Located on a crossroads opposite the Old Bailey (or Central London Criminal Court as it’s formally known) and the Church of St Sepulchre-without-Newgate, The Viaduct Tavern is a gem of the Victorian era.
The name is relatively easy to explain – built in 1874 (and remodelled around the turn of the 19th century), the tavern lies just east of the Holborn Viaduct – central London’s first flyover – which opened in 1869.
The ornate interior of the Grade II-listed pub at 126 Newgate Street features etched and gilded glass panels, three representative “pre-Raphaelite-style” paintings – including one representing Industry and the Arts which was apparently shot by a soldier, no doubt the worse for wear from drink, celebrating the end of World War I – and a small cashier’s booth, all of which attest to its past as a Victorian gin palace.
Under the pub is a cellar – it’s commonly suggested these were cells were part of Newgate Prison (once located nearby on the site of the Old Bailey) or part of a debtor’s prison associated with Newgate – some believe it to have been the site of the Giltspur Street Compter, but both stories have been disputed by guide Peter Berthould.
Past patrons of the pub – which is reputedly haunted – are said to have included writer Oscar Wilde, who apparently frequented the tavern during his trials over the road in the late 1800s.
The pub is now part of the Fullers chain.
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.
One 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.org. For more on the history of The Old Bailey, check out Theresa Murphy’s The Old Bailey: Eight Hundred Years of Crime, Cruelty and Corruption.
• Europe’s tallest building marks the completion of its exterior structure today with a spectacular light show. The Shard, a £450 million development located over London Bridge Station in Southwark, stands 310 metres tall and was designed by Italian architect Renzo Piano. The controversial glass clad structure, work on which commenced in 2009, features a jagged top with the design reportedly referencing the city’s many church spires. While the exterior of the building is now complete, work is expected to continue on the building’s interior – which will contain offices, luxury shops and restaurants, a five star hotel and 10 top-end apartments (the highest in the UK) – until next year. It is expected that the building’s viewing decks – which offer panoramic 360 degree views over the city – will become a major new tourist attraction in the city. The Shard will be formally opened today by Qatari Prime Minister Hamad bin Jassem al-Thani and Prince Andrew, Duke of York. The hour long light show, which features lasers and searchlights, kicks off at 10pm and those who can’t see it in person can watch it streamed live at the-shard.com.
• A skeleton from the St Bethlehem Burial Ground and 55 million-year-old fragments of amber are among the artefacts which will go on display this Saturday at a special public exhibition of archaeological discoveries made during the construction of Crossrail. Almost 100 objects found at 10 different sites will be in the Bison to Bedlam – Crossrail’s archaeology story so far exhibition which marks the halfway point of the Crossrail archaeology program, first launched in 2009. Finds have dated from prehistoric times through to the Industrial Revolution and, as well as those aforementioned, also include some medieval ceramic wig curlers, 17th century gravestone markers and stakes made out of animal bone. All the items will be eventually donated to the Museum of London or Natural History Museum. The exhibition will be held from 10am to 5pm this Saturday at the Music Room, Grays Antiques, 26 South Molton Street (nearest Tube station is Bond Street). For more, see www.crossrail.co.uk.
• Alderman Jeffrey Evans (Ward of Cheap) and Nigel Pullman have been elected the new sheriffs of the City of London in a poll held late last month. The office of the sheriffs dates back to the Middle Ages – current duties include assisting the Lord Mayor of London in his official duties and attending sessions of the Central Criminal Court at the Old Bailey. The two new sheriffs take up their post in late September.
• On Now: Blackpool: Wonderland of the World. A new exhibition held in the Quadriga Gallery at the Wellington Arch, Hyde Park Corner, this looks at how Blackpool transformed in the 19th century from a small village to become became the first resort in the world to cater for the working classes. Focusing on two of the town’s key attractions – the Winter Gardens and the Blackpool Tower – the exhibition’s highlights include a silver model of Blackpool Tower dating from 1893, rare Victorian and vintage posters advertising performances by some of the stars who shone there, and early 20th century photographs of the interiors of the Winter Gardens. In addition, two crowns will illuminate the top of Wellington Arch in a taste of Blackpool’s famous light show. Organised by English Heritage in partnership with Blackpool Council, it runs until 27th August. Admission fee applies. See www.english-heritage.org.uk/daysout/properties/wellington-arch/exhibitions-at-the-arch/current-exhibition/ for more.
The two new sheriffs of the City of London – Alderman Alan Yarrow and Wendy Mead CC (pictured here second and fourth from left with Lord Mayor Michael Bear between them) – were admitted into office in a ceremony at Guildhall last week following their election in June by the City livery companies. The office of sheriff dates back to the Middle Ages and, until the institution of the mayoralty in 1189, sheriffs or ‘shire reeves’ were charged with governing the city as the king’s representatives, collecting royal revenues and enforcing royal justice. The role now includes ensuring the smooth running of the Central Criminal Court (housed at the Old Bailey), attending the Lord Mayor as he carries out his official duties and presenting petitions from the City to Parliament at the Bar at the House of Commons. Meanwhile, the City of London announced on Monday that Alderman David Wootton, himself a former sheriff (as all Lord Mayors must be) as well as a past master of of the Worshipful Company of Fletchers and of the Worshipful Company of Solicitors, has been elected the 684th Lord Mayor of the City of London. He takes office on Friday, 11th November (the Lord Mayor’s Show takes place the following day). For more, see www.cityoflondon.gov.uk.
PICTURE: Courtesy of City of London Corporation.
The most notorious of London’s many prisons, Newgate remained in use for more than 700 years.
The prison – located on the corner of Newgate Street and Old Bailey on the site of what is now London’s Central Criminal Court (known as the Old Bailey thanks to its position on the street known as Old Bailey) – was apparently first constructed around the end of the 1100s on the orders of King Henry II at the site of one of the gates in the Roman wall (see picture).
It was enlarged and renovated several times over the ensuing centuries (including a complete rebuilding after the Great Fire of London in 1666 and another to the design of George Dance after the prison was badly damaged during the Gordon Riots of 1780, sparked by opposition to Catholic emancipation).
The prison, which was infamous for the squalid conditions in which prisoners were housed, was used for a range of purposes including housing debtors and the incarceration of people awaiting execution (by the 18th century, it’s said that more than 350 crimes had become punishable by death).
In 1783 public executions were moved from Tyburn, west of the city, to a site just outside the prison. In 1868, executions were no longer open to the public at large and the gallows moved inside. The prison closed in 1902 and was eventually demolished in 1904.
Famous prisoners who spent time in Newgate include Shakespeare’ contemporary Ben Jonson (for killing a man in a duel), 17th century author Daniel Defoe (for his authorship of political pamphlets), Captain William Kidd (for piracy), and William Penn, Quaker and founder of Pennsylvania (for contempt of court during a case brought after he was accused of having illegally preached ).
But perhaps the most infamous is the 18th century criminal Jack Sheppard, known for having escaped from the prison several times before finally being hanged at Tyburn (close to where Marble Arch now stands).
The only surviving part of the prison in its original location is part of the prison wall which can be seen in Amen Corner.