Shutting the door on a piece of Aylesbury history

From petty criminals to cold-blooded killers, Aylesbury Crown Court has seen its fair share of gruesome and notorious cases over the years.

However, the pounding of the judge’s gavel hammering down in judgement on those stood in the dock is a sound that will no longer be heard as the court has closed its doors for the last time.

The ceremonial closing of the Grade 2 listed building in Market Square took place earlier this month in the presence of invited dignitaries and guests.

The court has been home to judicial proceedings for the county of Buckinghamshire for close to 300 years. A balcony once wrapped around a central window on the first floor which was used for public hangings. Crowds would gather in their thousands to witness the macabre spectacle. 

The last public hanging to take place in Aylesbury was in March 1845 when John Tawell, convicted of murdering Sarah Hart, was executed before a crowd of some several thousand people.

The doors through which defendants entered and exited the courtroom still bear the insignia of a happy and unhappy face. Defendants entering the court walked through the door bearing the happy face and departed through the same door should they be freed. Those convicted and facing the death penalty were led out through the door bearing the unhappy face in a foreboding of the fate that awaited them in punishment for their crime. The doors were locked on the abolition of the death penalty in 1965 and remain locked to this day.

Other famous cases to take place in the court include the sentencing of the Great Train Robbers in 1964 and the trial of Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards who was charged with drug offences.

The building has also found fame on both the big and small screen. It was the setting of the TV series Judge John Deed staring Martin Shaw and has also been used for a number of feature films including The Medusa Touch starring the late Richard Burton.

The future use of the building is still to be decided but any proposed development of the site must take into account the building’s listed status and will need to be sympathetic to the original character and purpose of the building.

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