K025 : Court House | NSW Environment & Heritage

Culture and heritage


K025 : Court House

Item details

Name of item: K025 : Court House
Primary address: 5-11 Civic Place, Katoomba, NSW 2780
Local govt. area: Blue Mountains
All addresses
Street AddressSuburb/townLGAParishCountyType
5-11 Civic PlaceKatoombaBlue Mountains   Primary Address

Statement of significance:

Criterion (a) Natural and Social History
The building is significant as a fine example of the work of two government architects, Vernon and Wells, which is still in use as a Courthouse.

Criterion (c): Aesthetic
Apart from its social and historical significance, the Court house has aesthetic significance because of its associations with the Government Architect’s Office under Walter Liberty Vernon and Richard Wells, and because of its direct and confident form that successfully accommodates extensions made in three very different periods of time. The quality and detail of its stonework are also of some merit.

Criterion (d) Social

The building has been significant to the community at large as a courthouse for the last hundred years.
Date significance updated: 20 Mar 01
Note: The State Heritage Inventory provides information about heritage items listed by local and State government agencies. The State Heritage Inventory is continually being updated by local and State agencies as new information becomes available. Read the OEH copyright and disclaimer.


Designer/Maker: W. L. Vernon (1897), R. M. S. Wells (1927)
Builder/Maker: Fahey and Ross (1897),
Construction years: 1897-1989
Physical description: The Court House is a long single storey building that was built in several stages, and consists of three prominent pavilions linked by subsidiary sections. The gabled roofs are covered with slate. The first section was designed by the Government Architect’s Office under the direction of Walter Liberty Vernon and completed in 1897, whilst the central section was built under the direction of then acting Government Architect Richard MacDonald Seymour Wells in 1927. The final section was completed around 1989. The two end pavilions (1897 and 1989) have large arched window openings, whilst the central pavilion is distinguished by a projecting porch with an arched portal and a relatively elaborate parapet.
Physical condition and/or
Archaeological potential:
Date condition updated:23 Nov 99
Modifications and dates: 1897, 1927, 1989.
Current use: Court House
Former use: Court House


Historical notes: Katoomba began to grow from a village into a tourist destination from the 1880s. The first policeman was deployed to the town in 1884, and Katoomba was proclaimed a Municipal District in 1889. Yet it was not until 22 August 1890 that a court was proclaimed for Katoomba. (Government Gazette. 1890) This is relatively late compared to the Courts at Penrith and Bathurst (1832), and Hartley (1837). The need for a Court had been persuasively presented to the government by a deputation led by Alderman J. Nimmo, A. A. Smith and W. R. Copeland in 1892. (Rotary Club: 135)

Tenders for erecting a Court House at Katoomba were called on 30 September 1892, and re-advertised for 13 February 1895. The reason for the delay appears to have been a lack of money to actually construct the building. In 1893 £2,300 were allocated from the Loan Funds to meet this need. The building was designed by the government architect Walter L. Vernon. (Rotary Club: 136)

The successful tenderer to build the Katoomba Court House and Watch House was Fahey and Ross, Leichhardt, Sydney who were appointed on 26 February 1897. Construction commenced in the following month. The construction of the building employed 40 men, and the sandstone was obtained from local quarries. (The Mountaineer. 3 May 1895)

To celebrate this civic improvement, a commemorative stone was laid by the Lieutenant Governor of NSW on 4th May 1897. Sir Frederick Matthew Darley was himself an occasional resident of Katoomba at his ‘country seat’ called Lilianfels (K038), which may help explain this unusual feature for a Court House. (Upton. 3) At the ceremony, Sir Darley declared himself "highly honoured" on being invited to lay the memorial stone by "his neighbours", and stated that the Court House illustrated the progress of Katoomba. (The Mountaineer, 10 May 1895). The Court House was completed in 1896/7 at a cost of £2,350 10s 3p.(Upton; Rotary Club: 136) Above the memorial stone a "magnificent arched coloured window, 8ft 9in by 8ft" was designed. (The Mountaineer. 3 May 1895)

The first appointed staff was Mr Arthur Morris as Bailiff. A police officer filled the position of Acting Clerk of Petty Sessions from 1890 when the Court was proclaimed until 1913 when Charles Ernest Foster was appointed from the public service. (Rotary Club: 136)

The town of Katoomba expanded rapidly during the first two decades of the twentieth century, with the 1920s being the heyday of guesthouse tourism in the Mountains. The Court House, too, was facing increasing pressures, and in 1925 plans were drawn up for an extension to the Court House. These were completed in 1927 at a cost of £4,920 11s 8p. These additions provided a more commodious court room, a magistrate’s room and solicitors’ room. The verandah was also extended. In the late 1940s the verandah was closed in to provide more comfortable environment for persons awaiting court cases. The Court House was further extended in 1989, and at this time the verandah was reconstructed to its original open design. (Upton: 4)

Historic themes

Australian theme (abbrev)New South Wales themeLocal theme
7. Governing-Governing Law and order-Activities associated with maintaining, promoting and implementing criminal and civil law and legal processes (none)-

Assessment of significance

SHR Criteria a)
[Historical significance]
Significant as a fine example of the work of two government architects, Vernon and Wells, which is still in use as a Courthouse.
SHR Criteria c)
[Aesthetic significance]
A finely balanced building with quality in the detail of its stonework.
SHR Criteria d)
[Social significance]
Significant to the community at large as a courthouse for the last hundred years.
Assessment criteria: Items are assessed against the PDF State Heritage Register (SHR) Criteria to determine the level of significance. Refer to the Listings below for the level of statutory protection.


Heritage ListingListing TitleListing NumberGazette DateGazette NumberGazette Page
Local Environmental PlanLEP2005K02507 Oct 05 122 
Heritage study K025   

Study details

TitleYearNumberAuthorInspected byGuidelines used
Blue Mountains Heritage Study1983K025Croft & Associates Pty Ltd & Meredith Walker  Yes
Heritage Study Review, Blue Mountains1992K025Tropman and Tropman  Yes
Blue Mountains Heritage Register Review1999K025Jack, R. I. for University of Sydney  Yes
Heritage Review Katoomba Leura2001K025Jack, Hubert, Morris, LavelleRIJ & PH Yes
Technical Audit BM Heritage Register2008K025Blue Mountains City CouncilCity Planning Branch No

References, internet links & images

TypeAuthorYearTitleInternet Links
Written 1895New Court House, Katoomba in The Mountaineer, 3 May
Written 1895The New Court House, Katoomba. Laying of the memorial stone in The Mountaineer, 10 May
Written 1890Government Gazette, No. 454, Friday 22 August
WrittenRotary Club of Katoomba1982Old Leura and Katoomba: a collection of historical background articles
WrittenUpton W. Katoomba Court House, typescript

Note: internet links may be to web pages, documents or images.

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Data source

The information for this entry comes from the following source:
Name: Local Government
Database number: 1170018

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