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HER Number:MDV29023
Name:Tavistock Guildhall


Part of purpose-built combined court and police station built circa 1848 in Gothic style. Guildhall is single storey with semi-basement.


Grid Reference:SX 482 744
Map Sheet:SX47SE
Admin AreaDevon
Civil ParishTavistock
DistrictWest Devon
Ecclesiastical ParishTAVISTOCK

Protected Status

Other References/Statuses

  • Old DCC SMR Ref: SX47SE/157
  • Old Listed Building Ref (II*): 93433
  • Old SAM Ref: 29679

Monument Type(s) and Dates

  • GUILDHALL (XIX - 1801 AD to 1900 AD (Between))

Full description

Ordnance Survey, 1855-1895, First Edition 1:500 Town Map (Cartographic). SDV338879.

'Guildhall' marked.

Devon County Council, 1975, Tavistock Town Walk, 92 (Article in Monograph). SDV352474.

Timms, S. C., 1976, The Devon Urban Survey, 1976. First Draft, 172 (Report - Survey). SDV341346.

Department of Environment, 1983, Tavistock, 16 (List of Blds of Arch or Historic Interest). SDV272550.

Built 1848 on the site of Abbey buildings. One storey and basement coursed rubble front with granite dressings. Late Perpendicular style with castellated parapet and pinnacles. Slate roof. Six bays. Double or triple arched windows with hood mouldings. Central gable. Projecting porch. Interior has portraits and coats-of-arms painted by the Lady Russell of that date.

The Tavistock and District Local History Society, 1994, About Tavistock: An Historical Introduction and Six Town Walks, 13, 46 (Monograph). SDV354806.

The mid 19th century saw a major redevelopment of Tavistock take place as the 7th Duke of Bedford ploughed back some of his huge profits from mining enterprises into new buildings, including The Guildhall, built in the 1840s.

Department for Culture, Media and Sport, 2001, Tavistock Abbey (Schedule Document). SDV344375.

Excluded from scheduling, but ground beneath is included.

Keystone Historic Buildings Consultants, 2005, An Assessment of Tavistock Police Station & Guildhall, Guildhall Square, Tavistock, Devon (Report - Assessment). SDV336169.

Tavistock Guildhall and Police Station (MDV72669) are part of an outstanding urban group of medieval and 19th century Gothic buildings in the centre of Tavistock. They are the earliest surviving purpose-built combined police station and court room in England. The group incorporates two much-altered abbey buildings. Some working drawings of the Guildhall by T Jones in 1847 survive in the Tavistock Museum. They include amendments to Trowte's House and police accommodation, and a fire engine house to the north. The Guildhall is built of Hurdwick stone with granite dressings, apart from the rear east wall which is of stone rubble, under a slate roof. The porch to the courthouse bridged across the semi-basement like a drawbridge and the buildings were planned to separate the legal professionals from the public. The Guildhall was officially opened on 28th September 1848. The buildings were purchased from the 11th Duke of Bedford by Devon County Council in 1913.

Department for Culture, Media and Sport, 2008, Tavistock (List of Blds of Arch or Historic Interest). SDV340249.

Two entries, the Police Station and Sergeant's House, and the Guildhall replaced by a single entry for the Guildhall, Police Station, attached railings and boundary walls. Listing changed from Grade II to Grade II*.
Purpose-built combined court and police station with former police accommodation block and fire engine house. Circa 1848, incorporating some late 15th century fabric. Late 19th and late 20th century alterations. Designed initially by John Foulston and then by Theophilus Jones for the Duke of Bedford.
Materials: Mostly Hurdwick stone with granite dressings and an embattled parapet above a moulded cornice. Crocketted pinnacles to the parapets. The roofs are slate. The window openings consist largely of square-headed frames with hoodmoulds and arched head lights.
Plan: Linear plan on the site of historic plots that define the south east side of the monastic Great Court of Tavistock Abbey. From north to south the group comprises the former police accommodation block and fire engine house which is built on a different alignment to the rest of the range and is currently the police station; a three storey building known as Trowte's House incorporating a late 15th century structure within its fabric; and at the south end, the Guildhall which has a courtroom to the ground floor and a semi-basement that was the original police station.
Exterior: The principal (west) elevation is built in a Gothic style and from left to right, can be described thus: the two storey former accommodation block which is built of rubble with a distinct change of masonry from Hurdwick stone to slatestone at the first floor sill level. There is a chamfered granite entrance doorway to the far left, and a wide Tudor-arched doorway with a plank doors to the former fire engine house to the far right, and a two-light window between. At first floor are two matching windows. The three storey Trowte's House to the right is tower-like in character with a projecting stair turret to the front left. This has a chamfered Tudor-arched doorway to the ground floor. There are windows on the right return; the lower one is a three-centred arched window under a wide relieving arch, and the second floor window is a single-light with segmental head. To the right of the turret, steps lead down to a semi-basement and a moulded Tudor-arched doorway with a cover strip door below a glazed overlight. There is a two-light window to the right. The first floor window above is similar but set askew relative to the relieving arch above. There is a single second floor window with segmental-arched head and square-headed hoodmould. The Guildhall is a single storey building with a semi-basement. The central bay rises to a gable and a single-light window with a cusped head. It has a projecting single storey porch with an embattled parapet. Steps lead up to a round-headed moulded outer doorway with spandrels carved with quatrefoil. The porch has single light windows in its return. To the left of the porch is a three-light window, lighting the magistrates' end of the courtroom and to the right, are two two-light windows. The semi-basement level has granite windows to the former cells, some of which retain their bars, and there is a door into the cell block with vertical plans, glazed above the middle rail. There is a three-light upper floor window in the south gable end of the building and a single-light slit window with an iron grille at ground level.
The rear elevation from left to right (south to north) comprises: the rear wall of the Guildhall which has two secondary brick buttresses against it. The ground floor openings, which are mostly enlargements of earlier openings have chamfered architraves, and there is a doorway close to the north end of the block. There are four first floor windows, lighting the court, similar in style to those on the front. A scar-line in the masonry indicates the position of a former wash-house in the yard. The rear of Trowte's House incorporates the remains of a relieving arch to a small window at the north end. Two cells added in 1892 are located in a single storey block which projects into the yard. There is a three-light window to the magistrates' retiring room on the first floor. A single storey one-room block projects off the rear of the accommodation block at the north end and a doorway leads from this into the service yard.
Interior: The plan of the accommodation block has been amended slightly in the later 20th century. The parlour (now the police reception area) has a mid 19th century ceiling rose, at the rear is a kitchen (now an office) with a fireplace in its south wall. The style of doors with long vertical panels is found throughout the whole range. The fire engine house, which occupied the full width of the building, has been slightly reduced in length and width since 1890. A staircase with stick balusters and chamfered newel post gives access to the first floor where north-south corridor has been inserted. The former bedrooms (now offices) retain 19th century fire surrounds. Access into Trowte's House is via a doorway from the semi-basement. It opens onto a north-south corridor with a three/six pane formerly sliding sash in a partition that marks the position of a former police reception area. Toward the rear of the building is an irregularly-shaped room with doorways leading into the two 1892 cells which remain in use. The first floor is the intact magistrates' retiring room which has a granite chimneypiece and a cornice. There are arched doorways leading to the courtroom, a cupboard in the north east corner, and the stair turret. The second floor was a caretaker's quarters by 1914. It has small rooms to the rear with 19th century doors and there is a granite fire surround. Roof dormers have been inserted to provide additional light.
The Guildhall is entered via the porch which has a barrel ceiling with timber ribs. Paired, square-headed timber doors with lozenge-shaped glazed peepholes lead into the court. The left one gives access to the north end of the court; the right door leads into the public gallery. The courtroom has a segmental-arched ceiling divided into panels by moulded ribs and moulded frames to the ceiling vents. At the north end is the raised magistrates' bench which has Gothic detailing. The wall behind is decorated with three pointed moulded arches. The outer ones have arched doorways leading into Trowte's House; the centre arch is blind but has a gilded Statue of Justice. Above the arches is a painted Royal Arms, flanked by the Arms of the Prince of Wales and the Bedford Arms. The dock is accessed via stairs, reached from the cells below. The public end of the court retains raking seats with panelled backs and square-shouldered ends. The semi-basement beneath the court contains cells on either side of a corridor which is paved with granite and incorporates a drain. The cell block is divided in two by reinforced doors. The room at the north end of the cells was the original police reception area.
Subsidiary Features: The semi-basement area in front of Trowte's House and the Guildhall is railed off from Guildhall Square by stout railings with spear finials; there are two gateways through the railings. To the rear is a narrow yard that runs the length of the range. It is bounded by tall rubble walls with granite coping and is divided into three separate sections by cross walls.
History: In 1823 the Plymouth architect John Foulston was commissioned by the sixth Duke of Bedford to repair the old buildings' in the square, including Trowte's House, a late 15th century structure that was later incorporated into the Guildhall and police station complex. The 1830s saw not only the creation of a Tavistock police force, but public pressure for a purpose-built court. By 1847 the seventh Duke's architect, Theophilus Jones, was working on designs for a Guildhall. This was a combination building, which incorporated a police station and cells in a semi-basement below the courtroom. It was designed in conjunction with amendments to Trowte's House, absorbing that building into the court as a magistrates' room; and the development of police accommodation and a fire engine house to the north. The whole project was forward-thinking in terms of public law, order and safety and the connections between them.
Re-planning following a flood in the late 19th century meant that the whole police station effectively moved north, into Trowte's House, although the basement below the Guildhall continued to be used for prisoner access. Tavistock became the headquarters of a division of the county constabulary from 1856 until 1921, when it became a sub-divisional headquarters. In about 1969 the northern part of the range ceased to be used as accommodation and the police station expanded into this building. The court closed in circa 1996-7.
Reason for Designation Decision: The Guildhall and police station complex are designated at Grade II* for the following principal reasons:
* It is an important survival of one of the earliest combined police station and courtrooms in England
* The exterior is exceptionally well-preserved. It is a striking Gothic composition that displays a high level of architectural distinction and successfully conveys the importance of the complex
* Notwithstanding some limited internal alteration and changes to the function of some parts of the buildings the historic plan form remains clearly readable and the interiors retain a great number of internal features.
* It incorporates a late15th century building which formed part of the Great Court of Tavistock Abbey and as such is a rare survival of a monastic outer court building.
* Group value with rich time-depth of designated assets in the immediate vicinity: the Grade II abbey gatehouse to the north west; the Grade II library immediately to the north, and the scheduled medieval remains of Tavistock Abbey.
SOURCES: Keystone Historic Buildings Consultants, `An Assessment of Tavistock Police Station and Guildhall, Guildhall Square, Tavistock' (2005), for English Heritage
B. Cherry and N. Pevsner, `The Buildings of England - Devon' (1989), pp 783
A. Brodie, G. Winter, & S. Porter, `The Law Court 1800-2000: Development and Function' (2000), for English Heritage

West Devon Borough Council, 2009, Tavistock Conservation Area Management Plan, 37-38 (Report - non-specific). SDV351411.

Sources / Further Reading

SDV272550List of Blds of Arch or Historic Interest: Department of Environment. 1983. Tavistock. Historic Houses Register. A4 Comb Bound. 16.
SDV336169Report - Assessment: Keystone Historic Buildings Consultants. 2005. An Assessment of Tavistock Police Station & Guildhall, Guildhall Square, Tavistock, Devon. A4 Stapled + Digital.
SDV338879Cartographic: Ordnance Survey. 1855-1895. First Edition 1:500 Town Map. First Edition 1:500 Town Map. Map (Digital).
SDV340249List of Blds of Arch or Historic Interest: Department for Culture, Media and Sport. 2008. Tavistock. Amendment to List of Buildings of Special Architectural or Historic Interes. A4 Stapled.
SDV341346Report - Survey: Timms, S. C.. 1976. The Devon Urban Survey, 1976. First Draft. Devon Committee for Rescue Archaeology Report. A4 Unbound + Digital. 172.
SDV344375Schedule Document: Department for Culture, Media and Sport. 2001. Tavistock Abbey. The Schedule of Monuments. A4 Stapled.
SDV351411Report - non-specific: West Devon Borough Council. 2009. Tavistock Conservation Area Management Plan. West Devon Borough Council Report. a4 Stapled + Digital. 37-38.
SDV352474Article in Monograph: Devon County Council. 1975. Tavistock Town Walk. Devon Town Trails: European Architectural Heritage Year. Paperback Volume. 92.
SDV354806Monograph: The Tavistock and District Local History Society. 1994. About Tavistock: An Historical Introduction and Six Town Walks. About Tavistock: An Historical Introduction and Six Town Walks. A5 Paperback. 13, 46.

Associated Monuments

MDV76352Related to: New Hall, Bedford Square, Tavistock (Building)
MDV4091Related to: Old Guildhall, Tavistock (Building)
MDV72669Related to: Police Station and Former Fire engine house, Guildhall Square, Tavistock (Building)
MDV3919Related to: Tavistock Abbey (Monument)

Associated Finds: none recorded

Associated Events: none recorded

Date Last Edited:Feb 13 2015 9:39AM