CaP Collection of the Month

September 2023: Beaumaris Courthouse

Biwmares: Ynys Môn / Beaumaris: Anglesey

This is the first of two Collections of the Month posts featuring crime and punishment heritage sites in Beaumaris on the island of Anglesey. The second post will feature Beaumaris Gaol. We have also posted a blog on Power, piracy and smuggling on Ynys Môn (Anglesey). Beaumaris is, of course, the site of the last but most spectacular of Edward I’s ‘ring of iron’ castles built by James of St George between 1295 and 1330. As with all of Edward’s castles the new town of Beaumaris which grew around the castle was protected by royal charter, favouring incoming Norman and English communities and largely excluding the local Welsh population. With trading privileges, the port and town grew and flourished.

Beaumaris Castle and moat
Beaumaris Castle; image in public domain at Wikimedia Commons
The history of Beaumaris Courthouse

In 1536 Henry VIII passed the first of several acts known as the Acts of Union which firmly integrated Wales within the realm. One of its main effects was the ‘shiring of the Marches’ – incorporating the numerous marcher lordships into a system of counties, each county or shire with its own court of law and shire hall. Beaumaris courthouse was built in 1614 for the shire of Anglesey and, as with all courts, it hosted the assizes – courts held in main county towns presided over by visiting judges from the higher courts in London, the courts of quarter sessions – quarterly meetings of the justices of the peace, and the courts of petty sessions which dealt with the licensing of alehouses, highways, appeals against poor rates, adoptions, bastardy cases, and minor crimes.

Exterior view of Beaumaris Courthouse
Exterior of Beaumaris Courthouse; image by Angie Sutton-Vane
Entrance to Beaumaris Courthouse
Entrance to Beaumaris Courthouse; image by Angie Sutton-Vane

By 1888, following the establishment of county councils, Beaumaris courthouse was largely eclipsed by the building of a new shire hall in the centre of Anglesey at Llangefni. Before 1971 when assize courts were replaced by crown courts, it was the oldest building in the UK where assize courts were held. After 1971 it continued as a magistrate’s court until 1996.

Courtroom, Beaumaris Courthouse
Courtroom, Beaumaris Courthouse; image by Angie Sutton-Vane
Mayor's box, Beaumaris Courthouse
Mayor’s box, Beaumaris Courthouse; image from People’s Collection Wales

The fine courthouse building has remained much the same as it was in the Stuart period and has a Grade II* listing. It is now a museum with access to the court room with a court session in progress, the Grand Jury Room, which also provides interpretation of the history of the building, and the Records Room. This room originally housed the court records which have since been transferred to Anglesey Archives, and now contains displays such as the gravestone of William Murphy, sentenced to death at Beaumaris in 1910 for murder and executed at Caernarfon.

Grand Jury Room, Beaumaris Courthouse
Grand Jury Room, Beaumaris Courthouse; image by Angie Sutton-Vane
Grave of William Murphy, Beaumaris Courthouse
Grave of William Murphy, Beaumaris Courthouse; image from People’s Collection Wales

You can find details about visiting the courthouse at Visit Anglesey and tickets can be purchased for both the court and Beaumaris Gaol.

CaP has written a more in-depth post about smuggling on Anglesey which you can read here.

You can find CaP’s previous Collections of the Month on the pages below. If you would like your collection to be featured please contact us.