AN IMPORTANT piece of Usk's history was re-opened this week after a £200,000 facelift.

Usk town council spent £200,000 restoring the court room at the Sessions House it over the last 12 years and will now use it as its base, with the first meeting planned for May 9.

The Sessions House was built in 1877 and designed by Thomas Wyatt, containing two courts.

High-profile cases heard there included the prosecution of Viscountess Rhondda, a prominent suffragette, and the trial of Josef Garcia, who was convicted of the murder of a family of five in Llangibby.

Court one was gutted by fire in 1944 and not rebuilt. Councillor Roger Galletley called the refurbished court 2 "unique, the only truly authentic Victorian court room left in Britain".

Locals raised over £100,000, with a £90,000 National Lottery grant and £5,000 from Monmouthshire council paying for repairs to the roof and stone walls. The dock, Judge's chair and benches for witnesses, jury, clerks and reporters have also been restored, varnished and re-upholstered with horse hair.

Paintings of session judges on the walls were restored and framed, while the walls were painted in the orginal red colour.

The Sessions House initially had two court rooms, with the docks linked by a tunnel to Usk Prison next door.

But, when the second court burnt down in 1944, the remaining court wasn't big enough to act as Gwent's crown court, with Newport Crown Court taking over after opening in 1974.

After that, the Sessions House was a Magistrates' Court until 1995. In 1998, Usk Town Council bought it from Monmouthshire council for £90,000 and began restoring it bit by bit.

As well as the court room, the council has also reopened its library, which contains thousands of books, some dating back to the 1600s.

Mayor Cllr Alec Leathwood said groups like the young farmers and pensioners organisations will use the refurbished court room, saying: "It's the most beautiful Victorian building in town. We've restored it to its former glory and are very proud of it."

The Sessions House now has a wedding licence with two booked already for this summer. Cllr Leathwood joked: "Weddings can take place in the dock, which is fitting considering some say marriage is a life sentence."