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Warwickshire County Council Offices and Former County Gaol, Warwick

Description: Warwickshire County Council Offices and Former County Gaol

Grade: I
Date Listed: 10 January 1953
English Heritage Building ID: 307589

OS Grid Reference: SP2807465048
OS Grid Coordinates: 428074, 265048
Latitude/Longitude: 52.2829, -1.5899

Location: 9 Northgate Street, Warwick CV34 4SP

Locality: Warwick
Local Authority: Warwick District Council
County: Warwickshire
Country: England
Postcode: CV34 4SP

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Listing Text

10-JAN-53 (West side)

(Formerly listed as:


Warwickshire County Council offices, incorporating the exterior of the former county gaol (later the militia barracks) of 1779-83 in Greek Doric style by Thomas Johnson with alterations by Henry Couchman in 1790-3. Later ranges to the rear of the C18 buildings are of 1929-32 in neo-Georgian style, by A C Bunch, County Architect, with extensions of 1958 by his successor G R Barnsley, and 1966 by Eric Davies, County Architect. The post-war buildings are not of special interest.

MATERIALS: The former county gaol by Thomas Johnson, and Henry Couchman's extension to Barrack Street, are both of sandstone ashlar. Each remains as a façade, into which are built the 1930s ranges by A C Bunch, which are in red brick with sandstone dressings, under slate roofs, with metal-framed casement windows.

PLAN: The complex occupies an irregularly-shaped site bounded by Northgate Street to the north, Barrack Street to the west and the Market Place and Old Square to the south. The 1930s buildings are ranged around two quadrangles with a north-south axis; the south-eastern range of the southern quadrangle dates from the 1960s. The other 1950s and 1960s ranges run along the western end of Barrack Street and front the Market Place and Old Square, with the council chamber set to the rear of the 1950s office range.

EXTERIOR: The main elevation to Northgate Street is Thomas Johnson's former gaol, a classical building using a Greek Doric order. The range is of eleven bays and two storeys, the three central bays projecting slightly forward and with a pediment. There are attached, full-height unfluted Doric columns between each bay, full entablature and a triglyph frieze, all set on a plain plinth. A central, round-arched carriage entrance is flanked by similar pedestrian entrances. The window openings, with moulded stone cills, house multi-paned metal casement windows. To the west of this range, on the corner with Barrack Street, a single bay is the beginning of Couchman's southern extension, running from the corner with Northgate Street and along Barrack Street. This elevation, which has two storeys and attic, is in three sections: a three-bay central entrance gateway, slightly projecting, with three round-headed arches between plain pilasters; a six-window range to the north, with metal-framed windows set into plain reveals, and a single cell door from the C18 gaol resited as a decorative feature; and a four-window range to the south, with similar windows.

The 1930s exteriors around two internal courtyards are of two storeys or two storeys and attic, in neo-Georgian style. The ranges are built in red brick set on a stone plinth with moulded stone plat bands, and have metal-framed casements with stone cills. The central section of each range is built in stone and each projects forward slightly. The entrances to the office ranges are set in two of these projecting porches; they have dentil cornices and concave-chamfered round-arched openings with large moulded keystones; one has a geometric carved design in the tympanum, and the other the bear-and-ragged-staff motif. Each has a recessed doorway flanked by elaborate Art Deco lanterns with flame decoration. The southern courtyard has an ornamental pond with a fountain, aligned on the main entrance to the office range. The northern courtyard houses a circular opening covered by a grille, lighting the dungeon below, which survives from the 1680 gaol.

INTERIOR: To the interior, the stairs and public circulating areas are clad in imitation marble, and the stair and lift shaft have restrained Art Deco metalwork. Some senior officers' offices retain their original grey marble fireplaces and some original fitted furniture. The office ranges are based on corridors set along the inner courtyard with offices of various sizes opening off the corridors. These retain some original details, such as skirtings and picture rails, but are otherwise plain. Some have been altered in size. The 1680 dungeon is octagonal on plan, domed, lined in stone and brick with a cobbled floor and central drain, with timber posts for the shackling of prisoners. The dungeon is accessed from a staircase emerging within the adjacent Old Shire Hall building.

HISTORY: The medieval county gaol was situated in Gerrard Street, but was abandoned in the mid-C16; prisoners were then kept within houses until the later C17. A separate house of correction was also in existence from c1625, for the support of the poor and the reform of the indolent, rather than for the holding of prisoners. A new gaol and house of correction were built by William Hurlbutt from 1677 at the northern end of Northgate Street, with some of the buildings fronting onto Barrack Street; they were completed by about 1686, but were completely destroyed by the Great Fire of Warwick in 1694. The buildings included a deep octagonal dungeon, completed in 1680, which survived the fire and remained in existence in 2010. The site was quickly rebuilt with the buildings complete by 1697; there were ranges fronting Northgate Street and others to Barrack Street, with a house in separate ownership standing right on the corner of the two streets. This house was purchased by the county authorities c1775, as they were planning to rebuild parts of the gaol and wanted to enlarge the site.

The gaol and house of correction were enlarged and partially rebuilt in 1779-83, to designs by Thomas Johnson (d.1800), a Warwick architect and builder. Johnson's alterations consisted of two main blocks: the first, built in 1779, was a two-storey range fronting Barrack Street, at its corner with Northgate Street, for the accommodation of debtors. The second phase, built in 1779-83, comprised the replacement of the former front range to Northgate Street with an imposing Greek Doric range which survives today. Further alterations to the buildings behind the main ranges were carried out at the same time as part of Johnson's plan, though the C17 gaol buildings other than the main ranges were largely retained. These buildings were eventually swept away as part of a further rebuilding in the early 1790s, following the relocation of the house of correction and the approval of plans for the enlargement and improvement of the gaol by Henry Couchman, who retained all of Thomas Johnson's C18 work; Couchman's extensions included a new wall along Barrack Street enclosing a 'court of safety', providing a buffer zone between the prison and the outside world; this is the wall which exists today running from the corner of Barrack Road and Northgate Street westwards to the gateway.

Various further phases of alteration to the buildings behind Northgate Street and Barrack Street took place in the period to 1840, when it was recognised that the gaol again required expansion and improvement, and it was decided that this could not be achieved on the existing site. A new gaol was built between 1840 and 1860 on a site off Cape Road, and the prisoners were transferred out of the old buildings in that year, before they were largely demolished. All that was retained was Johnson's Northgate Street frontage, and the high wall immediately to the north onto Barrack Street, the Barrack Street entrance gate, and the range of buildings fronting Barrack Street to the west of the gate. In 1862, work began to build a new barracks on the site, to house the first regiment of the Warwickshire Militia. The Northgate Street frontage was slightly altered by the addition of a ground-level gateway to the central bay, replacing the raised ground-floor doorway. The remainder of the site to the rear of this building, and behind the wall and range fronting Barrack Street, was rebuilt to provide ranges of buildings surrounding a courtyard. The site remained in use by the military until 1930, though its use changed over the years. From 1929, parts of the site began to be given up by the War Office, then in occupation, to allow its redevelopment into new County Council offices.

The increasing number of functions required to be undertaken by County Councils had, by the 1920s, put pressure on the existing office facilities available, and a scheme was devised by the County Architect, A C Bunch, to demolish the War Office premises on the former militia barracks site, to allow a new civic centre to be built, bringing together the majority of the county's functions. Bunch's plan set out office and meeting spaces around two quadrangles, incorporating the C18 façades to Northgate Street and Barrack Street. The windows in the Northgate Street front were enlarged, and new pedestrian entrances introduced to either side of the central gateway. Windows were inserted on two floors along the Barrack Street front. Bunch's scheme incorporated a range housing a new council chamber, committee rooms and members' facilities, but they were never built, having been delayed first by financial constraints, and later by the intervention of World War II. Council meetings were held in the Nisi Prius court of the Old Shire Hall building, in the absence of a council chamber in the new complex.

The complex was further enlarged by the addition of the council chamber, its ante-room and the office range to Old Square, built to designs by the new County Architect, G R Barnsley, between 1955 and 1958. In 1966, the final major phase of expansion took place, when Barnsley's plans were revised by his successor, Eric Davies. New committee and members' rooms were built on the south side of the inner quadrangle, completing the layout originally envisaged by A C Bunch in the 1930s. They adjoined the 1958 ante-room, which was extended by the addition of a sweeping staircase at its eastern end. A range to Barrack Street completed the buildings on this side of the complex, and the new entrance block, with associated hard landscaping and pond, was built facing, but slightly set back from, the Market Place. Alterations to the main entrance were made in the early years of the C21 to allow ramped access. A small courtyard to the east and rear of the main entrance was roofed over in 2008 to provide a new centre for the public accessing council services.

SOURCES: Colvin, H: A biographical dictionary of British architects, 1600-1840 (2007), 581-2
Pevsner, N and Wedgwood, A: The Buildings of England: Warwickshire (1966), 457-8
A History of the County of Warwick (Victoria County History): Volume 8: The City of Coventry and Borough of Warwick (1969), 451
Warwickshire County Council: Shire Hall, Warwick: A Conservation Statement Version 1.0 (May 2007)
Warwickshire County Council: Shire Hall, Warwick: Heritage Audit of Warwickshire County Council Offices, Council Chamber and Members' Area (July 2009)

Warwickshire County Council offices incorporating the remains of the C18 former county gaol, designed 1779-83 by Thomas Johnson in Greek Revival style, are designated at Grade I, for the following principal reasons:
* Architectural interest: the former county gaol is a fine composition in a muscular, Greek Doric style which demonstrates a very high degree of quality in architectural style, and fully befits the martial nature of its purpose
* Design interest: the county gaol was one of the earliest Greek Revival buildings in the country, designed very soon after the first building in the country to use the Greek Doric order, Nicholas Revett's church at Ayot St Lawrence, which had been built in 1778-9
* Alteration: though the former gaol buildings of the C18 survive only as facades, the neo-Georgian buildings constructed behind them in 1929-32 are a good-quality municipal complex set around two courtyards, which does not detract from the very high level of special interest of the C18 buildings; they represent a successful and sensitive re-use of the existing site, and are of some interest in their own right
* Historic interest: the site has a long history at the heart of the civic life of the town, having first been the gaol and house of correction, later the militia barracks in the C19, and subsequently the seat of the county council, in which use it remains
* Group value: the former county gaol and council offices have strong group value with the adjacent Old Shire Hall and Courts to the south (listed Grade I) and Judges' House further south (listed Grade II), with both of which they have a functional relationship, and also with the large number of other listed buildings to both sides of Northgate Street.

This text is a legacy record and has not been updated since the building was originally listed. Details of the building may have changed in the intervening time. You should not rely on this listing as an accurate description of the building.

Source: English Heritage

Listed building text is © Crown Copyright. Reproduced under licence.