It has been the scene of countless dramatic scenes stretching back to the 19th century, and now the memories of people who experienced Otley Courthouse’s heyday as a magistrates’ court are to be documented for posterity – thanks to a £9,500 Heritage Lottery Fund award.
The Courthouse’s volunteer-run Heritage Group will use the money to buy recording equipment for an oral history project that will involve interviewing anybody who has a story to tell about the old courts and police station.
The results will be archived and compiled into an illustrated book, with highlights appearing on display boards at the venue.
The Courthouse’s management committee vice chairman, Hazel Costello, said: “It will be fascinating to see what comes out of this.
“There are so many people who were involved in this place, from probation officers and the police to cleaners and caretakers, solicitors and magistrates, as well as witnesses and clerical staff, all with stories to tell.
“The first step is to get volunteers in to learn how to use the new recording equipment the Your Heritage award will allow us to buy.
“That will be taking place in the autumn, but we really need people to come forward now to say if they have got a memory they’d like to share or would like to carry out interviews.
“We’re looking to talk to anybody who came here, for any reason, up until 1997, while it was still a court.
“We’ve actually been interviewing people since 2003 but we know there are lots more people out there who will have wonderful stories we’d like to hear, record properly, and put up on display or into the book.”
Before becoming a community and arts centre, the Courthouse was an important hub in the local justice system, especially pre-1974 – when its jurisdiction ranged from Ilkley to Arthington, and from Baildon to Blubberhouses. Fiona Spiers, head of Heritage Lottery Fund Yorkshire and the Humber, said: “Heritage is not all about castles, museums and old buildings. Memories, stories and reminiscences are a very popular way of learning about our past and sharing this with future generations.
“The Courthouse played a central role in the life of Otley and it is important to take the opportunity to preserve its heritage by bringing its stories to life.”
To find out more, call (01943) 467466 or visit the Courthouse.