The Twentieth Century Society

Campaigning for outstanding buildings

C20 Society fights plans to demolish Walthamstow Magistrates Court

The former Walthamstow Magistrates Court

Photo: Simon Phipps

The Twentieth Century Society is objecting to plans to demolish the former Walthamstow Magistrates Court which is sited next to the Grade II listed Town Hall and Assembly Hall.

Constructed between 1970 and 1973, it was the first of the new Magistrates’ Courts to be built by the GLC Architect’s Department after the formation of the Outer Boroughs of London.  Its design was established from 1967 by Jake Brown and Noel Cowburn, both of whom were members of the GLC’s working party. It followed a report by the GLC in 1969 (revised in 1977) which served as a guide for courthouse planning for outer London and which went on to be used throughout England and Wales.

The Magistrates Court Building was planned as part of the existing civic centre and it is located on the site of the unrealised law court. As requested by the Borough at the time, the court building is respectful of its older neighbours (the Town Hall and Assembly Hall were built in 1937-42 to designs by P D Hepworth)  and its Portland stone cladding is complementary, but it is not a pastiche — its design is “firmly of its own time”, as observed in the Buildings of England London: East volume. It is a two-storey reinforced concrete, Portland stone and glass building with a strong horizontal emphasis, once containing cells, court, offices, and public reception on its ground floor, and its first floor accommodated courts to the rear and smaller rooms for magistrates, police, press and such to the front, as well as a public refreshment room. There is a linked probation unit to the east which housed small rooms for interviewing. It was shortlisted for an RIBA architecture award. The building was stripped out in 2016-18 when it was converted to offices and a cafe.

Caseworker Coco Whittaker says: “The former Magistrates Court Building should be considered a non-designated heritage asset which makes a strong contribution to the historic and architectural interest of the listed civic centre site. We are confident that a viable new use could be found for the building as part of the proposed development. The environmental cost of knocking the building down and replacing it would also be substantial and Waltham Forest Council should be looking to avoid this given their declaration of a Climate Emergency in April 2019.”

In their listing assessment for the former Magistrates Court Building, Historic England stated: “As the pioneering example of a significant development in court design, embodying guidance which began at a local level but was adopted nationally and was an early attempt at standardisation in courthouses, the former Waltham Forest Magistrates’ Court has national as well as local interest. Had the building survived intact, it would have had a claim to special interest on these grounds, with the additional claim of its striking external composition which makes a thought-provoking contribution to the wider group of listed municipal buildings.”

Five new five to nine storey residential blocks are planned for the site as well as a new civic building. The developer is Countryside Properties Plc. The planning application reference number is 210776.

If you object to its demolition and would like to have your thoughts heard by the council, please email quoting the reference number 210776.