On this day in history : 27th February 1907 – The Old Bailey, London’s main criminal court, is officially opened – having been built on the site of the old Newgate Prison….

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The original medieval court-house, next door to Newgate Prison, was destroyed in the Great Fire of London….it was rebuilt in 1674. Originally, the court was intended for the prosecution of crimes committed in the City of London and Middlesex…. However, it was in 1856 that concerns were raised in the case of William Palmer – a doctor accused of being a poisoner and murderer…. Such was public revulsion that it was feared he would not get a fair trial in Staffordshire, his home county…. Allowing his trial to take place at the Old Bailey set a precedent for future serious crimes….

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An Old Bailey trial circa 1808. Thomas Rowlandson and Augustus Pugin – Public domain

Up until May 1868 the death penalty would be carried out in public…. Hangings took place in the street outside of the Old Bailey and Newgate Prison…. Huge crowds would gather to watch; stones, rotten fruit and vegetables would often be hurled at the condemned…. In 1807 the crowd was so unruly that a pie-seller’s stall over-turned, crushing 28 people to death…. As a result a covered tunnel was built between the prison and St. Sepulchre’s Church, opposite….it was known as ‘Dead Man’s Walk’. The condemned prisoner could be taken to be attended by the chaplain before the death sentence was carried out without facing the crowds….

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Dead Man’s Walk – Old Bailey. Image credit: Matt Brown via Flickr

Towards the late 1800s more and more trials were being held at the Old Bailey and there were many people who wanted to watch….the building had become inadequate. Newgate Prison next door had become dilapidated as since the 1860s it no longer held long-term prisoners…. So, in 1877 it was decided to demolish both buildings to make room for a larger court….

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Newgate Prison – pulled down in 1902 to make way for the Old Bailey. Image credit: Victor Keegan via Flickr

There were many delays but finally a new building, designed by E.W. Mountford in the neo-Baroque style – at a cost of £392,277 – was built and officially opened by King Edward VII…

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Lady Justice statue – Old Bailey. Image credit: Lonpicman via Wikimedia CC BY-SA 3.0

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