SHIRE HALL, HERTFORD

John Corfield

This engraving of Fore Street in Hertford, published in 1823, shows the Shire Hall in the background. Note that there is no clock on the building as this was not added until 1824
Hertfordshire Archives & Local Studies (photo: Mr Elsden)

One of Thomas Smith’s earliest tasks, in connection with the Shire Hall, Hertford, was to advise on the warming of the two courts incorporated in the design of the building. Smith reported that “he had examined the courts for the purpose of suggesting a mode of heating them” and recommended that it would cost £55.10.0 to do so. His proposals were turned down as being too expensive.

In 1840 he was instructed to prepare a plan for extra cells, needed for the segregation of prisoners who were normally detained in a long gallery while awaiting trial. A prisoner corresponding with his mother later wrote:-

“Every prisoner is now locked up in a separate cell, which I think is much better, for when we were together we used to carry on fine games.”

Although the new cells were complete by the Michaelmas Sessions, Smith declined to certify them as being fit for “the reception of prisoners” as they had not completely dried out. In fact, it was not until the following Easter Sessions, after an inspection made jointly by an Inspector of Prisons, Mr Russell and the surgeon at the Hertford prison, Mr Thomas Colbeck, that the cells were taken into use. Further alterations at the Shire Hall took place in 1842 which included a fire-proof strong room for the storage of county documents.

In 1851 the Mayor of Hertford wrote to the magistrates concerning the state of the rooms used by the Town Council. He also suggested the building should be lit by gas and mentioned the settlement of the building through previous alterations. Smith was instructed to seek an estimate and the Town Council consented to pay one-third of the installation cost.

Smith reported to the Court that he had inspected the rooms requiring paint and repair and estimated the cost would be in the region of £111. He also estimated that to provide twenty gas-lights together with all the necessary pipework and unions would cost £37.10.0 and £121 for supplying and fixing up two glass chandeliers but only £81 if the chandeliers were of bronze instead of glass. On the matter of the settlement, Smith reported that this was of a longstanding nature and that it had nothing to do with the alterations which had taken place in recent times. He also observed that no painting of the rooms had taken place for the last sixteen or seventeen years.

The ”Hertford Mercury” for the 20 December 1851 was able to report on the progress of the work being carried out. Redecoration of the Assembly Room, Rotunda, Grand Jury Room and Ante Room, hitherto painted in an unexciting colour scheme, were livened up with bright new colours.

Pink walls with “rouge-royale” skirtings, with cornices and ceiling borders picked out in red, blue and yellow, replaced the pink, green, straw and stone colours of the original. Doors and windows were grained to resemble oak or American maple while the columns and fire-places were marbled to resemble Siena and Brocatella varieties. All of which the ‘Hertford Mercury” considered gave a handsome and agreeable effect.

Thomas Smith informed the Marquess of Salisbury, Chairman of the Court of Quarter Sessions, in 1854, that he had received a letter from Mr Longmore advising him of the Militia’s need to use the Round Board Room and Grand Jury Room as a result of which gas-lighting was needed in these rooms as well.

At the Easter Sessions in 1861 Thomas Smith, in his annual report to the Court, commented that some seventeen or eighteen years had elapsed since the building had been considerably repaired or decorated and the time had come to attend to such matters.· Urgent repairs were needed to the roof and the gutters and damage that had been caused to the walls through moving furniture out to the new Corn Exchange in Fore Street.

This page was added on 05/08/2022.

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