Legal Matters: A Victorian Masterpiece Now Too Small for the Job; Built Almost 110 Years Ago, Birmingham's Victoria Law Courts Is the Busiest Courthouse in Europe and Is Bursting at the Seams. Home Affairs Correspondent Richard Warburton Looks at the History and Significance of One of the City's Most Important Buildings

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Byline: Richard Warburton

When the then Prince of Wales opened the Victoria Law Courts on July 21, 1891, it was described as the finest modern building in Britain.

Four years earlier Queen Victoria had laid the foundation stone for the building, which was desperately needed to meet the increasing number of court cases as the city grew.

At a cost of pounds 90,000 - pounds 12,000 more than original estimates - the courts were an example of the very best in Victorian architecture and became one of Birmingham's most famous buildings.

The original building had just six courts. Now it has 28.

During the 1870s the city made three or four applications to the Crown to hold its own Assize sittings, which were then only held in Warwick and occasionally in Coventry.

A lack of accommodation for a Court of Assize, and for judges in Birmingham, caused the applications to be repeatedly turned down until the site now occupied by the Victoria Law Courts was found in 1883.

Birmingham became an Assize town in 1884, with hearings held in the Council House, as architects were asked to submit plans for a new court building for Corporation Street. A total of 126 architects entered drawings, with the partnership of Sir Aston Webb and Ingress Bell winning the contract.

Birmingham builders John Brown and Sons set about construction with an extra pounds 23,000 worth of furnishings supplied by Chamberlain King and Jones.

The finished court building - with an 80 foot long Great Hall containing eight stained glass windows depicting local industry and history - was one of the most remarkable in the country. Steven Jonas, expert in criminal law and president of the Birmingham Law Society, said that, as impressive as the Victoria Law Courts is, the need to find an alternative was inevitable. …