What’s in a name?…Old Bailey…

July 29, 2013

Running from Ludgate Hill to Newgate Street in the western part of the City, there are a couple of explanations behind the thoroughfare known as the Old Bailey.

Old-BaileyOne suggests that the name is derived from Latin word ballium which referred to a wall built for defence and which, in this instance, referred to the old Roman wall which surrounded the City.

Another, according to Antony Badsey-Ellis’ book What’s in a Street Name?, is that the name could be a corrupt form of ‘Bail Hill’ – a place where a bailiff held court.

For centuries the street’s name has also been used for that of a court based there. Now formally known as the Central Criminal Court, the first court – or sessions house – was built here in 1539 on part of the site now occupied by the court.

Built next to the Old Bailey court house – and pre-dating it was Newgate Prison – but when this was demolished in 1902, the Old Bailey (which itself had been rebuilt in the 1670s having been destroyed in the Great Fire of London and then subsequently remodelled) was again rebuilt and, opening in 1907, now covers the site.

For an archive of the court’s proceedings, check out www.oldbaileyonline.orgFor more on the history of The Old Bailey, check out Theresa Murphy’s The Old Bailey: Eight Hundred Years of Crime, Cruelty and Corruption.

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One Response to “What’s in a name?…Old Bailey…”


  1. I assumed the name came from the only motte-and-bailey castle which had a secure keep/motte in the centre, surrounded by an enclosed yard/bailey around the motte. But the “place where a bailiff held court” makes more sense.

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