Illustration of the Court of Common Pleas, Westminster Hall


In this image from the early 19th century artist and cartoonist Thomas Rowlandson depicts the Court of Common Pleas, located in the Palace of Westminster. Since medieval times the court had dealt with complex cases of grievance relating to unsettled debts and property matters, and as such was the principal seat of common law in the country. 

The court was presided over by a Chief Justice, several lesser judges and an army of legal officers, all of whom dealt with an astonishing amount of business each year. By the 1820s, for example, the court was dealing with over 13,000 actions every twelve months. Many court officers were appointed for life and were supported financially by a web of sinecures and fees. Thus the opportunity for corruption among court officers was high. The Court of Common Pleas was finally abolished in 1873, when it was merged with other common-law courts to form the High Court of Justice.

Background to the Microcosm of London collection of prints

The Microcosm of London was published in three volumes between 1808 and 1810 as a result of an ongoing collaboration between publisher Rudolph Ackermann, cartoonist and illustrator Thomas Rowlandson, architectural draughtsman Auguste Charles Pugin, engravers John Bluck, Joseph Constantine Stadler, Thomas Sunderland, John Hill and Richard Bankes Harraden, anonymous hand-colourists and authors William Henry Pyne and William Combe.

The Microcosm of London tapped into the demand for highly-coloured prints of real-life subjects that proved something of a publishing sensation during the Regency period. As such, the prints stand as a fascinating historical record of London life in the early years of the 19th century. While Pugin’s fine architectural drawings capture the size and shape of the capital’s principal buildings (both externally and from within) Thomas Rowlandson’s keenly observed figures depict the sheer colour and vitality of late Georgian society, rich and poor alike.

Full title:
Court of Common Pleas Westminster Hall from Microcosm of London
1808-10, London
Book / Illustration / Image
Rudolph Ackermann, W H Pyne, William Combe, Augustus Pugin, Thomas Rowlandson
Usage terms
Public Domain
Held by
British Library

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