The Manchester Assize Courts were law courts on Great Ducie Street in the Strangeways district of Manchester England. It was 279 feet tall and from 1864 to 1877 the tallest building in Manchester. Widely admired, it has been referred to as one of Britain’s ‘lost buildings’.
The Assize Courts was the first civic building to be constructed in Manchester after the town hall on King Street by Francis Goodwin in 1819. The Builder described it as the most important building outside Whitehall. Its design was the result of a competition in 1858 that attracted more than 107 entries. The competition was won by Alfred Waterhouse whose design beat schemes from other renowned architects such as Thomas Worthington and Edward Walters.
Waterhouse designed the building in the Venetian Gothic style, construction began in 1859 and was completed in 1864. As part of the scheme, the nearby 1862 Strangeways Prison was included in his design and is currently a Grade II listed structure.
The building contained exterior sculptures by Thomas Woolner and the firm of O’Shea and Whelan. They depicted lawgivers from history, along with a “drunk woman”, a “good woman”, a scene of the Judgment of Solomon and carvings depicting different punishments throughout history.
As part of the court system changes, the assize court system in Manchester was abolished in 1956 and changed to the Crown Court system. The courts building were severely damaged in the Manchester Blitz in 1940 and 1941. It was said that everything was destroyed except the Ducie Street facade and judges’ lodgings. Some buildings in the city damaged in the war were repaired but Manchester Assizes was demolished soon after the assize court abolition in 1957. Some of the sculptures were preserved and incorporated into the new magistrates’ court building.