Welshpool's Town Hall - the venue for today's guided tour - is a case in point. On a scale which runs from 'VERY' to 'dull' today's visit would rank as 'quite interesting - maybe'. Marks were gained early on by the promise of an hour under cover - on an extremely rainy day that was quite an enticement. Our guide, a Councilor was enthusiastic too - so points gained there.
I do hope the building's dilapidated state was due to ongoing refurbishments - a lift is being installed to take an increasingly vociferous and entitled populace from ground to first floor - to use the new lavatories which await installation or (perhaps less urgently) to visit the Council Chamber. Until then we must walk up the 30 steps which take us from the utilitarian market halls below to the faded grandeur above. A dusty function room - crying out for the swish of crinoline and the Council Chamber, refurbished as recently as 1938, were reasonably interesting. But then across the corridor came quite a surprise. The ghost of Justice past: a capacious Court Room.
This room - used until very recently - is a complicated amalgam of pitch-pine benches, desks and seats. (I notice that someone has thoughtfully covered over the desks' inkwells with a square of hardboard - a recognition that the dip-pen is no longer used, even in these parts.) Decorative ironwork fences the dock which caged the accused and their escorting officers. Up front sat the 'beak'. To his right the jury. Lawyers for the defense and prosecution took places in front of the dock as did clerks and ushers. The public gallery is to the left of my picture.
Stand in the dock for a while - imagine yourself up on a charge of sheep-stealing: you and the Judge are eye to eye, your defense is shaky. He has a comfy chair to sit on. You have but a broad rail on which to lean and to grasp when things get tough. (Remember you could be hanged for such an offense and Welshpool had its own 'Gallows Lane'.) You are railed in and are the focal point of the Court. It is an imposing place. In past times no doubt because of its grandeur and today because, well, places just aren't like this anymore.
Loose your grip from that sturdy bar in the dock - it's to the front rhs of the picture - and go down to the cells. (Sent down...) The stairs are fairly steep - so mind your head. That 'elf and safety' message is spelt out now and there is padding in place so the unwary don't knock themselves out. The cells too are presumably a shadow of their former selves - prisoners now have 'right's' and comfort is one of them. The cells are now used as storerooms - it looks like a ream of paper in 2008 has a more comfortable life than a c19th felon. I think we were all looking forward to seeing chains, shackles and the rack.....
Why is it I ask myself that this stuff is so fascinating and we want it extant - to be - even though it patently is no longer fit for purpose? (Indeed Welshpool's court has moved to more suitable premises in the town and there is talk of something regional and purpose-built in the pipe-line.) It's a bit like the churches which enhance our landscape and offer lovely venues for weddings - we want them there but, by and large, don't want to think about the cost of a new roof.
I'm glad this place is here - although I suspect its future will see it rearranged and walls and ceilings inserted where walls and ceilings didn't ought to be. But, hey! this is Welshpool.
Finally some of the Hatchments from around the room: