Sessions House, Maryport Street, Usk, Monmouthshire. Built to the design of T. H. Wyatt (1807-1880) in 1875-77, this is a Grade II* listed building in a neo-classical style, of mauvish local sandstone with warm-coloured Bath stone dressings. The single-story front elevation has seven bays punctuated by Tuscan pilasters, with an entrance loggia. This description is based on John Newman's account: Newman goes on to describe the result as "[v]ery old-fashioned for its date" (593), although he does note that work on the design itself started in the late 1850s, some time before it was actually built.
Left to right: (a) The entrance hall. (b) The Mather-Jackson Library. (c) The lock-up.
The attractive entrance helps to make the Sessions House suitable for its present purpose as a venue — often for weddings. The library is also an impressive room with an even more impressive collection of "almost 3000 volumes of law reports, statutes and commentaries dating from 1698 to 1971, including many local and personal Acts which have a particular interest from a social history viewpoint" ("Usk Town"). The lock-up is now used for storage, but is an important and atmospheric reminder of the original function of the building.
Left to right: (a) The Counsel's bench outside the courtroom. (b) Inside the courtroom, looking towards the judge's seat. (c) Solicitors' bench. The jurymen's bench can be seen at the far right.
Another courtroom here (Court One) burned down in 1944, but this one (Court Two) was in use for its original purpose until 1995. Having been taken over by the town council in 1998, it underwent a long and costly refurbishment, which involved (for example), returning the walls to their original Victorian colour. The labels seen on the benches are actually the original ones. BBC Wales reported at the time of the reopenng in May 2011 that it is "one of the few truly authentic Victorian court rooms left in the UK." It was given its high listing "as an unusual survival in a small market town of a court retaining its original fittings and layout, built by a notable architect and carefully restored" ("The Sessions House").
Left to right: (a) Reporters' Bench next to the witness box. (b) Witnesses's benches. (c) Steps down from the dock, leading to the adjacent prison (also by T. H. Wyatt).
All in all, Usk Town Council has done itself proud with this stalwart Sessions House and its historic courtroom. Earlier visitors could never have foreseen that the dock would one day be used for wedding ceremonies!
Photographs and text by Jacqueline Banerjee. Many thanks to Shan and Philip Henshall for showing me around. You may use the images without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the photographer and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one.
"Historic Usk courtroom reopens after £200,000 work." BBC Wales 11 May 2011. Web. 17 July 2019.
Newman, John. Gwent/Monmouthsire. Buildings of Wales series. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2000.
Robinson, John Martin. The Wyatts: An Architectural Dynasty. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1979.
"The Sessions House including Balustraded Terrace." British Listed Buildings. Web. 18 July 2019.
Usk Town: Sessions House. Web. 17 July 2019.
Created 17 July 2019