The Rebuilding of the Shire Hall, Warwick in the Mid 18th Century

Old Shire Hall, with St. Mary's church in the background. 2014.
Photo by Benjamin Earl

Unlike the County Gaol and the House of Correction which adjoined it, as well as St. Mary’s Church nearby, the Shire Hall suffered little damage in the Warwick great fire of 1694, presumably because it was solidly built. During the years that followed efforts were made to keep it in good repair, but by about 1740 its condition was apparently causing concern.

Sanderson Miller

The initiative for the hall had in fact passed to a meeting of Warwickshire gentry who chose Sanderson Miller of Radway, partly no doubt as being one of their number, to carry out whatever decision they made about the hall, whether to repair or rebuild. Sanderson Miller, squire of Radway in South Warwickshire, was one of the best-known amateur architects of the mid-eighteenth century. A pioneer of rococo gothic, he was mainly Palladian in his classical work. Although his social origins were fairly modest, his friends included such well-known figures as William Pitt, the Lyttletons of Hagley and the Grenvilles of Stowe and Wotton. Two of his diaries, discovered in 1972, show him as also friendly with some of the leading Warwickshire gentry, Sir Charles Mordaunt, for many years Member of Parliament for the county, Sir Roger Newdigate, and Lord Guernsey at Packington, all concerned in the Shire Hall project.

Why a new hall?

One asks oneself why the new hall was built and why it was hoped to pay for it by subscription. The records do not give an answer though perhaps something may come to light in the correspondence of others concerned besides Miller. But it was, perhaps, mainly a question of personalities. Such leading men in Warwickshire as Lord Brooke, Sir Roger Newdigate, Sir Charles Mordaunt and Lord Guernsey, as well as Miller himself, had a considerable interest in architecture and obviously a keen desire to have a Shire Hall worthy of their county not shared, for instance, by the inhabitants of Birmingham, then its richest part.

These paragraphs are taken from the booklet The Shire Hall, Warwick: Its rebuilding in the mid-eighteenth century, published by the Warwickshire Local History Society and used with their permission. Copies of the booklet can be ordered here.

More from Warwick