Prior to 1996 when the new Law Courts opened, if you found yourself hauled before the County Court you would have made your way to Bank Street. Here, at No. 56 you would have walked under a very impressive Coat of Arms which also bears the date stone 1854. These four walls could tell a million interesting stories, but for the last 20 years have been used merely as offices. All this looks set to change as an application has been submitted to convert them into twenty one apartments plus one squashed-in studio apartment. Evidently this is a very difficult building to convert so the architect has got his work cut out.
The building has two major staircases at each side and one is to be lost, which historically-wise is not a good thing. In the main courtroom, which has double-height ceilings, two mezzanine units are to be installed. The courtroom itself is on the first floor and the admin offices were put on the ground floor, which for early Victorian times was quite an unusual layout. Previously unused basements are also to be converted into living accommodation, so obviously no space is being wasted. There is to be a large new-build to the rear to boost the number of units but the upper row of attic windows are to be lost which seems a shame. Whilst on the subject of windows, if you’ve ever walked past this building you may have noticed the dummy window on the gable end. This has always been a mystery as it never was a window but under the new plans it is to be opened up and turned into something that it never was. The Conservation Advisory Group thought that this was an unnecessary alteration but presumably it will throw some light somewhere where it’s needed.
Most bricked-up windows that you see throughout the country are as a result of the dreaded Window Tax which was introduced in 1696 and repealed in 1851, just pre-dating the old County Courthouse.
The idea of the tax was to penalise people for having too many windows in their house, hence the bricking-up which we still see today. Houses with less than ten windows were exempt, so people soon got busy with their trowels and mortar. Interestingly this is where the phrase ‘daylight robbery’ comes from and you can easily see why. Nobody has yet tried to tax fresh air, but this was about as near as you can get. In 1850, the year before the tax was dropped, Charles Dickens commented “Neither air nor light have been free since the imposition of the Window Tax”.
Nothing changes and even today our politicians of whatever political persuasion seem to spend their time dreaming up more iniquitous taxes to relieve us of our hard-earned money. Fortunately many of their ideas are nipped in the bud as recent events have shown us.