Walk towards St Paul’s Cathedral
. Stand outside and take a look around and you'll see a building with a much smaller dome
and a statue on top. That's the Old Bailey, The Central Criminal Court
On the top of the Old Bailey is the famous statue of Justice, depicted as a woman with a sword in one hand and scales in her other. Contrary to popular belief, she isn't blindfolded. The statue was cast by J. W. Singer and sons and is the most widely-known and visible symbol of the Old Bailey.
History of the place
The Old Bailey was first built in 1539 in London as a session house for Newgate gaol, and was named after the street that ran by it. It was rebuilt in 1774. The Central Criminal Court act of 1834 established the Old Bailey as the Central Criminal Court and gave it authority to
"inquire of, hear and determine all treasons, murders, felonies and misdemeanours"
meaning criminal cases -- in the City of London and the surrounding area, as well as the most serious or complicated cases from around all of England and Wales.
The original court was demolished entirely in 1902, only to be expanded by architect Edward Mountford to cover the site of the Newgate prison. This is the current Old Bailey, and it was opened by King Edward VII in 1907.
The Old Bailey is weird inside. The chambers downstairs are a maze and not open to the public. The courts themselves are a mixed bunch; some are new, pine-furnished small affairs, while the older rooms are bigger and panelled in dark wood. There are 12 courtrooms inside IIRC, and in all of them the public gallery is upstairs. There are large waiting areas, with wood and green being the dominant decorative themes.
Public hangings were held outside the Old Bailey. People would sit in the Magpie and Stump
, a pub
across the road, and watch the execution of murderers, rapists and even thieves and fraudsters. This ended when in 1868
, Michael Barrett
was the last person to be executed publicly.
As the Central Criminal Court, the Old Bailey has had its fair share of high profile cases. Oscar Wilde made his famous 'Love that dare not speak its name" speech in the dock; Lord Haw Haw was tried for treason after WWII, the original London mobsters the Krays and the Yorkshire Ripper were also tried and found guilty there.
The proceedings of the Old Bailey from 1670 to 1834 are still extant. They show, among other things, an execution of boys under 14 for theft under the Bloody Code. Sheffield University is creating an online searchable version of the records.
The Old Bailey is open to the public to sit in on sessions, from Monday to Friday (except Bank Holidays and the day after). You have to go through a metal detector, and telephones, bags of all types and food are banned. Sessions are 10am - 1pm, and 2pm - 5pm
Central Criminal Court
Tel: +44 20 7248 3277
The nearest tube station is St Paul’s.