Manly courthouse

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Manly courthouse

The current Manly courthouse at 2 Belgrave Street was opened in 1924, and has since then been associated with the provision of law and justice in the district surrounding Manly. The courthouse together with the neighbouring police station (1925) and Town Hall and Council Chambers (1937) form a significant grouping of civic buildings that act as a prominent landmark in the Manly commercial centre. This collection of buildings is immediately visible to tourists and locals arriving at the ferry wharf commuter hub. Thus, for many, the grouping forms a characteristic image of civic life in Manly.

The original courthouse

The courthouse that is in use today is Manly's second. In the first decade of the twentieth century, there was growing recognition that Manly's increasing population and importance meant a courthouse was required. A decision was made to utilise the old council chambers, in Ivanhoe Park on the edge of what is now Manly Oval. The old chambers had themselves been repurposed, having originally been the Ivanhoe Park Hotel. A contract to convert the old chambers into Manly's first courthouse was awarded to prominent local architect and future alderman Frederick Trenchard Smith. The building works were carried out by Mr EJ Laughton. [1] Upon completion of the works, the courthouse was opened by the Minister for Justice, Mr J Garland, at a ceremony held on 3 June 1910.

Following the cessation of its use as a courthouse, the building was dismantled in 1924 and partly re-erected elsewhere in Ivanhoe Park as a Girl Guides' clubroom. This Girl Guides' clubroom was the first of its kind in New South Wales. [2]

A new courthouse

In October 1922, Manly Council was increasingly dissatisfied at the lack of an appropriately significant local courthouse. There was also a desire to expand the playing area of what was to become Manly Oval, thereby encroaching on land occupied by the old courthouse. The Sydney Morning Herald reported on Alderman AA Reid's notice of motion: that the council notify the Department of Justice of their intention to knock down the present courthouse and ask to be informed when the department would make provision for a new courthouse. [3]

A decision was made to locate the new courthouse in Belgrave Street on a site that formed part of the original land grant made to John Thompson, Deputy Surveyor-General in 1842. [4] The original design for the building was by Government Architect George McRae. It was one of his last buildings before his death in 1923. In mid-1923 tenders were requested for its construction. By the close of tenders, five had been received; however, all the tenders exceeded the departmental estimate and the matter was referred to the Minister for Public Works for consideration. [5]

Eventually, construction commenced with the foundation stone being laid by the Hon Thomas J Ley, Minister for Justice, on 19 September 1923. Construction was undertaken by Mr RT Quiggin and completed at a cost of £6,902.

The formal opening ceremony took place on 4 July 1924. The ceremony was attended by the Minister for Justice, Mr TJ Ley and his wife, and the Under-Secretary for Justice, Mr JW Kessell. The ceremony was presided over by the Mayor of Manly, Alderman AC Samuels. Following the presentation of a symbolic silver key to Mrs Ley, the building was declared open. [6]

Design and construction

The design of the new building had called largely for the use of manganese brick with decorous use of sandstone detailing. The 1976 Manly Planning Scheme Review described the building as:

a single-storey and well proportioned building with the front façade being symmetrically arranged and containing five equal semi-circular arches. The centre of the continuous arches is capped with a stone dressed gable which shows typical classical features sparingly detailed. [7]

The courthouse has been described as a good example of Interwar Classical Revival style architecture, now no longer in its original state, although with the original pedimented gable with sandstone trim still intact. Due to a focus by the Department of Public Works on other types of public buildings, the Manly courthouse is significant as one of the few courthouses constructed during the interwar period. [8] The original interior of the courthouse is now largely gone; however, some original timber joinery remains in the main courtroom, in particular the judge's bench. In its classification of the building's heritage listing, the Office of Environment and Heritage acknowledges the work as a modest example of Government Architect George McRae's work, but that its true significance stems from its role in forming, with its neighbours, a historical civic group of unified aesthetic.

Alterations

Manly courthouse has been altered numerous times in the course of its history. One of the earliest alterations followed on from changes made to the street upon which the courthouse sat. At some point Belgrave Street was lowered, requiring additional steps to be added to the front of the courthouse to meet up with the grade of the footpath. The height difference of the road and footpath can be seen upon comparing the photos of the original design in 1924 to those of the 1960s.

The first major alterations to the courthouse were made c1964 by Government Architect Edward Farmer. [9] The result was the addition of two symmetrical basic brick wings. This enabled the creation of extra office space, interview rooms and a second courtroom. The additions were somewhat unsympathetic to the original design, with little attempt made to maintain the architectural character of the original design, other than the use of brick and minor elements of sandstone.

The late 1970s saw the movement of the main steps forward of the verandah arches, with the verandah itself enclosed by infill glazing. A two-storey brick and concrete addition was also added to the rear to house offices, magistrates' chambers and records storage. [10]

The courthouse received another round of major alterations in 1981 in the form of a $600,000 refit. The Government Architect John (Ian) Thomson retained much of the façade as it was and focused on enlarging the interior. Air conditioning was installed, the registrar's office enlarged and a public waiting area created. At some point in time, the front steps of the courthouse were redesigned to create a raised public forecourt enabling the creation of a ramp to improve disability access. In the early 1990s, refurbishment of the southern wing offices and second court room was undertaken. [11]

Current state

Haphazard and successive renovations with no clear master plan strategy have destroyed the clarity of McRae's original design. The addition of wings extending in front of the verandah in 1964 diminished the importance of the original entry. In addition, successive alterations to the courthouse steps have clouded the clarity of an architectural element of the threshold of the courthouse. The necessary but poorly executed integration of an accessibility ramp has been a major corruption of the original step design.

The courthouse is somewhat in a state of dilapidation. It appears run down, dirty and in need of a unifying strategy to improve the aesthetics, comfort and function of the building. In 2011, further alterations to the courthouse and police station were proposed. As part of a desperately needed extension to the police station, minor works were proposed to the interior of the courthouse. As of early 2012, it appears that the development application process for these works has stalled, with work yet to commence.

Civic function and importance

With its neighbours, the police station and the Town Hall, the courthouse enables a noteworthy commingling of functions. In a sense the three branches of government, as set out under the doctrine of separation of powers, come together in one spot, with each of the executive, judicial and legislative branches represented. This coming together of civic functions was catalysed by the construction of the courthouse in 1923. In his opening ceremony speech, Minister for Justice, Mr TJ Ley noted a request by the council for a new police station, noting that construction might be delayed due to costs and warning against placing civic functions in such close proximity. [12] Nonetheless, the abutting police station was completed in 1925. The construction of the Town Hall and Council Chamber was delayed by deliberations over costs, design and location, but eventually it was completed in 1937.

Over the ensuing years, the courthouse, often in conjunction with its neighbours, had a role to play in everyday life. For instance, during World War II, antisocial behaviour and criminal acts reached unprecedentedly high levels in the Manly area. [13] There was an influx in cases to the courthouse, after new rules were passed by the council 'to the south' and enforced by the police 'to the north'.

Manly courthouse has continued to see active service as a local court dealing with both civil and criminal cases ranging from minor to serious in nature. It has generally been a busy court with a large caseload. For instance in 1980, Manly Court handled 468 sittings and dealt with 8,600 cases. [14]

References

Kate Blackmore Consultants, 'Heritage Study: Municipality of Manly', vols 4 & 5 The Inventory, Manly Council, Manly, 1986

Pauline Curby, Seven Miles from Sydney: A History of Manly, Manly Council, Manly, 2001

Manly Town Planning Department, 'Buildings of Historical & Architectural Interest: Manly Planning Scheme Review Stage 1', Manly Council, Manly, 1976

NSW Office of Environment & Heritage, Heritage database listing, 'Manly Courthouse', at http://www.heritage.nsw.gov.au/07_subnav_04_2.cfm?itemid=3080086, viewed 14 March 2012

Notes

[1] 'Contracts', Sydney Morning Herald, 14 December 1909, p 10

[2] 'Girl Guides Clubhouse at Manly', Sydney Morning Herald, 17 November 1924, p 8

[3] 'Manly Court House', Sydney Morning Herald, 4 October 1922, p 16

[4] Kate Blackmore Consultants, 'Heritage Study: Municipality of Manly', vols 4 & 5 The Inventory, Manly Council, Manly, 1986, Item Name: Civic Buildings

[5] 'General Notes', Sydney Morning Herald, 6 June 1923, p 9

[6] 'New Court-House Opened at Manly', Sydney Morning Herald, 5 July 1924, p 16

[7] Manly Town Planning Department, 'Buildings of Historical & Architectural Interest: Manly Planning Scheme Review Stage 1', Manly Council, Manly, 1976, p 129

[8] NSW Office of Environment & Heritage, Heritage database listing, 'Manly Courthouse', at http://www.heritage.nsw.gov.au/07_subnav_04_2.cfm?itemid=3080086, viewed 14 March 2012

[9] NSW Office of Environment & Heritage, Heritage database listing, 'Manly Courthouse', at http://www.heritage.nsw.gov.au/07_subnav_04_2.cfm?itemid=3080086, viewed 14 March 2012

[10] NSW Office of Environment & Heritage, Heritage database listing, 'Manly Courthouse', at http://www.heritage.nsw.gov.au/07_subnav_04_2.cfm?itemid=3080086, viewed 14 March 2012

[11] NSW Office of Environment & Heritage, Heritage database listing, 'Manly Courthouse', at http://www.heritage.nsw.gov.au/07_subnav_04_2.cfm?itemid=3080086, viewed 14 March 2012

[12] 'New Court-House Opened at Manly', Sydney Morning Herald, 5 July 1924, p 16

[13] Pauline Curby, Seven Miles from Sydney: A History of Manly, Manly Council, Manly, 2001, p 246

[14] Manly Library Local Studies Unit, 'Manly Court House', p 2

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