Lambton Courthouse

A great rivalry existed between the burgeoning colliery townships of the Newcastle area in the late 19th century. The prestige of a town was often expressed in the erection of grand public buildings such as town halls and post offices. When word got around in 1871 that Waratah was petitioning the State government for a courthouse, Lambton was quick to respond in a series of public meetings to lay claim as the rightful location. At one meeting

“Dr. Hill rose and said that he did not think there could be any doubt or difference of opinion as to Lambton being the true centre of the mining district, and therefore the proper and legitimate position for a Court-house.”

The Government surveyor William Verge agreed, and in 1873 measured out a site in Dickson Street. Tenders for construction were issued and on 19th February 1877 the foundation stone of the courthouse was laid.

However, before construction was even completed, the suitability of the building was called into question, and the plans were altered to enlarge the building. The new courthouse was formally opened on 7th January 1879, despite there being “many things yet required to make the premises complete.” The building continued to be problematic – an 1889 article reported on the “disgraceful state of the court-house” because of damp and white ants.

Over the years, the limitations of the courthouse resulted in less frequent court sittings “and as people cannot afford to wait so long to have their troubles dealt with, they prefer to go to Newcastle.” The Department of Justice vacated the courthouse in 1922, and handed it over to the Department of Education to use as woodwork and metalwork classrooms to ease congestion at Lambton Public School.

After 1930, the building was used for a variety of other purposes. With continued deterioration, it was eventually demolished in 1937, and the land was subdivided and sold for home sites a few years later.

Lambton Court House, NSW, 8 August 1898. Photo by Ralph Snowball. University of Newcastle, Living Histories.
Portion of an 1889 map showing the location of the courthouse between Dickson St and Young St (now Newcastle Rd).

The article above was first published in the May 2017 edition of the Lambton & New Lambton Local.

Additional Information

The site of the Lambton Courthouse can be visualised by overlaying the 1889 map over a Google Earth image.

Demolition of the Courthouse in progress. From the Newcastle Morning Herald, 25th August 1937.

After the courthouse was demolished in 1937 the land was sold as home sites in 1941. This 1944 aerial photograph shows that 3 years later no homes had begun construction, and the rectangular outline of the former foundations of the courthouse can clearly be seen.

1944 aerial photograph of the site of the former courthouse. Newcastle Region Library.

Manual Training Classroom

In 1922 when the Department of Justice ceased using the courthouse, the building was converted for use as “manual training” classrooms, for the Lambton Public School. An idea of what “manual training” was, can be gleaned from a 1921 newspaper article, where it lists things such as

  • “the shaping of such materials as wood, hard and soft metals, cane, cardboard”
  • “handling of proper tools”
  • lessons in “the names, parts, uses, care and manufacture of tools”
  • “Drawing plays an important part of manual training. The pupil is taught to use the simple geometrical tools with neatness and accuracy in the creation of working drawings full size and to scale.”

Newspaper articles

Article Date Event DateNotes
14 Nov 1871
11 Nov 1871
Public meeting calling for the government to build a court house and police station at Lambton. This was in response to hearing that "action had already been taken to get a Court of Petty Sessions established at Waratah, and there scarcely could be two opinions as to Lambton being the most suitable, as the most centrally situated place for the purpose, as it would suit the convenience of the greatest number of people."
30 Dec 1871Waratah council receives a letter from the Attorney General's office requesting that land "be set apart and a sum of money placed upon the estimates for building, a court-house and police-station." In response to this news the article writer muses ..."so I suppose the matter is now settled and the Lambton people can only lament that their application was too late, perhaps, after all it is best so, for I do think courthouses should be built in the quietest places away from all the bustle and noise of business."
16 Sep 1873
12 Sep 1873
Another public meeting calling for a courthouse and police station to be built in Lambton, after two previous petitions to the government have been not only unheeeded, but unanswered. A proposed site has already been surveyed on land "this side of John Peacock's dwelling."
18 Sep 1873Letter from William T. Verge, Government surveyor, explaining that he has chosen and surveyed a site for the courthouse in Lambton, instead of Waratah … "Knowing well the requirements of the district I rather chose, as a site, a portion of the commonage adjoining the allotment I measured for the Lambton Municipal Chambers."
11 Apr 1874
9 Apr 1874
Another public meeting calling for the new district courthouse to be built at Lambton. A fair amount of rivalry is displayed in the meeting towards Waratah, who are also seeking a court-house in their town.
25 Apr 1874
20 Apr 1874
Public meeting to hear the report from the Lambton court house committee, and approve the deputation to be sent to Sydney with a petition.
24 Feb 1875
20 Feb 1875
"Mr. Lewis, Government Architect of Newcastle, visited Lambton, on Saturday last, to examine the site for the Courthouse, which it is the intention of the Government to build here. The site is on the Commonage, near Peacock's house."
18 Dec 1876Tenders for the construction of the Lambton Court House have been advertised.
20 Feb 1877
19 Feb 1877
Foundation stone of the Lambton Court House laid.
11 Jul 1877While still under construction, alterations to the plan of the Lambton Court House are made, to enlarge the court room.
26 Oct 1878"The erection of these court houses [Wallsend and Lambton] has been completed these four or five months past, and there they stand unoccupied for want of furniture … it shows a great amount of carelessness on the part of those, whose duty it is to attend to such matters, to see buildings erected at a considerable cost for the convenience of the public, rendered useless for the mere spending of a few additional pounds to furnish them."
9 Jan 1879
7 Jan 1879
"The new Court-house was formally opened on Tuesday … but there were no cases for trial." "Though the Court has been opened, there are many things yet required to make the premises complete."
21 Apr 1879"The Lambton Court house still remains in an unfinished state, and unfit for habitation or use. It is impossible to disguise the fact that there has been gross mismanagement, and wanton neglect, on the part of the Government officials, who have been entrusted with the supervision of the erection of this building."
28 Apr 1882"Alderman GRIERSON said he had heard it was the intention of the Government to erect Police Barracks on the reserve for Council Chambers, near the Courthouse, which he thought should be prevented."
22 May 1885"Important repairs are now being effected on [the court-house]. The whole of the ceiling in the court room has been taken down, and fresh laths and plaster are to he put up. The verandah has been taken down, and a new and more substantial one is to be erected. The walls are to be painted and plastered outside to make them impervious to storm water, and one room will be added to the lookup-keeper's quarters."
3 Jun 1886Site for Council Chambers in Dickson Street has been resumed for police barracks.
6 Aug 1886Foundations of new police station and barracks have been laid.
29 May 1889Sergeant Salter drew attention to "the disgraceful state of the court-house, several panes of glass being broken, and the walls quite damp owing to the recent rains. The lobby also is taken possession of by white ants."
22 Aug 1922"Lambton Courthouse has seen the end of its days of usefulness as far as the Justice department is concerned." "This court is perhaps the oldest in suburban Newcastle, and at one time boasted three sittings a week. Since then, however, they have fallen away to one a month, and as people can not afford to wait so long to have their troubles dealt with, they prefer to go to Newcastle."
20 Sep 1922Suggestion that the former courthouse be converted into a convalescent home.
16 Oct 1922Former Lambton Courthouse being fitted up for "manual training" classes. "That portion of the school building now occupied by the manual training will be divided into classrooms to relieve congestion in other departments."
12 Feb 1923Tender "for repairs and painting at the police station and courthouse at Lambton".
13 Apr 1928Courthouse building used for a land auction.
14 Mar 1930Manual training classes still being held at the Lambton courthouse building.
1 Aug 1930A manual training classroom to be erected soon at Lambton Public School.
22 Jan 1931
21 Jan 1931
Lambton courthouse building begins to be used for distribution of the dole.
13 Mar 1934
14 Mar 1934
"The Department of Labor and Industry will issue a supply of boots at old Lambton Court-house at 9 a.m. to-morrow. The supply Is available to emergency relief workers, 200 of whom are entitled to apply."
24 Aug 1937Demolition of Lambton courthouse building.
4 Dec 1940The site of the former courthouse to be subdivided by the Department of Lands into 18 or 20 home sites.
1 Sep 1941
30 Aug 1941
Sixteen of the eighteen home sites on the former Lambton courthouse site, sold at auction.

One thought on “Lambton Courthouse

  1. Pingback: The lost chambers of Waratah | A bit of this, a bit of that

Leave a Reply

Comments on this site are moderated and will not appear until approved by the website owner. Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *