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Historic Building Details

HB Ref No:

Extent of Listing:
Court House

Date of Construction:
1720 - 1739

Address :
Court House Market Square Antrim BT41 4AW

Town Parks

Survey 2:

Date of Listing:
03/03/1997 00:00:00

Date of De-listing:

Current Use:
Court House

Former Use
Court House

Conservation Area:

Industrial Archaeology:





OS Map No:
96-13 SE

IG Ref:
J1470 8669

Owner Category

Exterior Description And Setting

A 2-storey rendered building, rectangular in plan, with a hipped roof surmounted by an octagonal lantern. Main entrance faces west, on one of the shorter sides. West elevation: 3-bay, with central entrance approached by a double flight of exterior steps and flanked by two windows to each side. Hipped roof of Bangor blue slates in regular courses, of low pitch, with widely projecting eaves oversailing on shaped timber brackets; moulded cast iron gutter. One chimney extending up through roof in line with wall plane: of brickwork, painted, with concrete coping and four stub pots. Walling is smooth cement rendered, lined and blocked, and painted, with rusticated painted sandstone quoins to extremities, projecting plinth, painted sandstone plat band at first floor level, and painted sandstone dentil cornice with plain rendered frieze above; date 1726 incised on a quoin at right-hand extremity. Windows are small timber sliding sashes, vertically hung, 8 over 8, without horns, but currently boarded up, set in moulded surrounds with moulded cills. Entrance is deeply recessed in a Doric pilastered opening with a segmental pediment over a triglyph frieze and a moulded keystone under it flanked by highly modelled swags. Rectangular opening filled with a modern sliding expandable metal grille with a metal meshed fanlight over. Rear of recessed porch, approached by a recessed flight of granite steps: contains a pair of modern rectangular timber panelled doors, which appear to be modern insertion. Exterior opening approached by a double flight of stone steps running between the face of the building and a stuccoed wall with a low square pier at the bottom of each flight and angled coping rising up to higher piers at the top: a centrally placed cast iron lamp standard surmounts the central bay of the wall and parapet below which the front face contains a recessed rectangular panel. North elevation: of 9 bays with the two bays at each end slightly projecting, and ground floor arcades in the recessed centre block. Roof and eaves as previous, with a central octagonal lantern on the main ridge. Lantern constructed of timber, dressed in lead, overpainted, with a rectangular 6-pane window in each face except for north and south faces which contain timber louvers; lugged surrounds to openings; ogee cupola roof dressed with lead; ball finial surmounted by a spike. At left-hand end is a later brick chimney, painted, with concrete cornice and one stub pot. Moulded cast iron gutter with pvc downpipe in each angle between recessed block and end wings. Walling is similar to west front, with rusticated quoins to extremities of projecting end bays, except ground floor piers of arcade appear to be of ashlar sandstone. Windows to first floor are large rectangular timber sliding sash, vertically hung, 9 over 6, set in moulded surrounds with moulded cills, but currently boarded up. Central recessed block contains an arcade of five semi-circular chamfered arches to ground floor originally open but later closed: projecting semi-circular arched drip moulding, and keystone to each arch. Arch at right-hand end is filled in flush with piers, except for a narrow semi-circular headed doorway containing a rectangular timber panelled door surmounted by a plain arched fanlight with modern metal grille affixed; original metal doorknob. The other arches contain large rectangular timber glazed windows, the fanlight of each now covered by a plain panel. Each projecting end bay contains a window to the ground floor; the one to the left-hand end is small rectangular timber, 4-pane, with projecting cill; plain reveals. The one to the right-hand is larger, rectangular timber sliding sash, vertically hung, 2 over 2, with horns, with projecting cill, set in plain reveals. East elevation: 3-bay central recess containing a triple arcade to ground floor with three windows above, flanked each side by narrow slightly projecting end bays. Roof and walling as previous to north elevation, with rusticated quoins to extremities of projecting end bays. First floor windows are similar to north elevation, but currently boarded up; ground floor arches similar to north elevation. Two arches to left are blocked up within deep recesses, smooth cement rendered, lined and blocked, each containing a narrow horizontal modern slit window; two recessed steps to each archway. Arch to right-hand end contains a deeply recessed doorway, containing a later rectangular timber panelled door surmounted by a radial fanlight, with the front of the recess closed by metal grilles. Three shallow recessed steps within archway. South elevation: similar elements to north except ground floor of projecting end bay to right is blind; ground floor of projecting end bay to left contains a rectangular timber window, sliding sash, vertically hung, 6 over 6, with horns, with projecting plain cill, with grille affixed; and infilling of ground floor arcade is different, as follows: first arch from left is filled in flush with piers and contains a rectangular window sashed as the one to its left, with grille affixed; second arch from left contains a recessed vertically tongued and grooved sheeted panel; third from left contains a deeply recessed doorway, rectangular flush door with plain rectangular fanlight above, set in a vertically tongued and grooved sheeted panel; fourth and fifth arches contain recessed vertically tongued and grooved sheeted panels each with a rectangular timber sliding sash window, vertically hung, 6 over 6 with horns, with grilles affixed. Second, fourth and fifth arched openings from left have a recessed step surmounted by a chamfered step or cill; third opening from left has two recessed plain steps. Two pvc downpipes in angles of recessed block and end bays; cast iron soilpipe. SETTING: The building stands in the centre of the market square surrounded by modern landscaped areas of paving and cobbles with some young trees. Roads and vehicular access around three sides.


Not Known

Historical Information

Built in 1726 by the Grand Jury as a court house and market house; lantern on roof added in 1815 at the expense of Lord Ferrard; building repaired in 1821, 1841, and 1846. Refitted internally in the period from the 1970s to 1980s. It ceased to be a courthouse c 1993. In the 1830s in the 'Ordnance Survey Memoirs' it was described as "a plain but neat-looking, stone-finished building". The ground storey was described as "divided into a market place or weigh-house and a bridewell or temporary prison", the market area being open to the street by five arches on each side and three to the east end, these gateways being secured by iron gates. At the western end of the market area or weigh-house was "a temporary bridewell for confining drunkards, rioters and prisoners under trial at the quarter sessions. It consists of two cells 16 by 11 feet and 9 feet high each, fitted up with two beds and bedding. Between them and the weigh-house is a sort of corridor or passage extending across the house and 7 feet wide, enclosed from the weigh-house by a dwarf wall with iron railings. This serves to admit air and light to the bridewell". The upper storey was described as being fitted up as a court house and containing the keeper's apartments, the court house being "a spacious, airy and well-lit room" with five large windows on each side, and "suitably fitted up with jury and other benches, a council table, dock and other similar requisites. At its eastern end, behind the magisterial bench, is a retiring room for the bench, and at its western end, over the keeper's apartments, is a jury room". The keeper's apartments were described as consisting of two rooms, one at each side of the doorway of the court house, immediately under the jury room and over the bridewell. The 'Ordnance Survey Memoirs' in the 1830s also summarised the building as "an ornament to the town although the inhabitants do not seem to think so" adding that it was "but little use as a market house". The 'Parliamentary Gazetteer' in 1845 provided further details along with criticisms, of the portion of the building containing the bridewell as "a wretched little cluster of filthy barbarous cells", adding that "An iron railing encloses it from the thoroughfare; a narrow space between this and the cell doors is an apology for an airing-yard, and serves for both males and females; the cell for male prisoners is both day-room and night-room, and has two deal bedsteads, the one over the other; a small cell for drunkards adjoins, and holds fast for 48 hours each convicted drunkard who cannot pay the adjudged fine; and the cell for females, situated at the other end, corresponds in every respect with the general character of the establishment". The use of part of the ground storey as a temporary bridewell continued until 1856 when a new bridewell and police barracks was built on the south side of Market Square. Reputedly there was an underground passage built between the new bridewell and the court house but it has not been possible to verify this on site. It is likely that
references to such a passage in connection with the County Antrim court house in Belfast, sometimes referred to as the Antrim Courthouse, have been confused with this building, and that there never was such an underground passage here. In 1823 the building was visited by the English architect Charles Cockerell who sketched it, with notes, in his diary, showing that there was no window at that time in the ground floor of the end block at the west end on the south side (there being a prison cell at that corner). Referring to it as the 'town House' at Antrim, "in the Florentine style", he noted "an excellent character in it particularly the manner of the roof and the cornice under which it has many advantages – the roof has a good pitch, but it must be confessed that the dripping of the eaves is excessively inconvenient – a flight of steps at the other end is rendered almost impassable by the wet". In 1798 the building was the focus of the 'Battle of Antrim', connected with the Irish Rebellion of that year. A meeting of the neighbouring magistrates was to have taken place in the market house for the purpose of establishing martial law. The rebels learned of the intended meeting and determined to attack the town and take the magistrates hostage. Confusion upset the rebels' plans however: they suffered heavy casualties and their local rebellion was quelled but not before Lord O'Neill, from Shane's Castle, Randalstown, who as governor of the county had come to attend the meeting was attacked near the market house. Dismounting from his horse he had attempted to run up the steps outside but was knocked down and piked to death at the north side of the building. Tradition has it that in the ensuing days a large number of rebel corpses were piled up within the market house for burying outside the town. The building stands in the area of an ancient monument,SMR no ANT163. References – Primary Sources 1. Datestone of 1726 on building. 2. Charles Cockerell's diary entry for 24 October 1823, in RIBA Library, London. 3. OS Map 1832, Co Antrim 50. 4. Ordnance Survey Memoirs of Ireland, Vol 29: Parishes of County Antrim XI, 1832-3, 1835-9 (Belfast, 1995), pp 6, 9 and 48. 5. The Parliamentary Gazetteer of Ireland, Vol I (Dublin, 1845), p 45. Secondary Sources 1. S. Lewis, A Topographical Dictionary of Ireland (London, 1837), Vol 1, p 38. 2. UAHS, Antrim and Ballymena (Belfast, 1969), pp 3, 8. 3. C.E.B. Brett, Court Houses and Market Houses of the Province of Ulster (Belfast, 1973), pp 25 and 26. 4. H. Dixon, An Introduction to Ulster Architecture (Belfast, 1975), pp 33 and 34. 5. A. Smyth, The Story of Antrim (Antrim, 1984), p 57. 6. C.E.B. Brett, Buildings of County Antrim (Belfast, 1996), p 243. 7. J. Hanna, Old Antrim (Catrine, Ayrshire, 2002), pp 4, 5, 7.

Criteria for Listing

Architectural Interest

A. Style B. Proportion C. Ornamentation D. Plan Form F. Structural System H-. Alterations detracting from building I. Quality and survival of Interior J. Setting K. Group value

Historic Interest

Z. Rarity W. Northern Ireland/International Interest Y. Social, Cultural or Economic Importance


This is an early 18th century building in a classical style built in 1726 by a unidentified architect, which retains its essential original architectural features both inside and outside, notwithstanding later accretions and insertions some of which currently spoil its original appearance. It is Italianate in style of clearly proportioned elements outside, including arcades to three sides and an ornamented main entrance to the fourth side. Inside, it retains such original 18th century elements as a central colonnade of six large stone unfluted Doric columns to the ground floor, a small vaulted compartment under the main entrance steps, a large iron grille built to enclose the original prisoners' exercise area, and an impressive Queen Post timber roof. It also contains early to mid-19th century timber stairways of domestic scale which together with other 19th century insertions such as court room benches and an inner porch, some of which were probably designed by the County Surveyor of the time, Charles Lanyon, which illustrate the historic development of the building during that period. This is a handsome building, of considerable poise, which stands as not only an important local landmark and centrepiece of the town's main square, but is also the oldest court house in Northern Ireland, and one of the earliest public buildings of any type in Northern Ireland. As such it is of outstanding architectural and historic interest.

General Comments

1. The building should probably be properly referred to as the 'Old Courthouse' since its functions have been taken over by a new courthouse elsewhere in the town. 2. The building currently has its upper windows blocked or boarded up, some rooms locked without easily accessible keys, and electricity turned off, so that detailed inspection of all of the interior is difficult. There are 7 duplicate slides.

Date of Survey