Antiques centre at former Pontefract Magistrates' Court is ‘lovely treasure chest' on high street

An antiques venture is breathing new life into a former Magistrates’ Court and bringing a new offering to Pontefract’s high street. Laura Drysdale reports.

The official opening of the Magistrates Market on Saturday. Photo sent by Christine Braganza.
The official opening of the Magistrates Market on Saturday. Photo sent by Christine Braganza.

It heard the cases of thousands of accused criminals in its 200 year history as a courthouse, but the atmosphere at the former Pontefract Magistrates building is rather different today.

Since January, the historic site has been operating as a market and antiques centre, a venture that holds a personal connection for its owner Philip Weatherell.

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Not only did his grandmother Mary Lord sit on the magistrates’ bench for over a decade in the 1960s and 70s, but by transforming the site into a community venue selling vintage and quirky items from bygone eras, the businessman is also following in the footsteps of his mother Kay, who owns the Montpellier Mews Antiques centre in Harrogate.

The former Pontefract Magistrates Court is now an antiques centre.

Philip, whose company Weatherell Investments purchased the site in August 2016, three years after the court’s closure, hoped the Magistrates Market would support independent retailers on the high street, attract new footfall to Pontefract town centre and breathe fresh life into a disused Grade II-Listed building at a time when UK high streets are struggling with vacant properties and the closures of shops, post offices and banks.

The Yorkshire Post says: High noon for our high streets. Support local shops – or lose themAhead of the first traders opening at the site seven months ago, he told the Yorkshire Post: “This is allowing small, independent retailers to have a foothold. It is giving opportunities to small traders to have a high street presence.

"Because of the way the high street is changing, it gives small, independent people access to retail space without the massive expenses of having their own shop unit. The most important thing is that is it not another derelict building.”

Instigated in 1807, the courthouse first hosted the town’s judicial sessions and originally also incorporated a police station and cells in its basement.

TV personality and antiques expert David Hakeney cutting the ceremonial ribbon. Photo sent by Christine Braganza.

It underwent modernisation in the 1960s and 70s and then became known as Pontefract Magistrates’ Court. Cases continued to be handled there until its closure in 2013.

With such historic appeal, Philip was optimistic that people would be enticed in for a look around - and was hopeful that visitors would remain to see what else the town has to offer.

“It can only help Pontefract,” he said last year, claiming it would bring people in to see the beauty of the town.

“People will come and spend a couple of hours wandering around the market and hopefully they will then go and look around [the local area].

“It can only be a good thing for the town. It can only enhance it.”

Former Pontefract Magistrates Court to start new era as antiques marketAlready the market, which as well as antiques shops also includes a silversmithing workshop, sewing specialists, spinning exhibitions, interior design rooms and a cafe, is building quite the reputation, with reviews on Facebook and TripAdvisor describing it as a “lovely little treasure chest”, an “absolute gem” and “just what Pontefract town needed, putting it back on the map”.

At the weekend, antiques and arts enthusiasts from near and far gathered for its grand opening, with antiques expert David Hakeney, who has had television appearances on Dickinson’s Real Deal, cutting the ribbon.

“We were delighted to be able to open the centre fully to the public and provide such a diverse range of shopping opportunities as well as interesting experiences,” Philip says.

“We are already attracting shoppers to the centre from across the UK as well as Yorkshire.”

How the Totally Locally campaign born in Yorkshire is transforming high streets“This is just what Pontefract and the local area needs,” adds local resident and frequent visitor Amy Stratton. “It is not just the run of the mill antiques shop but a real cultural centre and I love spending time here - it is such an uplifting place to go to.”

Events planned at the centre over the next year include exhibitions and demonstrations. To find out more, visit magistratesmarket.co.uk