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The Courts

Judge, jury and Justice of the Peace. These were the decision makers at the three different types of court held in this courtroom.

Magistrates, also known as Justices of the Peace, heard two or three cases a fortnight. Every other month a district judge came to Petersfield for county court, to hear civil cases like claims for debt or injury. Less frequently, coroners held inquests into unexpected deaths with the help of a jury made up of local people. 

Every few months the magistrates held Brewster Sessions, where they granted licences to sell alcohol. Sometimes the public attended these sessions. On a busy day people would spill out of this building, which also had to accommodate magistrates, clerks, solicitors, the usher, a police officer, the defendant, witnesses and the press.

Did you know?

Many of the court cases we see on TV include a judge and jury, but in reality it is rare for a case to go to trial. 97% are dealt with at magistrates’ court.

Petersfield Magistrates 

Magistrates are volunteers who hear cases in court. They don’t need a legal background but should be committed to serving the community. Their involvement in local society made these three the perfect candidates.

William Nicholson Esquire, Chair of Magistrates in 1893

William Nicholson was a Petersfield MP who had made his fortune from Nicholson Gin. On his large estate near Petersfield he built the village of Privett for his workers. It had a grand church and at one time, its own railway station.

Mildred Russell MBE, first woman magistrate in Petersfield in 1925

Mildred Russell had a lot of influence for a woman of her time. During World War One she was secretary of Petersfield Red Cross and in World War Two she opened her family home as a hospital for evacuees.

Elsa Bulmer MBE, magistrate and Mayor of Petersfield in 1976

Like Mildred Russell, the Queen awarded Elsa Bulmer an MBE for her services to the community. She helped found Petersfield’s first women’s refuge and Petersfield’s housing association. Her fundraising efforts included swimming the Solent at the age of 57.