an old picture of sessions house

The Sessions House was opened in 1877 having taken 20 years to complete. Built as the Quarter Sessions Court for the whole of Monmouthshire it is, in true Victorian style, perfectly symmetrical even to the use of a false door to ensure that symmetry.

The balustrades above the portico were, we believe, added at a later date.

The interior boasts high ceilings, atriums and large doorways to emphasise its’ importance. Originally there were two court rooms but one was destroyed by fire in 1944 due to a heating fault and, although its’ rebuilding was planned, more essential post war re building took precedence so the plans were never implemented.

The one Court proved insufficient to deal with the number of cases and so the Sessions House became a Magistrates Court with its’ last sitting in 1995.

The building fell into disrepair until a group of volunteers from the Tertiary College, under the guidance of local Architect Peter Bryan, began a restoration project. Unfortunately, with the death of the Architect and the Tertiary College vacating the building the restoration work was not completed.

A new chapter in the buildings history began in 1998 when Usk Town Council bought it for use, not only as Council offices, but as a community resource. The purchase was supported by the whole town with organisations and individuals raising funds, and providing man power, for different aspects of the renovation.

Successful applications to the Heritage Lottery and CADW raised grants of £90,000 towards the restoration. That restoration continues to date.

The Library

Entrance Hall

One of the oldest collection of law books in the UK are on display in the library.

Donated by the Mather Jackson family the oldest book in the collection dates back to 1696. Henry Mather Jackson was one of the circuit judges in the heyday of the Sessions House so it is appropriate that the library is named after him. His portrait hangs above the fireplace.

The library also holds original candle holders, inkwells and a slate clock all of which would have been kept in the Judge’s room.

The lights in the library were made by the blacksmith at Llangibby to match the Arts & Craft lights in the hallway.

The Court Room

Court Room

A corridor runs around the exterior of the courtroom so that officials could contact the Judge easily in his room on the top corridor, and so that he did not come into contact with members of the public.

From the dock there is a passageway that leads through to the prison, and although still in existence, is now blocked at the far end.

There are a number of portraits of the circuit judges on the walls including Henry Mather Jackson, Samuel Richard Bosanquet, Samuel Bosanquet (his son) and Granville Somerset.

Several high profile trials were held in the Sessions House the most infamous being that of Lady Rhondda, caught trying to post a letter bomb on behalf of the suffragette movement, and the Llangibby murders when a Spanish sailor, Garcia, was convicted of killing a family of 5. It has been suggested that modern forensics would have cleared him of the crime.
The last hanging in Usk was in the early 1920’s.

The design of the courtroom is supposedly modelled on the Old Bailey. The benches are all marked with the professions of those who sat in them. On the jury benches reference is made only to Jurymen as women, at that time, were barred from jury service. The reporters’ benches are inscribed with graffiti presumably done during times of boredom. Members of the public were not allowed into the court but sat in the gallery which has a separate entrance from outside.

The history of the Sessions House continues as a home for the Council and a prestigious base for local businesses and organisations. It provides meeting rooms, conference facilities, a concert venue and a stylish setting for parties and anniversaries. The building is now licenced for Weddings and Civil Partnerships offering unique surroundings for those special occasions. The building once again plays an important role in the life of Usk.