This week is the 50th anniversary of the official opening of the court complex in Corporation Street.

The building containing two magistrates courts, a county court and juvenile court had cost £270,000 and was designed by Ron Mallet of the Borough Engineer's Department.

It was the first time that a dedicated building was used to house the town's criminal courts in a justice system that dated back to 1838. Before then hearings concerning crimes that had been committed in St Helens took place in Prescot – which caused much inconvenience.

After a petition was signed by what was described as "sixty most respectable individuals", the magistrates agreed to hold sessions in St Helens on the second Thursday of each month. The Raven Inn was chosen as the venue because the town's lock-up was situated within the pub, albeit it then being in a poor condition.

But the JPs were unimpressed with the Raven as a courtroom and said that unless new premises were found they would end their monthly sessions in the town.

That led to the building in 1839 of the first St Helens Town Hall in New Market Place, which had a courtroom inside that the Liverpool Mail newspaper described as a "remarkably spacious and neat place".

Cells for the prisoners were conveniently located underneath and the Mail wrote: "When the room is required for balls or public dinners, by a very ingenious contrivance the table, forms, witness-box, &c., can be easily deposited below."

However, the fine, new building would last just over thirty years with fire in the 1870s leading to the construction of a new Town Hall with attached courtroom in what became Corporation Street.

By then a dedicated County Court had been built in East Street to serve St Helens and Widnes and although it only sat once a week, as many as 200 cases could be dispensed with.

But when on May 29 1974 Sir Bernard Caulfield opened the new St Helens Courthouse, a County Court was included within the complex.

St Helens Star:  Sir Bernard Caulfield Sir Bernard Caulfield (Image: Stephen Wainwright)

Caulfield was St Helens-born and is recalled by many for simply referring to the "elegance" and "fragrance" of Mary Archer in her husband Jeffrey's libel case of 1987.

However, Sir Bernard had a distinguished career as a high court judge that lasted over twenty years and was renowned for his common sense approach to cases. He once said: "People think of us judges as so stuffy but we are not".

Bernard Caulfield could never have been described as stuffy. He was born in 1914 in Peckers Hill Road and baptised at St Anne's RC Church. The son of John and Catherine Caulfield, his mother later kept a shop in Mill Lane, near Grimshaw Street by the Mill House pub. Young Bernard's primary school education was at St Anne's RC school and his secondary schooling was at St Francis Xavier's College in Woolton.

After his death in 1994 one Suttoner was quoted as saying: "I well remember Sir Bernard in his student days. He was always whistling as he headed for the Junction station to catch the Liverpool train".

Knighted in 1968, Justice Caulfield developed a reputation as a character, often using colourful phrases and enlivening court proceedings with humour.

After leaving St Helens Sir Bernard retained his links with the town and in 1987 agreed to become president of Sutton Historic Society. He died at the age of 80 on October 17 1994 but despite living in Middlesex, left instructions to be buried in St Helens and has a simple memorial in the Sutton graveyard of St Anne & Blessed Dominic Church.

St Helens Star: Sir Bernard Caulfield's simple memorial in St Anne & Blessed Dominic Church in SuttonSir Bernard Caulfield's simple memorial in St Anne & Blessed Dominic Church in Sutton (Image: Stephen Wainwright)

In 2016 the decision was taken to close St Helens Magistrates Court but retain the County Court, meaning criminal cases are once again heard outside of the borough.

Stephen Wainwright's new book The Hidden History Of St Helens Vol 4 is available from the St Helens Book Stop. Also online from eBay and Amazon with free delivery. Price £12. Vols 1 to 3 are also still available.