Thursday, 17 April 2014

O is for The Old Bailey


O is for The Old Bailey

Today we travel to the capital of England 


The Old Bailey in London

Known as the Old Bailey, the Central Criminal Court of England and Wales is one of a number of buildings housing the Crown Court.

The Central Criminal Court, commonly called the Old Bailey after the street on which it is located.
This is a file from the Wikimedia Commons

The Old Bailey takes its name from the street on which it stands and is one of a number of buildings housing the Crown Court.  The present building stands on the site of the medieval Newgate gaol on Old Bailey, a road which follows the line of the City of London's fortified wall which runs from Ludgate Hill to the junction of Newgate Street and Holborn Viaduct. 


The Crown Court sitting at the Central Criminal Court deals with major criminal cases from Greater London and, in exceptional cases, from other parts of England and Wales. Trials at the Old Bailey, as at other courts, are open to the public, albeit subject to stringent security procedures.

The court was originally meant to be the site where only criminals accused of crimes committed in the City and Middlesex were tried. However, in 1856, there was public revulsion at the accusations against the doctor William Palmer that he was a poisoner and murderer. This led to fears that he could not receive a fair trial in his native Staffordshire. The Central Criminal Court Act 1856 was passed to enable his trial to be held at the Old Bailey.

Entrance door to the Old Bailey.

In the 19th century, the Old Bailey was a small court adjacent to Newgate Prison. Hangings were a public spectacle in the street outside until 26 May 1868. The condemned would be led along Dead Man's Walk between the prison and the court, and many were buried in the walk itself. Large, riotous crowds would gather and pelt the condemned with rotten fruit and vegetables and stones.

 In 1807, 28 people were crushed to death after a pie-seller's stall overturned. A secret tunnel was subsequently created between the prison and St. Sepulchre’s Church opposite, to allow the priest to minister to the condemned man without having to force his way through the crowds.

Lady Justice statue
Wikimedia Commons

On the dome above the court stands a bronze statue of Lady Justice, executed by the British sculptor F.W. Pomeroy. She holds a sword in her right hand and the scales of justice in her left. 

The statue is popularly supposed to show blind Justice; however, the figure is not blindfolded: the courthouse brochures explain that this is because Lady Justice was originally not blindfolded, and because her “maidenly form” is supposed to guarantee her impartiality which renders the blindfold redundant.

During The Blitz, the Old Bailey was bombed and severely damaged.

Unknown photographer

On 10 May 1941, in one of the worst raids of the London Blitz, a number of prominent buildings were damaged, including Westminster Abbey, the Houses of Parliament, the British Museum and the Old Bailey.

The Old Bailey underwent reconstruction in the early 1950’s and the interior of the Grand Hall of the Central Criminal Courts was once again opened. Underneath the dome in the Great Hall the interior is decorated with paintings commemorating the Blitz.

Running around the entire hall are a series of axioms, some of biblical reference. They read:

"The law of the wise is a fountain of life"

"The welfare of the people is supreme"

"Right lives by law and law subsists by power"

"Poise the cause in justice's equal scales"

"Moses gave unto the people the laws of God"

"London shall have all its ancient rights"

An Old Bailey trial, circa 1808.

All judges sitting in the Old Bailey are addressed as "My Lord" or "My Lady" whether they are High Court, Circuit Judges or Recorders. By tradition the judge sits slightly off-centre in case the Lord Mayor decides to come in; if he did he would take the centre chair.

She said, you have to believe in the laws of justice

I will, I reassured her but I am still very anxious

We have to catch the bus

So we can slip in the door without any fuss.

The paparazzi will be there

Popping and flashing their cameras without a care

It’s trial by media and social networking sites

They don't care we’ve had sleepless nights

The sentence will be pronounced 
The verdict announced

The internet will be alive with the buzz of rumours

Truth or lies go viral, the lines are all blurs

Proud Lady Justice will be impartial 

On top the dome she waits for my acquittal.
Lady Justice statue
Wikimedia Commons


  1. This is a great lesson on the Old Bailey. I love that they commemorated the Blitz during its reconstruction to remember the history of this important building.

    One of AJ's AtoZ wHooligans
    Tales of a Pee Dee Mama

  2. The closest I've gotten to the Old Bailey was watching Rumpole of the Bailey. I loved that show, especially how he was always saying, "She, who must be obeyed..." I didn't know the history of the Bailey so thank you for sharing it with us!

  3. Thank you for teaching me about Old Bailey. I'm glad it was restored after the war. It must have been very hard to have so many historic places bombed during the war. Your poem is touching.
    Thank you for visiting my blog again and leaving a nice comment about Claire. I'm glad I met you through A to Z. Where are you taking me tomorrow? I can't wait.

  4. I love grand old buildings. So much care with materials and design was put in to create gorgeous structures. Wish we could build with that attention to detail now.
    Donna Smith
    The A-to-Z Challenge
    Mainely Write