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The Royal Courts of Justice in the Strand is a magnificent Grade I listed building designed by the eminent Victorian architect George Edmund Street. It is situated in the heart of London’s legal quarter and houses the High Court and Court of Appeal of England and Wales.

Purcell have undertaken numerous projects across the building, including alterations to improve its functionality, repairs to maintain its historic fabric and surveys to understand its condition.

Commission for enhanced listing

In 2019, Purcell were commissioned to prepare an application to Historic England for an Enhanced Listing Service to allow for simpler decision making in regards to the conservation and development of the buildings across the site. The scope of our assessment included Street’s Law Courts, completed in 1882, and various additions dating from 1911, 1968, 1971 and 1990. Throughout the project, our team also managed the contract with Historic England.

Purcell’s objective was to obtain clarity regarding the extent of protection afforded by the Grade I listing. The previous listing dated from 1970 and only offered a brief description of the building. Due to this, it was unclear whether later additions were considered to be part of the listed building and the project aimed to understand this distinction.

Purcell’s previous experience of the building enabled a detailed knowledge of its architecture. However, for this commission, the team undertook further historical research and an assessment of significance in relation to listing criteria (including modern buildings). This formed the basis of an application to Historic England in November 2019 for an ‘Enhanced Listing’.

Throughout the project, one of the key challenges was the sheer scale of the site which contains over 70 courts spread over several buildings. There are about 800 rooms in the main building alone. To ensure that the project's execution was smooth and to avoid disturbing court business, the team conducted many out-of-hour surveys.

Outcome

Historic England issued new listings in April 2020. These covered the original building of 1882 (listed at Grade I), the West Green Building of 1911 (now listed at Grade II*) and the Queen’s Building of 1968 (now listed at Grade II). The tall buildings added at the north-west corner of the site – the Thomas More Tower of 1971 and the Thomas More Courts of 1990 – were not listed.

As a result of Purcell’s work, there is a distinct set of listings which clearly exclude some of the modern buildings (previously considered to be covered by the listing of the attached main building). This will simplify the process of planning future works of alteration and secure Listed Building Consent where this is required.

Our detailed assessment of the significance of all the buildings at the Royal Court of Justice, based on research into the site’s historical development, have resulted in a comprehensive review of its listing. This will help to guide future changes and simplify the process of obtaining statutory consents.

Will Holborow, Associate and Senior Heritage Consultant

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