Stair Collapse at The Shire Hall, Chelmsford 1856

On the 22nd February 1856 a murder trial was to be heard in the County Room on the first floor of the Shire Hall. According to The Daily News the following day, there was a crowd of people on the staircase all trying to get into the court room before the trial began. The third flight of the staircase collapsed, killing one young man and seriously injuring several more. Apparently the balustrade broke first, then the treads of that flight snapped off at the wall.

The article describes the flight:

These stairs are composed of stone steps, embedded in the wall at one end, and resting at the outward point upon each other, edge upon edge, with geometrical nicety, so as to carry out the principle of the arch.

An article in The Builder March 8th 1856 notes:

The steps were of stone and had often been chipped and repaired.

The Builder March 15th 1856 reported on the inquest. The County Surveyor believed the flight had collapsed because of the force against the handrail had acted as a lever and snapped the treads. It appears that the treads had been rebated together, but they had all been:

cut away 2 inches, and the stairs broke down at the very point where the facing to the steps had been done.

An examination of the collapsed flight revealed that the supporting landing to the flight had also failed, and it was believed that it had broken first, causing the rest of the flight to collapse. The jury returned the verdict:

Accidental death, occasioned by weakness in the original construction of the landing at the bottom of the third flight of stairs which fell.

The building was originally opened in 1790 and was designed by John Johnson.


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Ground Floor

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First Floor

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Second Floor

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Third Floor


Drawings all from Essex County Archive