July 2022: The Judge’s Lodging
The murder in Rhayader of one judge in the 1530s was to change the life of the tiny Welsh border town of Presteigne forever. Rhayader, chosen as the venue for the Court of King’s Great Sessions, was obviously not a safe enough place for eminent men to stay and in 1542 Presteigne was chosen as an alternative. Its life as the legal seat of Radnorshire was set for more than 400 years. Radnorshire, for those not familiar with Mid Wales, is now the central, and most rural, section of the large county of Powys.
In 1855, Lord Chief justice Campbell called it ‘the most commodious and elegant apartments for a judge in all England and Wales’. However, by the early 1990s drastic action was needed if the building was to be saved from irreversible. Never throw anything away – it might prove useful one day. Thank goodness the housekeepers of the 20th century had believed this! The attics were full of broken furniture, glassware, a whole trunk full of silverware, and portraits. The future of the building was set.
It was decided that it should be transformed back to its mid-Victorian heyday, not just as a social history museum, but as a real working Victorian house. Rooms were redecorated in their original colours, new carpets and curtains were commissioned, furniture was restored, and in a bold move, electricity was removed and replaced with real fires, oil lamps, gas lights candles and gas.
In 1997, the actor, the late Dr Robert Hardy, stepped out of a horse-drawn 1860s carriage to ascend the steps, cut the ribbon and declare the building open once more for everyone to visit. His voice still echoes through the building for visitors, as he portrays Richard Lister Venables, Chairman of the Magistrates on the audiotour that guides people through this gaslit world.
Today, you don’t have to be a judge or a felonious ‘guest’ to experience what has been called ‘arguably the most remarkable survivor of all UK court buildings’ (SAVE Britain’s Heritage) – a real working Victorian building, where visitors can immerse themselves completely in its atmosphere. They can sit in the Judge’s chair, read his books, even pump water in the kitchen and carry it the 41 steps up to the bath , if they are feeling energetic!
In addition to its original furnishings, it also houses a collection of Radnorshire Constabulary uniforms, equipment and photographs, along with the Presteigne Community Collection, which it uses to hold regular local history exhibition.
Truly inspirational’ is how HRH Prince of Wales described The Judge’s Lodging on a visit to this stunningly restored Victorian courthouse. Lucy Worsley exclaimed ‘WHAT a stunning place!’ after filming for the BBC in the building. Dr John Davies, historian, called it ‘one of the world’s most appealing small museums’. A visitor recently summed their impression up in the Visitor Book as ‘breathtaking in its authenticity’.
A fuller history of the building and its restoration can be found on the museum’s website www.judgeslodging.org.uk
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