Description of Historic Place
The Middlesex County Court House National Historic Site of Canada is an imposing structure located on a 1.6-hectare parcel of land in London, Ontario. Built in 1827, it is a very early example of the Gothic Revival style, pre-dating the earliest important Gothic Revival public building in England, the Houses of Parliament (1840-1865). Although significant alterations were made in the 1880s, the building retains its original Romantic Gothic Revival character. It features a central tower and Gothic Revival elements such as corner octagons, crenellation, pointed-arch openings and label mouldings. The designation refers to the building on its footprint.
The Middlesex County Court House was designated a national historic site of Canada in 1955 because:
- it is associated with the early administrative organization of the province, the site of the building having been proposed by Lieutenant-Governor John Graves Simcoe for the provincial capital. The building was constructed in 1827 as the District Seat under the leadership of Colonel Thomas Talbot, founder of the Talbot Settlement; and,
- it is a nationally significant example of the Gothic Revival Style of architecture in Canada.
In 1793, John Graves Simcoe, the first lieutenant-governor of Upper Canada reserved an area at the forks of the Thames for the proposed capital of the province. Although York (Toronto) was eventually chosen as the capital, the government retained the site for public purposes. The London district was created in the south-western part of Upper Canada in 1800. A year later, Thomas Talbot, who had accompanied Simcoe as his private secretary during his tour of inspection of the province in 1793, immigrated to Upper Canada and received an extensive land grant in the new district. Talbot spent the next 40 years promoting the settlement of a huge area of present-day south-western Ontario along the north shore of Lake Erie, known as the Talbot Settlement.
In 1826, Upper Canada’s parliament situated the new District Seat at the forks of the Thames and had a town plot surveyed for the town of London. In 1827 the Court House Building Committee under Talbot’s leadership undertook to build a new courthouse and jail in the District Seat at London. Designed by John Ewart of York, the impressive Gothic Revival style structure was completed early in 1829. In 1846, a separate jail building was attached to the west side. By 1878, an eastward extension and a massive central tower were added. A law library was added to the south side in 1911.
Source: Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, Minutes, July 2007.
Key elements that contribute to the heritage character of the site include:
- its prominent location, bounded by Ridout, Dundas and King Streets;
- its siting, setback from the street in a park-like setting;
- its three-and-a-half-storey massing, symmetrical façade with 1911 library addition on the south façade;
- its solid brick construction with smooth stucco finish;
- its rectangular form, classical in inspiration, with base storey, ‘piano nobile’ and attic storey, reflecting its early construction date and Romantic Gothic Revival character;
- its Gothic Revival exterior features, including its central tower, corner octagons, crenellation, pointed arch windows and doors, label mouldings and smooth surfaces;
- existing interior Gothic Revival features, such as the exposed timber ceiling in the court room;
- streetscapes along Ridout, Dundas and King streets, and towards the Thames River.