until 2007 the King's Law Journal was known as the King's College Law Journal. It was established in 1990 as a legal periodical publishing scholarly and authoritative Articles, Notes and Reports on legal issues of current importance to both academic research and legal practice. It has a national and international readership, and publishes refereed contributions from authors across the United Kingdom, from continental Europe and further afield (particularly Commonwealth countries and USA). The journal includes a Reviews section containing critical notices of recently published books.
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