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Court of Exchequer, 1822-26 (12)

Historical Note:-
Along with the Courts of Common Pleas and King’s Bench, this was one of the three High Courts of the Common Law. In origin, the Exchequer was part of the royal household which oversaw the gathering and distribution of the monarch’s revenue. It had moved to Westminster from Winchester during the reign of Henry III (1216-72) and was susequently housed in a purpose-built range projecting from the north-west corner of Westminster Hall (see the Architectural Note) . The Exchequer’s success at pursuing debts owing to the Crown encouraged private litigants to bring cases before it. As a result of the Supreme Court of Judicature Acts (1873-75) this Court’s functions were merged with the other superior courts to form the High Court of Justice.

Design Note:-
SM 69/7/1r is the sole working drawing relating to the construction of the Court of Exchequer survives in a fragmentary state. It records an unexecuted treatment of the designated entrance from St Margaret’s Street in the new flanking range of The Stone Building. A presentation drawing dated 1 July 1825 (SM 53/2/41) proposes the furnishings as they were executed, and indicates that of the five Courts adjacent to the Public Corridor, this was the only one to preserve the triple openings originally common to all. The drawing also makes clear the proximity of this court to the Court of Equity; a disposition of the plan which responds to the practical requirements of legal practice, and which echoes the previous buildings on the site.

As realised, the Court of Exchequer was recorded in five drawings here associated with Stephen Burchell’s survey of 15-22 March 1826. Perfunctory in terms of their draughtsmanship, the visual evidence they record is augmented by the interior views Joseph Gandy undertook from August - September the same year. The arrangement of the elevations derives from the two-tier arched core wall solution Soane devised in late 1822. However, given the confined location of the Court room within the overall plan, the upper tiers of windows are treated as semi-circular openings above a prominent expanse of tightly vertical panelling (see SM Vol 61/55). The result bears some familial affinity with the interior of the Court of Equity, but the articulation had a subtly angular, even severe, emphasis.

The ceiling likewise draws on the lexicon of recessed soffit panels, with a waterleaf cornice. The junction of the ceiling and the lantern is handled uniquely. Unlike any of his other solutions at the Law Courts, Soane girdles the square opening with four pendentives which rise to support a convex fluted oculus, crested with antefixa. As recorded in SM Vol 61/57, the structure of the lantern light above parallels that of the Court of Equity, though given additional supporting posts at the corners. The resolution of the design at the lantern light, as evocatively recorded in Gandy’s drawings, demonstrate how such a feature could provide the focal point and integrating element over an unbroken, almost cubic internal volume.
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