Sydney Central Local Courthouse | NSW Environment & Heritage

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Sydney Central Local Courthouse

Item details

Name of item: Sydney Central Local Courthouse
Other name/s: Police Law Courts, Central Police Court
Type of item: Built
Group/Collection: Law Enforcement
Category: Courthouse
Primary address: 98 Liverpool Street, Sydney, NSW 2000
Local govt. area: Sydney
All addresses
Street AddressSuburb/townLGAParishCountyType
98 Liverpool StreetSydneySydney  Primary Address

Owner/s

Organisation NameOwner CategoryDate Ownership Updated
Department of Justice and Attorney GeneralState Government 

Statement of significance:

The Central Local Courthouse is of State historical significance as the first purpose built Police Court with the State Justice system and first petty Sessions Court. The building is a fine and intact example of a classically inspired public building designed in the Federation Free Classical style by James Barnet, the last Colonial Architect with construction supervised by WL Vernon, the first Government Architect. The building is an example of a Court that operated in association with a Police Station and significantly has continued to operate with attached Holding Cells complex to present day.

The Central Local Courthouse and Holding Cells are good examples of late nineteenth century courthouse and prison environment that despite alterations and modifications demonstrate certain design philosophies and standards of that time. The form and relationship of the Holding Cells are functional and reflect Barnet’s preference to relate each building to its site and context. The design of the courthouse and its principal façade connotes typical characteristics of this type of building. The buildings remain as a good and intact example of a courthouse and associated facilities designed by the Colonial Architects Office and that demonstrate the growing affluence and prosperity of the time.

Central Local Courts and Holding Cells are of social significance for their on-going association with the police, Attorney General’s Department, Department of Corrective Services, NSW Sheriff's Office and all associated parties who have used the building for over 100 years. The building significantly continues to operate and is part of a network of Courts in the local area. (Conservation Management Plan, Perumal Murphy Alessi 2007)
Date significance updated: 25 Oct 10
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.

Description

Designer/Maker: J Barnet and WL Vernon
Builder/Maker: Phippard Brothers
Construction years: 1891-1892
Physical description: The Central Local Courthouse is a robust and highly decorated public building designed in the Federation Free Classical style. The use of a formal symmetrical floor plan and massing with classically derived carved sandstone details including a Coat of Arms, which communicates the authoritative status of the legal system in the late nineteenth century. The terraced outdoor areas to the street frontage feature carved sandstone balustrades and grand entrance staircase.
Other accommodation: Prisoner holding facilities, Foyer, 4 Magistrates chambers, 3 legal rooms, general office, chamber Magistrates office, Sheriffs office.
Construction: The central Local Court is constructed in smooth dressed sandstone blocks. It is embellished with carved sandstone decorative elements. Much internal timber joinery and furniture remain intact.
Interior materials: Joinery.
Exterior materials: Sandstone.
(Schwager Brooks 1993)
Physical condition and/or
Archaeological potential:
Courthouse: Good condition. (2008)
Holding Cells: Fair condition. (2008)
Former Caretaker's Cottage: Good condition. (2008)
Date condition updated:08 Oct 10
Modifications and dates: Alterations including conversion of the caretaker's quarters to form a new courtroom. (1914)
Addition of a second storey containing two magistrates rooms. (1915)
Carpark fronting Liverpool Street landscaped and a new stone wall constructed across the combined frontage. (1960s and 70s)
Major restoration works. (1980s)
January 2017: Repairs to cornice, walls and carpet in back hallway following water damage caused by a leak resulting from blocked gutters and down pipes during a downpour.
Current use: Courthouse
Former use: Courthouse

History

Historical notes: Sydney Central Local Courthouse, (formerly known as Central Police Courts, Court of Petty Sessions and Central Criminal and Local Court) was constructed in 1892 as part of a court, cells and police station complex, to a design originally drawn by Colonial Architect James Barnet and elaborated by Government Architect Walter Liberty Vernon.

The current courthouse building replaced an earlier local court and police building located on the corner of George, Druitt and York Street, which had been in use since c1828. The land on which the current building sits was purchased by the Crown in 1885. Original plans for Local Police Courts fronting Liverpool Street with a police station behind fronting Central Street were designed by Colonial Architect James Barnet. While this concept of courthouse and police station on the same site was common in large country towns it was the first built in Sydney.

Barnet was dismissed in 1890 and his replacement, Walter Liberty Vernon, produced more detailed plans based on Barnet's original design. The construction contract was awarded to Phippard Brothers in March 1891. Work on the courthouse was finally completed in early 1893 at a cost of £49,600.14.1. The building opened in September 1892, some months before its final completion. The building contained courts and offices, as well as caretaker’s quarters in the northeastern corner of the building.
Alterations to the building in 1914 included conversion of the caretaker’s quarters to form a new courtroom. In 1915, additions were made to the Magistrates quarters with the construction of a second storey containing two magistrates’ rooms.

In 1936, land fronting Liverpool Street at the southeastern corner of the courthouse was purchased by the Crown. This land contained a carpark and in the 1960 and 70s this land was landscaped and a new stone wall constructed across the combined frontage.

In the 1980s, major restoration works were made to the original fabric of the building, including major sandstone repair. The police station closed in 1990.

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 Administration of justice-
7. Governing-Governing Law and order-Activities associated with maintaining, promoting and implementing criminal and civil law and legal processes Police-
7. Governing-Governing Law and order-Activities associated with maintaining, promoting and implementing criminal and civil law and legal processes Corrective services-
9. Phases of Life-Marking the phases of life Persons-Activities of, and associations with, identifiable individuals, families and communal groups -

Assessment of significance

SHR Criteria a)
[Historical significance]
The Central Local Court and associated Holding Cells are historically significant at a State level as the first purpose built Police Court within the State Justice system and then the first Petty Sessions Court. The Police Courts have a long history and was first set up by Governor Macquarie in the early years of the colony and have had a long and continuous association with the system of law and justice in New South Wales.

The Courthouse is significant as an important element of the Sydney Central Local Courthouse complex and as a working example of a courthouse that worked in close association with a Police Station. Whilst the Police Station closed in 1990, the attached Holding Cells have continued to operate and be used as part of the day-to-day functioning of the Courthouse. The original connection with the Courthouse, via the basement, was significantly reinstated as part of the 1980s works to the building.
The Holding Cells are historically significant for their close relationship to the Courthouse and former Police Station which incorporated barracks to accommodate a force of policemen. The interior of the Holding Cells, whilst modified, is of historical significance as record of a late nineteenth century prison environment, which was designed to cater for all classes of prisoners.

The buildings continue to surround and enclose the central open courtyard which is historically significant as it evokes the original use of the courtyard for stabling and training area and also access to the site. The space also provides separation between the two original functions of the site, the Courthouse and former Police Station.

The former Office of the Inspector of Weights and Measures and Caretakers/Superintendent’s Cottage is significant as an auxiliary building that continues to support the functions of the Courthouse.
The buildings are historically significant as one of the last of such complexes designed by the Colonial Architects Office under James Barnet. They have undergone some alteration and additions which represent the evolution of the justice system in Sydney and associated changing security, service and amenity requirements. (Perumal Murphy Alessi 2008)
SHR Criteria b)
[Associative significance]
The building is associated with James Barnet, the last Colonial Architect and WL Vernon, the first Government Architect and their respective offices. It also has long association with the NSW Police and State Justice System and subsequent managers and users of the buildings including Attorney General’s Department, Department of Corrective Services and Sheriff’s Office. (Perumal Murphy Alessi 2008)
SHR Criteria c)
[Aesthetic significance]
The building is a good and intact example of a Courthouse constructed in the Federation Free Classical style and retains its original features and elements of its principal façade. The Courthouse significantly retains its original stone façade and associated details, upper terrace balustrade, steps and original fence along the Liverpool Street frontage. The interior of the building also retains its principal spaces and finishes such as timber joinery, black and white marble floor tiles and high decorative coffered ceilings in the principle spaces of the building.

The Courthouse is a good and intact example of a government building and Court House designed by James Barnet and executed under the direction of WL Vernon. Subsequent additions, particularly at the eastern side of the building do not detract from the overall presentation and character of the front façade of the building.

Whilst the Courthouse building is setback from the Liverpool Street streetscape it makes a positive contribution to varied character and nature of the precinct. The landscaped area in front of the building, Brickfield Place, enhances the presentation and aesthetic significance of the Courthouse.

The design of the Holding Cells is more functional and relates to its site parameters, and retains its original form, single storey character and connections to the Courthouse, Police Station and open courtyard. The building significantly retains original fabric including the glazed brick walls and interiors of the cells, vaulted ceilings including vaulted steel grille ceilings and stone details which demonstrate design philosophies of the late nineteenth century. The form and layout of the building and roof, also expresses the functional relationships within the building and between the Courthouse and former Police Station.
(Perumal Murphy Alessi 2008)
SHR Criteria d)
[Social significance]
The Courthouse and Holding Cells is of social significance for its continued association with the system of law and justice in Sydney and NSW. It has strong association with the Police and law fraternity and has continued to serve the community for over 100 years. The building significantly continues to operate as part of a network of Courts in this area. (Perumal Murphy Alessi 2008)
SHR Criteria e)
[Research potential]
The Central Local Courthouse and Holding Cells are good examples of late nineteenth century Courthouse and prison environment that despite alterations and modification demonstrate certain design philosophies and standards of that time. The buildings significantly retain original fabric and detailing which is a valuable resource for interpretation. Some changes to the buildings, particularly the Holding Cells, are legible in the building fabric. (Perumal Murphy Alessi 2008)
SHR Criteria f)
[Rarity]
The building is significant as the first purpose built Police Court and first Petty Sessions Court in the State. Like other Courthouses built around the same time, the Courthouse was associated with a Police Station and Holding Cells, however, the connection and form of these in this central city location is unique. Unlike other Courthouses built in Sydney around the same time, the two functions of Courthouse and Police Station are clearly separated with separate street frontages and addresses. The Holding Cells in this case form the link between the two functions and all components surround an open yard. (Perumal Murphy Alessi 2008)
SHR Criteria g)
[Representativeness]
Central Local Courthouse is a fine, representative example of a classically inspired Courthouse constructed in the late nineteenth century by the Government Architects Office. The building demonstrates principle characteristics of Courthouse buildings that connote a strong, dignified and easily identifiable civic building.

The Courthouse and Holding Cells is one of large grouping of Courthouses constructed by the Colonial Architects Office in the nineteenth century and illustrates the growing prosperity and affluence of this time.
(Perumal Murphy Alessi 2008)
Integrity/Intactness: Individual buildings and the arrangement of the complex as a whole is highly intact and retains a high level of integrity overall.
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.

Listings

Heritage ListingListing TitleListing NumberGazette DateGazette NumberGazette Page
Heritage Act - s.170 NSW State agency heritage register     

References, internet links & images

TypeAuthorYearTitleInternet Links
WrittenSchwager Brooks and Partners Pty Ltd1993Department of Courts Administration: Preliminary Heritage and Conservation Register

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: State Government
Database number: 3080016


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