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Poll - What should be done with Chelmsford's Shire Hall?

By MatthewWard  |  Posted: May 18, 2012

Shire Hall, Chelmsford

Comments (0)

What would you do with Shire Hall, Chelmsford iconic city centre building at the top of the High Street?

Georgian Shire Hall, which had been used as a Magistrates Court, effectively closed its doors when the £4m New Street court earlier this year.

Owners Essex County Council say they fully recognise that Shire Hall is an important historical site in Chelmsford.

A ECC spokesman said: "We are considering the potential options for it, but no decision has been made yet.

"We will ensure that any solution is good value for money, allows access for the local community, and keeps it in public ownership.

"We will release more information when it is available."

The elegant building was completed in 1791 to the design of county surveyor John Johnson and has remained almost the same for more than 200 years, with the exception of the main staircase, replaced in the 1930s.

It has has been the scene of many events of local history, from witchcraft trials to magnificent social events.

Ninety Anglia Ruskin students recently came up with a wide variety of future uses for Shire Hall - a social ‘Community Centre’, a commercial ‘Wedding Venue’ and a hybrid ‘Civic Hub’.

A community scheme could feature a café with tourist information centre, with one of the criminal courts kept in aspic for lectures and talks, an Internet café, gallery or presentation space and rooms for public meetings.

The Hall has been the centre of justice for much of the last century when it housed the Assize Court before they changed to Crown Courts alongside magistrates courts.

Crown Courts moved to New Street in 1980 and in April magistrates decamped to brand new premises also in New Street.

Inquests have not been held in the character picture room for more than five years.

Anglia’s Senior built environment lecturer Dr Alan Coday at Anglia said:” “Conscious that the number of buildings at risk is currently higher than usual, 76 BSc and 10 MSc students prepared options appraisals for this landmark building.

“The best way to reduce the number of buildings at risk is to ensure that all heritage buildings have a long term sustainable future and prevent them getting on the at-risk list in the first place”.

“As the Magistrates Courts are due to move out of Shire Hall and relocate to their new premises in 2012, it was an ideal opportunity to collaborate with Essex County Council.

“This final year student project allowed students the opportunity to engage with real issues and develop their own designs upon the future of this important town centre building.

Top marks were awarded to his ‘Group L’ who suggested a commercially viable community based charity to run the centre as a not for profit social hub – which they think Chelmsford needs town.

Dr Coday added“It was great to work on a real building but it was a tough challenge – achieving compliance with the Equal Opportunities Act and reducing energy use to the targets of the latest Building Regulations really tested surveying, design and conservation skills”.

The team concluded it was important to continue wedding receptions and more formal public meetings but essential to open up access to this “impressive and versatile building” to a wider cross section of the community.

Other ideas included a specialist cinema, aquarium, or conventional commercial offices.

Dr Coday added “It’s important that students consider all possibilities so they understand the ramifications of design loads for 18th century floors or the consequences of an end use that might compromise the character of the listed building. Students only understand these issues if they explore, rationalise then optimise their own designs”.

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  • cliveh  |  February 15 2013, 5:49PM

    I think it should be a centre focussed on the arts. Chelmsford is particularly weak in this area. I would propose an art gallery and museum. The Marconi Collection is a good suggestion. A concert Hall or recital room. A cafe and visitor centre and meeting space. Withits central location this would be a real addition to the city centre.

  • youthworker  |  January 10 2013, 6:54PM

    Community centre of Chelmsford in the city centre I have been talking to a group who think it could be a fantastic sanctuary, an interfaith place, for Hindus Buddhist etc as there already the cathedral. Call it the Contemplation and healing centre. Where anyone can go and be still relax. Look at art work. ( artists could sell their work and percentage goes to up keep ) Prayer room Do different things a variation. Like prayer healing and bell healing. Head massage Different people could offer different healings along with their faith and beleifs. Have a Muslim room, crystal room, chanting room. silent room. aqaurium, museum? In the evenings it could be rented out for celebrations, could be rented out for study meetings, prayer meetings. A philosophy centre. A room with no symbols were people can just sit, even the library is to loud. Different rooms open for education, like the ikeda Gandhi exhibition that was held at the library at beginning of the year. Showing children's work to, roated with other exhibitions and groups of work and displays Upstairs quiet room being child free. The house of one love. A peace museum of people that's inspired us for peace

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  • photokas  |  January 10 2013, 4:49PM

    I think it should be used for small local businesses and artists to use as studio space to allow visitors to watch them work and buy their products. Rooms could also be hired out as meeting venues for local groups. It would add to the community feel to have a couple of cafes. A venue of this nature would encourage more niche businesses into the town and stop it being another generic high street as well as stimulate local enterprise.

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  • beverlys  |  January 10 2013, 2:22PM

    use Shire Hall as a museum, not only as a historic picture of courts and assizes through the ages (maybe using some of the ideas used in the London Dungeons or the Edinburgh Gaol), but also as a tourist information office for Chelmsford and Essex, with pictures & exhibits through the ages at Chelmsford. Having living exhibits - maybe a hanging sentence with Judge Dredd or visitor participation/interaction in trials of old - would draw visitors. As a wedding venue in the past, there could be a wedding exhibit of dresses throughout the ages too. Charging for entry and having a cafe and gift shop would all add to the revenue.

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  • Steve1685  |  December 31 2012, 12:09AM

    Maybe The Chelmsford Museum should be moved to the Shire Hall, from its old location, which is quite a distance from the City Centre. Also maybe replace the old Cannon to its old spot, out the front, and possibly Cafe and shops.

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  • SeanATyrrell  |  December 17 2012, 7:49PM

    A new Theatre and arts space fit for a city, the cramporn and civic are poor excuses for theatres which rarely host anything of high profile or interest for the wider community.

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  • gavinoddy  |  December 12 2012, 12:34PM

    It should certainly be available for civil weddings, and in that connection it would certainly make a more suitable home for the Registry Office, too. Given it's proximity to the cathedral, I'd be looking for some sort of close tie-up that would be of mutual benefit, so that services and events in the cathedral could take advantage of its presence on the doorstep, as it were; not just for wedding receptions.

  • beegee  |  December 09 2012, 10:41AM

    Bring the Marconi Collection home and display it along with other historical artifacts and make it a heritage centre a City should be proud of.

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  • bigbobcowl  |  November 09 2012, 3:35PM

    How about moving the Registry Office to this much nicer location

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  • bryanreeve  |  May 28 2012, 1:33PM

    The Shire Hall should be an art gallery as befits a city. The existing rooms could easily be adapted to induvidual galleries without great cost, and should include a cafe and visitor's shop, with certain galleries for local artists to dislpay their work. The building has a basement for the storage of works of art (existing cells).

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