Now part of a restaurant, this is the interior of the former Magistrates Court at Keswick — the place known as Hawthwaite in Steve Shearwater’s Cumbria Police Novels — and it is still largely intact and recognisable.
The former witness box is beneath the small canopy, between the first and second windows on the left. Journalists sat behind the barrier that is nearer the camera, behind the lady in blue and red.
The magistrates — sometimes just two but usually three — sat directly behind the far barrier, up where the two distant people are, in this photo, and of course, facing this way. The Magistrates’ Clerk — the only legally trained person on the team (generally a qualified solicitor) — sat this side of that same barrier, where part of a wood and red leather seat can now be seen.
If the defendant was still under arrest and therefore coming from the cells, they would be with a police officer in the dock, seen here correctly with its brass rails still around it (behind the stacked, children’s high-seats, on the right).
Lastly, non-participating spectators would be seated where this shot was taken from, behind the nearest set of rails visible in the photograph.
I would be very curious to know how many police officers, over almost the entire 20th Century, went into this witness box and gave the oath:
“I swear by Almighty God that the evidence I will give shall be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.”
[Note that there is no “so help me God” in Britain so over-enthusiastic witnesses who had seen too much American television and tried to include the phrase were reprimanded for not reading the words from the card!]
This was followed by the announcement of rank, number and name, e.g.
“Your Worships, I am Constable 8-6-8 Shearwater, currently stationed here at Hawthwaite” (or whichever other police station).
One then waited until the prosecution gave the instruction to proceed with what is correctly known as the ‘evidence in chief’.
Historical: It is thought local courts have been held in Keswick for hundreds of years. There was a Copyhold and Baronial Court in the town from medieval times. By 1847, a magistrates’ court operated on the second floor of Keswick Moot Hall on most Saturdays.
Building work commenced on Bank Street on the Keswick magistrates court and police station in 1901 and they were opened by Cumberland’s Chief Constable in 1902. They are on the site of a former workhouse that had been founded in the will of the eminent lawyer and judge Sir John Bankes, of Keswick. Born in 1589, he was eventually called to the bar, elected as an MP, and was knighted in 1631. He was appointed Attorney General and from 1640 until his death in 1644 he was Chief Justice of the Common Pleas, one of the highest judicial officials in England and now the name of the restaurant that occupies these buildings. The court and police station remained in use until the year 2000. As well as being a magistrates’ court for almost 100 years, the building was also used for many thousands of inquests, including those concerning many major accidents on the A66 and mountain and lakes tragedies.
Sadly, asset-stripping by closing police stations and courts has been happening throughout Britain for many years now, and whilst it might be argued that we can get by with fewer, centralized courtrooms, there can be no denying that crime is on the increase because of fewer police officers (down by over 20,000, nationally) and similarly that road deaths are also rising because of the reduction in staffing or even the complete disbanding of each county’s Roads Policing Unit.
Additional reading: ANGER AND SADNESS AS KESWICK COURT CLOSES FOR BUSINESS, plus an additional article about the closure of the court, both from the Cumberland & Westmorland Herald
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