National Recording Project

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Detail from: Memorial to 158 Squadron by Peter W. Naylor, 2009

Victoria Law Courts

Summary

Type Building

     The decoration on the Law Courts includes and elaborate programme of sculpture to convey Victorian ideals of Law and Order to clarify the function of the building. (1) The building is a mixture of Gothic, Flemish and Renaissance elements, typical of the eclectic style of late 19th century architecture. Sculpture is located around and merged with the main architectural features including the gables and the entrance arch. It presents an intricate show of detail, playing the same role as decorative, architectural features such as pinnacles, string course and tracery windows. The sculpture, however, is also symbolic of a carefully worked out ideas reminiscent of that used in medieval cathedral architecture. The figure of Queen Victoria by Harry Bates is central: In full regalia, holding an orb with a winged Victory and sceptre, she is seated like a judge and alludes to the certainty of justice to be found in a British court of law. At her feet, this national justice is endorsed by the figure of St. George, patron saint of England, who slays the dragon in obvious reference to Good conquering Evil. On either side in the spandrels are inscribed figures personifying Patience, Mercy, Truth and Temperance, all attributes of Justice. The theme is expanded above the portal arch where, to both sides of the clock face, appear relief symbols of Time and Eternity in reference to the proverb 'VERITAS FILA TEMPERIS', (Truth is the daughter of Time). Further up in the gables, specific reference is made to the trades of Birmingham in the representations of Art and Craft. The left gable includes a canopied personification of Art and emblematic figures representing 'Modelling' and 'Designing'. On the right gable Craft is accompanied by figures occupied with 'Gun-making' and 'Pottery'. On the roof line and presiding over the whole building, Justice is personified as a blind-folded classical figure holding scales.
     The sculptural programme was conceived by the London architects Aston Webb and Ingress Bell, who won the competition for the design of the new assize courts in 1886. It was the first building in Birmingham to be clad with terracotta, a material which had been used since the 1860s in conjunction with brick. Dark red terracotta, in this case supplied by Edwards of Ruabon, was popularised by the assessor of the competition, Alfred Waterhouse. He considered it by far the best material for withstanding the city's polluted atmosphere. Although the sculptural theme is unified, Webb introduced several specialist sculptors to achieve a high standard of modelling for this prestigious building in the spirit of the Arts and Crafts movement prevailing in England at the time. The statue of Queen Victoria was modelled by Harry Bates, a well know London sculptor. (The Queen had laid the foundation stone in 1887 and subsequently gave the law courts its name.) The free-standing figure of Justice was produced by W. S. Frith, the spandrel figures were also modelled by Frith to the designs of Walter Crane, a leading designer, illustrator and founder of the Art Workers Guild. The relief gable structure, as well as the spectacular interior sculptural decoration, was modelled by William Aumonier and his London firm, specialising in architectural decoration.
     Queen Victoria and St George and the Dragon. Personifications of Justice, Patience, Mercy, Truth and Temperance. Symbols of Time and Eternity Personifications of Art (with emblematic figures representing 'Modelling' and 'Designing') and Craft (accompanied by figures occupied with 'Gun-making' and 'Pottery'). (see Physical Description above)

Contributor details

Contributor Role
Bates, Harry Sculptor
Frith, William Silver Sculptor
Webb, Aston Architect
Bell, E Ingress Architect
Crane, Walter Designer
Aumonier, William Sculptor

Element details

Part of work Material Dimensions
Sculptures/ ornamentation/ cladding Red terracotta Queen Victoria 150 h x 60 w

PMSA recording information

Reference Region
WMbiBIxx005 BM
General condition Good
Surface condition
Structural condition
Vandalism
Road Corporation Street
Precise location North end of street, on way out of city.
A-Z ref None
OS ref None

Sorry, we have no precise geographical information for this item.

Date of design 1886-91
Year of unveiling 1891
Unveiling details None
Commissioned by None
Duty of care None
Listing status Don't know
At risk? Not at risk

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