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The Supreme Court - The Hidden Gem on Parliament Square

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Supreme Court

The exterior of Supreme Court only hints at its magnicient interior 

Parliament Square is home to two of the most iconic buildings in the world, the Palace of Westminster and Westminster Abbey, however for anyone wanted to visit an impressive and historic building but without the crowds I would strongly recommend a visit to the Supreme Court.  

The Supreme Court is the highest court in the UK, as it is the final court of appeal in the UK for civil cases and for criminal cases from England, Wales and Northern Ireland. A few weeks ago I attended a private tour with Westminster Guides and we were delighted with what we saw. 

Supreme Court

 Detail of relief frieze depicts Lady Jane Grey, the Nine Days Queen 

The beautiful Grade II* listed building, which today houses the Supreme Court, was originally the Middlesex Guildhall, dates from 1913. It was designed by James Gibson and Partners in a neo-Gothic style, to match the architecture of nearby Westminster Abbey.

The exterior of the building was described by the art historian Pevsner as being in an art nouveau style while playing with gothic motifs. It is richly decorated with statues by Henry Fehr.

The decorative frieze depicts three historical scenes. The one in the photo above, shows the Duke of Northumberland offering the crown to Lady Jane Grey. She is often referred to as the Nine Days Queen as that was the duration of her reign, before she was arrested and executed for treason.

The two other friezes depicts the granting of the charter of Westminster Abbey and King John handing the Magna Carta to the barons at Runneymede. 

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 The Grand staircase - I love my dramatic staircases

The building was used by Middlesex County Council until 1965, when following local government re-structuring it ceased to exist as an administrative district, and in the 1980s it was converted into a Crown Court dealing with criminal cases.

The Supreme Court was created by an Act of Parliament in 2005 and superseded the House of Lords Appellate Committee as the highest court in the UK.  

The building underwent a £56.9 m refurbishment programme before opening as the home of the Supreme Court in 2009.

Despite the grandeur of the building it is very accessible and extremely welcoming to visiting members of the public, after going through security screening, there is an entrance hall with an elegant semi circular main staircase.

What most charmed me most about this building is that while it is on a smaller and more domestic in size compared to its more famous neighbours it is equally impressive.

Supreme Court

 Court Room 1 - the largest of the court rooms

All three court rooms are open to the general public and visitors are permitted to sit in the public gallery and watch the court in action. However as photography is not permitted when the court is in session the best day to visit is Fridays when the court does not meet.

Courtroom One is the largest of the three courtrooms and was the former Council Chamber for Middlesex.

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  Court Room 1

The court room is full of beautiful original features such as the stained glass windows and attractive art nouveau light fittings.

Supreme Court

  Court Room 1

The court room's most impressive feature is its hammer beam ceiling with fine wooden carvings.

Supreme Court

  Court Room 2 - in a contemporary style

Court Room Two is in a modern, contemporary style and has a very different feel to the rest of the building.

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 Court Room 2

I adored the stunning blue velvet, hand printed drapes by Timorous Beasties which feature the emblems of the four nations of the United Kingdom, England's rose, Scotland's thistle, the Welsh leek and the blue flax flower for Northern Ireland.

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Carpet

Throughout the building is a carpet with the emblems of the four nations of the United Kingdom. It's designed by Peter Blake, a pop artist, who is best known for designing the cover of The Beatles' Sergeant Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band.

Supreme Court

Court Room 3 

Court Room Three is where the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council meet. It functions as the highest court of appeal for civil and criminal cases for many Commonwealth countries.

Supreme Court

 Court Room 3 

Court Room Three previously functioned as a Crown Court and has many original features such as stained glass and carved stone bosses.

Supreme Court 

The Library with a Martin Luther King Jr quote

The library is not usually open to the public but can be accessible during guided tours. The glass and wooden balustrade is engrave with inspirational quotes about justice. The quote "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable web of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly" is by Martin Luther King Jr.

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The triple heighted library is truly impressive

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The library's magnificent fan vaulted ceiling

As well as the court rooms there is also an exhibition gallery on the lower ground floor which is worth visiting and a cafe which is open to the public.

Practical Information 

Address:  The Supreme Court, Parliament Square, London SW1P 3BD

Nearest Tube Station:  Westminster or St James's Park, both are in Travelcard Zone 1, and are located a few minutes walk from the Supreme Court.

Opening Hours:  The building is usually open to the public Mondays to Fridays 9.30am - 4.30pm. However the court does not sit on Fridays. It is worth considering a private tour which can be arranged directly with the Supreme Court to enable access to the private library. Please check website for up to date details before travelling.

A cafe, on the lower ground floor, is housed in a former courtyard and is open to the public weekdays from 9.30am - 4.30pm.

Website:  http://www.supremecourt.gov.uk/

If you liked this blog post you might like to  book  the Whitehall and Hidden Westminster or Westminster Highlights walks which both include a stop at the Supreme Court (exterior only) or you may like to read about my visit to the amazing Parlimentary Archives or the opulent Lancaster House.

The author of this blog is a qualified City of London and City of Westminster Tour Guide who leads guided walks combining world famous landmarks with hidden treasures often missed by the crowds.