The  Main Exhibition


Wig of powdered horse-hair worn by Clement Tudway Swanston (QC 1868) and probably by his father of the same name (KC 1832).  Some powdered wigs were still worn in Queen Victoria’s time and the last one is believed to have been used in the 1930s.  The former use of powder was supposedly the occasion of the queue-bag, or dress-coat bag worn on the back of the coat collar in full dress.

Full-Bottomed wig


(19th Century)


The full-bottomed wig derives from the lay fashion of the eighteenth century, when grey horse-hair replaced wigs of dark coloured natural hair. 

The same pattern of full-bottomed wig is worn on ceremonial occasions by judges and Queen’s Counsel

Full-Bottomed Wig

with metal case 

(c. 1951)


The Short wig, or tie-wig, has been worn by members of the Bar since the time of George III and settled into its present form in the early nineteenth century.  The oldest of several wig-making firms near the Inns of Court was Ravenscroft’s started by James Ravenscroft in Serle Street in 1726.  In 1822, his successor Humphrey took out a patent for a new kind of forensic wig, ‘the curls whereof are constructed on a principle to supersede the necessity for frizzing, curling or using hard pomatum and for forming the curls in a way not to be uncurled.’

Barrister's Wig

with metal tin

(c. 1930)


The Short wig without side curls began to be used in the time of King George III for everyday court wear by judges and senior members of the Bar, but by 1800 it was used only by judges.  A similar wig was worn by bishops.  At first confined to nisi prius sittings, it is now used by Lord Justices of Appeal, High Court Judges and circuit Judges on all occasions when sitting robed in a criminal court.

Short Bench Wig


White kid gloves decorated with a gold braid.  A custom of great antiquity was to present Justices of Assize with white gloves at every ‘maiden assize’:  that is, when there were no prisoners to be tried.  At Oxford the judges received a pair of gloves at all Assizes.  Kid gloves are still a part of the full dress of judges and Queen’s Counsel but they are usually carried rather than worn.

Judicial Gloves

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The Quit Rent Knives form part of a ceremony that is feudal in origin.  The ceremony represents the rendering of rents and services in respect of the tenure of two pieces of land, one in Shropshire and the other in the Parish of St Clement Danes.  One knife is sharp and the other blunt; they were used to make tallies out of hazel rods to record payment at the Court of Exchequer.  The earliest recorded notice of this Quit Rent is in the Shropshire Serjeanties in 1211 during the reign of King John.

Quit Rent Knives

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Silver staff of office, eight inches long, with an open crown head, hall marked for 1739 with the royal arms inside and a foul anchor in relief on the shaft. It is inscribed:

The Hon. Hugh Lindsay, Marshall of the Admiralty of England.

Lindsay held the office from 1815 until 1844.  Such staves went into general disuse in the last century, when the Admiralty ceased to arrest defendants in civil proceedings.

Staff of the  Admiralty Marshall


The appendage on the left shoulder of the Bar gown is commonly reputed to have been a receptacle in which a grateful client could slip an honorarium without embarrassment.  In fact, the shape is that of a mourning hood.  It is recorded that the Bar gown was assumed in 1685 on the death of Charles II and that barristers found the mourning gown so much cheaper and more comfortable than the old one that they refused to return to their former dress.

Barrister’s hood

(c. 1900)


Gold ‘Jacobus’ or double crown of King James I, presented to Mr Justice Lyell at Newcastle Assize.  By immemorial custom, the Lord Mayor of Newcastle was obliged to present the Justice of Assize visiting that city with money in lieu of protection on the perilous journey into border territory.  For over a century, the custom was to present the senior judge with a Jacobus and the junior with a Carolus.  The Assizes were abolished in 1971.

Dagger Money

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Red bags were originally used by King’s Counsel and Serjeants at Law, but about 1800 the custom arose whereby they could bestow such bags on promising juniors.  Junior counsel not so honoured with a red bag use a blue (formally purple) bag of the same pattern.  Green bags were sometimes used by judges.  Bags were used to carry robes and papers, but since the introduction of photocopying machines they have largely given way to hold-alls and trolleys.

Robe Bags


Gold ring, with the engraved inscription Labore sine favore.  This was one of the rings distributed by Mr Serjeant Sleigh at his creation in 1868, the last call of serjeants at law not intended immediately for the Bench.  The custom of ‘giving gold’ at serjeants’ creations is mentioned in1329 and from about 1500 a different ‘posy’ or motto was used at each call.

Serjeant's Ring


The three-cornered hat was carried by judges when the tufted damask gown was worn at court.  It was also used at the Assizes (abolished in 1971), when the judge covered his head as his name was read in the commission:- this signified that the judge only assumed his authority at the moment when the letters patent of his commission were read to the assembled public.  The hat shown belonged to Mr Baron Bramwell, appointed in 1856.

Judicial Tricorn Hat

(c. 1856)


The square cap of limp black cloth has the same origin as the head piece of a “mortar board” and is worn corner wise.  Since the 16th century it has been the formal headdress of a judge.  The best known occasion when it was worn (strictly speaking, laid over the judges wig) was when a death sentence was passed, being a moment of great solemnity; there was no special significance in the colour of the cap.  The cap on display belonged to Lord Coleridge and would have been worn by him when passing the death sentence.

Since the permanent abolition of capital punishment in 1969, there has been no need for the cap to be worn. Some High Court judges still carry the black cap, but only on an occasion where they are wearing full ceremonial dress.

The Black Cap


Gold collars of SS were first given by the Lancastrian monarchs as livery collars and it is thought that the letters represent Souvenez (Remember) or Souvent me souvient (Remember me often). In The Yorkist period they were replaced with collars of suns and roses, but collars of SS were revived under the Tudors and frequently given to judges. From the middle of the sixteenth century they were given only to the chief justices of the King’s Bench and Common Pleas and chief baron of the Exchequer. Since the merger of those courts in 1875 they have been worn only by the Lord Chief Justice. The collar presently in use dates from 1910.  The replica on display was made in 2016. 

The Chain of Ss


NISI PRIUS robes for summer use worn by Lord Coleridge, Lord Chief Justice of England (1880-1894).  With the hood around the shoulders, as here displayed, these were the robes worn “in banc” in Westminster Hall on red-letter days and in the Court for Crown Cases Reserved. In more recent times they were worn in the Queen’s Bench Divisional Court and the Court of Criminal Appeal. When hearing civil cases other than on red-letter days, the robes were of violet cloth with shot-pink silk facings. In winter the scarlet robes were faced with white miniver fur, and the violet robes were exchanged for black faced with miniver. For sittings at “Nisi Prius” (that is, for the trial of civil cases“Nisi Prius” (that is, for the trial of civil cases outside London.) the full hood was removed and a long black scarf worn around the neck,with an unlined scarlet hood (as worn by serjeants at law) cast over the right shoulder by its tail..

The Lord Coleridge Robe



Gown of black flowered damask decorated with gold lace.  Worn by Sir Herbert Hardy Cozens-Hardy (later Lord Cozens-Hardy) Master of the Rolls 1907-1918.  Similar robes are still worn on ceremonial occasions by the Lord Chancellor, the justices of the Supreme Court (with an embroidered badge on the flap collar), the Master of the Rolls, Lord Justices of Appeal, The Chancellor of the High Court, the Vice Chancellor of the County Palantine of Lancaster (with added red roses), the Speakers of the two Houses of Parliament,  and (on rare occasions during the last century, such as the ancient ceremony of the “trial of the Pyx”) the Chancellor of the Exchequer.  The pattern has changed a little since the seventeenth century.  It is sometimes known as a “Privy Councillor's-Robe”.

Black and Gold Robe



In the seventeenth century, Benchers of the Inns of Court, Serjeants at Law and King’s Counsel wore black gowns decorated with black lace and tufts. 

By the eighteenth century this had become a ceremonial dress. 

The gown of flowered damask with silk tufts was then used by judges and King's Counsel ‘at court’ - that is, in the presence of the sovereign - when it was worn with velvet court dress. 

It was prescribed for wear at Drawing Rooms (evening functions at court) until the 1920s. 

Our example was made by Adam Ede for Sir John Frederick Pollock (d.1870),

Full Court Dress of Judges & Queens Counsel

(c. 1844)


Black silk gown worn by Lord Denning, Master of the Rolls from 1962 to 1982 (The wig was not Lord Denning’s.)

The same type of gown is worn in court by judges sitting in the Court of Appeal Criminal Division and in the Divisional Court of the Queens Bench Division.  Queen’s Counsel wear the same gown with a court coat as shown here but with a barrister’s wig, and the gown is still seen on the bench when worn by Queen's Counsel sitting as deputy High Court Judges.

Master of the Rolls

(c. 1970 )


Robes of scarlet cloth with black facings and black girdle, worn by the Recorder of Manchester after the establishment of the permanent Crown Court there in 1956.

 Prior to 1971, the title ‘recorder’ indicated the judicial officer of a city or borough.  It is now the statutory title for permanent part-time judges sitting in the Crown Court and County Court.

However, the Senior Circuit Judge of the Crown Court in Manchester is called the Honorary Recorder and wears this scarlet version of the Circuit Judges Robe.

Similar robes are worn by certain other honorary recorders and were worn by the judges in Wales prior to 1830. 

The Recorder of London wears an open scarlet gown, with black facings arranged differently.

Recorder of Manchester

(c. 1956)


Robe of scarlet cloth faced (for winter use) with miniver.  Together with its summer equivalent, also on show, this is the best known form of English Judicial costume.  It forms part of the state robes of a Judge of the High Court.  When worn as shown here it is the usual dress of High Court Judge tying criminal cases and it is worn with a scarlet casting hood a black scarf and black girdle.  The casting hood was long known as a “gun case” from its unusual shape.  From this robe derives the familiar expression “the Red Judge”, meaning the judge who tried criminal cases at the assize.

High Court judge's winter robe


Worn by Lord Hailsham of St Marylebone KG (d2001) as an Honorary Doctor of Civil Law of the University of Oxford.  The robes are displayed as worn by advocates in the Court of Arches before 1857.  Prior to that date the rights of audience in the Ecclesiastical and Admiralty Courts were vested in such Doctors of Law as were members of the Society known as Doctors’ Commons.

Festal gown and hood of scarlet cloth

(Lined with light cherry silk)


Robe of black princetta, made after the same pattern as the robe of a Circuit Judge and a girdle of black silk bordered with one inch of military red at the top and one inch of Royal Air Force blue at the bottom, edged with gold.  These robes were prescribed by the Lord Chancellor in 1955 for officers of the Judge Advocate General’s Office, and were first worn in 1956.  A Deputy Judge Advocate wears the same robes, but without the gold edging to the girdle.

Judge Advocate General



Gown of black stuff worn by solicitors when exercising rights of audience.  The modern office of solicitor combines three historic offices: namely, attorney (in the three common-law courts, solicitors of the Court of Chancery, and protector (in the ecclesiastical and Admiralty courts.)  Their gowns went into disuse for a time, but were revived in 1846 when solicitors were given rights of audience in the new County Courts.  The gown is displayed as worn by a women solicitor.  All degrees and offices in the law have been open to women since 1919.

Solicitor of the  Supreme Court 

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In July 2007 the Lord Chief Justice announced reforms to simplify judicial court working dress in England and Wales. The changes, which included the introduction of a new civil gown and the end of the Bench Wig in all civil courts, came into effect on 1 October 2008. Fashion designer Betty Jackson CBE worked on a pro-bono basis as the design consultant for the new gown. 

Civil Robes 

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The degree of Utter Barrister (until 1969 sometimes rendered as Barrister at Law) is conferred by the Inns of Court, and is first mentioned in the 1450s.  In the sixteenth century the Inns prescribed sober black gowns for all members and prohibited foppish dress.  By the early seventeenth century a distinctive Bar gown had become customary and it is here shown in replica.  It was made of black cloth or grogram, with velvet facings and two vertical strips of velvet on the upper sleeves.  This gown ceased to be used in 1685, when the present Bar gown was assumed in mourning for King Charles II.  Bar students, when dining in hall, wear black gowns without sleeves; these also date for seventeeth century.

Barrister at Law



Robe of violet cloth, faced with lilac silk and lilac casting hood (worn over the left shoulder).  The County Courts were established in 1846, for minor civil cases, and the present robes - patterned on those of the High Court - were introduced in 1919.  In 1971 the office of County Court Judge was replaced by that of Circuit Judge and such a judge may sit in the Crown Court (for criminal cases) as well as the County Court.  Circuit Judges wear the old County Court Judges Robe but when sitting in the Crown Court they wear a full hood similar to that of a High Court Judge, but of violet cloth faced with lilac, and a full bottom wig.

Circuit Judge

County Court

(c. 1955)