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What now for Shire Hall in Hertford?

Shire Hall, Hertford

The bulk of the work currently undertaken at Hertford’s Shire Hall Magistrates Court will now be moved to Stevenage or St Albans. Only Family work will remain in one of Hertford’s most prestigious buildings.

This transfer will take place with effect from June 2014.

This is from an official document dated 10 February 2014 which is available as a .pdf file from Hertfordshire Listing Arrangements on the Ministry of Justice site.


Following consideration of the responses to the consultation and the guiding principles of listing set out in the directions, the Justices Issues Groups (JIGs) for Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire and Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service have reached the following decisions:

Hertfordshire adult, SDVC, local authority and youth crime requiring services of duty solicitor and probation services and trials will be listed at St Albans Magistrates’ Court and Stevenage Magistrates’ Court. (Consideration will be given to listing local authority civil work at Hertford andWatford nif councils can consolidate their work into a suitable list);

Fluctuations in work between the two Hertfordshire local justice areas can be managed by the listing of work from the Welwyn/ Hatfield/Borehamwood area in Stevenage, rather than St Albans, if needed

Hertfordshire family work will be listed at WatfordCounty Magistrates’ Court and Hertford Shire Hall;

Road traffic work will be listed at Watford Magistrates’ Court for Hertfordshire and Luton Magistrates’ Court for Bedfordshire

There are a number of practical steps to implement the revised listing arrangements for June 2014

End Quote

Up until 1609 the Quarterly Sessions and Assizes these were held at Hertford Castle where the judges were also lodged.

By a charter dated 1605 from James 1 recognising the right to hold Sessions in Hertford and a charter dated 1627 from Charles 1 giving permission to erect a Sessions House, the Shire Hall was built in 1627.

The west facing side was open as this was where one of Hertford’s markets took place. This was the situation until 1767 when at a meeting at the Bell public house (now the Salisbury Arms Hotel) the Council acknowledged that a new Shire Hall was needed.

By an Act of Parliament of 1768 King George 111 granted the building of a new Shire Hall consisting of two courts, two petty jury rooms, Grand Jury room, a room for the Corporation; and two water closets..

At the close of the Quarter Sessions on 9 August 1768 the old building was demolished and the new one erected before the next Session in November 1769.

The Assembly Room on the first floor is said to feature as the ballroom in Jane Austen’s ‘Pride and Prejudice’ and Hertford as the fictional ‘Merrytown’.

By the late 1980’s the building was in a sorry state and parts near collapse. New plans were drawn up and the building was completely renovated to open again in 1990 to great public acclaim of the architectural quality.

The complete history of Shire hall with full architectural notes, maps and photos entitled ‘The Restoration of Shire Hall, Hertford’ and published in 1990 by Hertfordshire County Council should be available in most libraries.

Shire Hall features in the editor’s eBook: The Tunnels of Hertford and a dedicated page at http://www.johnbarber.com/tunnels/shirehall.

As the title to this news item states: What now for Shire Hall?