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Further Histories

Unified Courts Administration Programme Horseferry Road Magistrates' Court Justices of the Peace Queen's Remembrancer

Horseferry Road Magistrates' Court history

History of the court

The original Police Court was situated in Queen Anne’s Gate, near where the Home Office is situated. In 1846 it moved to new offices in Vincent Square. There is no date of closure.

In 1974 Horseferry Road Magistrates Court was opened due to the demand for more courtrooms in London. It was one of three larger courthouses. which were opened in the early Seventies; the others were Camberwell Green Magistrates’ Court & Highbury Corner Magistrates’ Court. It joined the South Westminster Petty Sessions Division of the Inner London Magistrates’ Court Service beside the existing Bow Street and Marlborough Street Magistrates’ Courts.

It opened with four courtrooms with two more being added in the early eighties. The cell area has 29 male holding cells and 11 female holding cells with an additional cell for youth defendants. Any monies for court fees or fines for the Petty Sessional Area are currently collected and enforced at this court.

The work at Horseferry Road includes prosecutions on behalf of the Crown Prosecution Service, Customs & Excise, Local Authorities and British Transport Police. Applications under the Police & Criminal Evidence Act (PACE) for further time to question suspects in custody, take place at Horseferry Road Magistrates’ Court for the whole of Inner London. There is a psychiatric assessment unit, which identifies any defendant(s) who require assistance under the Mental Health Act and makes recommendations to the court.

Horseferry Road Magistrates’ Court is the home of the North and South Westminster Licensing Offices, which process all the licensing of premises from which alcohol can be sold and betting and gaming undertaken. This Licensing Area is the most high profile in the country with over 2,800 individual pubs, clubs, restaurants, wine bars, hotels and off-licences holding liquors licences, as well as casinos and betting offices.

Due to its close location to New Scotland Yard and its size, Horseferrry Road Magistrates’ Court is called upon to deal with large cases that may occur in the central London area. Such an event was the arrest of the seventy-two Kurds for protesting outside the Turkish Embassy in 1999. The court sat from 7pm until midnight to deal with the cases in order to avoid potential central London disturbance the following day.

Over the years, several celebrity cases have been heard along side the bizarre, such as the case involving human body parts being stolen for the use in artwork, the laboratory technician who set himself up as a doctor in private practice and the finding of part of a mouse in a chocolate bar. Celebrities from the world of television and the sporting world have appeared at Horseferry Road as both witnesses and defendants and it is regularly seen in national news reports in newspapers and on television.

History of the Local Area

Horseferry Road was ‘the road to the Ferry’ that crossed the Thames to the Lambeth Stairs. The Ferry was owned by the Archbishop of Canterbury and predated the building of London Bridge. When the Thames froze over the ferry ceased its crossing while people had Frost Fairs on the ice and rode their horses, wagons and carriages across.

The pier has its place in history as the starting point of James II flight from England with his wife Mary of Modena in 1689. As an important crossing it had many prominent travellers traversing the Thames including in 1736 Princess Augusta, who became the mother of George III, on the way to her wedding. The ferry was also mentioned in a couple of Charles Dickens’ novels.

In 1734 plans were drawn up for a bridge to replace the ferry. The money was raised by lottery and grants. A couple of years later Parliament changed the plans on the position of the bridge, which resulted in Westminster Bridge being finished first. This was the start of the decline of The Horse-ferry, which was eventually replaced on 10th November 1862 by the opening of the Lambeth Suspension Bridge. The current bridge that crosses the Thames was opened in 1932.

Market Street was joined with Horseferry Road in the 18th Century to make up the current length of Horseferry Road. Stationed along Horseferry Road were houses, a school and industries including gas works in service between 1812 to 1875. The area was developed into a gas storage facility that closed in 1937. The site was then used as a wartime underground base for Whitehall during World War II. Currently the Department of Environment and Transport building stands empty on this land. The former Westminster Hospital, which is currently being developed into luxury apartments, had been built over a brewery that had been in existence in some shape or form since the 17th Century.

In the area between Horseferry Road and Vauxhall Bridge Road once stood The Millbank Penitentiary, built as an alternative to the transportation of convicts. Works began at the turn of the 19th Century with the first pentagon of the prison being opened in 1816 with 36 women inmates. The final and sixth pentagon in its circle was completed 1821. The official opening of the prison in July 1822, had been delayed due to repairs being made to cracks in the walls. The ill-fated penitentiary had to be evacuated of inmates and staff in January 1823 due to an outbreak of scurvy, which caused 30 deaths amongst its population. Again repairs were made to the prison and it was not reopened until August 1824. The English Bastille, as it was nicknamed, held male, female and children convicts over its years in service. By the end of the 19th Century it had fallen into decline and in December 1890 it had only one sick female inmate and two wardens within its walls. The area was redeveloped into a military hospital and army medical college and the Tate Gallery, which still stands today. A few government buildings, offices and housing have replaced the hospital and college.

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This page was last updated on 11 May, 2005. Web team.
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