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Supreme Court, London

Supreme Court, London

©l Laura Porter, licensed to About.com, Inc.
On Parliament Square there's a stunning building opposite the Houses of Parliament and near Westminster Abbey that you are also able to visit: The Supreme Court. As well as being a working courthouse there's an exhibition and well-priced cafe worth visiting too.

About The Supreme Court Building

Many will not notice this wonderful neo-Gothic architecture opposite Big Ben and those that do may think it's much older than it actually is. This building was designed as the Middlesex Guildhall by the Scottish architect James Gibson and was built between 1906 and 1913 so is much newer than the other historic buildings on Parliament Square. It's Portland stone exterior is worth admiring before heading in as you'll see plenty of ornate statues. The ornamental frieze on the front of the building depicts King John handing the Magna Carta to the barons of Runnymede, the granting of Westminster Abbey, and the Duke of Northumberland offering the crown of England to Lady Jane Grey.

Also before you enter, turn around and you'll see a commemorative poem by former poet laureate Sir Andrew Motion etched into the curved stone seating.

In the 1980s, the building was used as a Crown Court but when it was chosen to be The Supreme Court it underwent major renovations before reopening in 2009. Many of the original features of the building have been preserved, cleaned and improved, including the light wells which can be seen in the new public cafe. An area that was once outside and filthy has been thoroughly cleaned and a glass roof added.

What It's Like To Visit

Light Well at the Supreme Court Cafe

Light Well at the Supreme Court Cafe

© Laura Porter, licensed to About.com, Inc.
Many might imagine a visit to a courthouse, particularly one as important as this, to be intimidating, unwelcoming and generally not a nice place to go. Well, let me tell you how wrong that would be! I, and everyone else I know who has visited, have always been impressed by the friendly welcome and helpful staff.

You may only realize the public are allowed inside from the cafe sign by the front entrance but once you go in, you'll be greeted and then pass through security - bag scanner and airport-style person scanners - and then be free to enjoy the public areas of the building.

Do look for the pop art style carpets throughout the building that were designed by Sir Peter Blake who designed The Beatles artwork for Sargeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.

Head downstairs to see the permanent exhibition about the UK legal system and the Supreme Court's role, as well as more about the building. Public are also allowed to enter the courtrooms during a court case and you can check the schedule online. There is also a screen in the basement to follow the court cases - everything is screened live - so you do have to enter the courtroom to see the action.

Also in the basement, you'll find some souvenirs for sale and the cafe in the renovated light well. There are also clean toilets making this a great place to stop for lunch when visiting other attractions in the area.

Address:
The Supreme Court
Parliament Square
London SW1P 3BD

Use Journey Planner to plan your route by public transport.

Opening Hours: Mon-Fri: 9.30am-4.30pm.

Nearby you'll find a popular Harry Potter Film Location in London.

At The Back of The Building

© Laura Porter, licensed to About.com, Inc.

While on a black cab tour of London with @johnthecabby and other London writers, we discovered an interesting stone gateway on the back of the building. The sign reads:

The Stone Gateway is all that remains of the early 17th century Westminster House of Correction or Bridewell later known as Tothill Fields Prison. The gateway was resited here by the Greater London Council in 1969.

You can find out more about this 17th century prison doorway in Westminster on the Ian Visits blog.

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