Close-up of the facade of Mizuho House, London branch of the Japanese investment bank Mizuho, in the Old Bailey London. PICTURE: Valdemars Magone/Unsplash
This month marks 150 years since the last public hanging in London (and, indeed, in Britain). It took place outside Newgate Prison and involved a Fenian (Irish nationalist) bomber named Michael Barrett.
Barrett had been arrested following the bombing of the Clerkenwell House of Detention in 1867 which, in a botched effort to free another Fenian, Richard O’Sullivan Burke, a number of bystanders were killed. Barrett’s case was a controversial one (he was the only one of six people to stand trial for the crime who was convicted) and his execution apparently postponed twice because of questions over his guilt.
The crowd at the hanging on the morning of 26th May, 1868, was said to be large – a “great surging mass” (indeed, such was the interest that seats in nearby houses were said to have sold for £10) – but described in The Times as “unusually orderly”.
“With the first sound of the bells came a great hungry roar from the crowd outside, and a loud, continued shout of ‘Hats off’, till the whole dense, bareheaded mass stood white and ghastly-looking in the morning sun, and the pressure on the barriers increased so that the girls and women in the front ranks began to scream and struggle to get free,” the newspaper reported.
“Amid such a scene as this, and before such a dense crowd of white faces, Barrett was executed…To neither cheers nor hisses did the culprit make the slightest recognition. He seemed only attentive to what the priest was saying to him, and to be engaged in fervent prayer. The hangman instantly put the cap over his face and the rope round his neck. Then Barrett turning spoke through his cap and asked for the rope to be altered, which the hangman did. In another moment Barrett was a dead man…He died without a struggle. It is worthy of remark that a great cry rose from the crowd as the culprit fell – a cry which was neither an exclamation nor a scream, but it partook in its sound of both.”
The hanging was carried out by William Calcraft, the orphaned son of an Essex farmer who many years earlier had found what was to be an almost life-long calling when, apparently while selling pies at a hanging he was noticed by his predecessor in the job and became his apprentice before taking in the job himself in 1829.
Calcraft, who was known for his use of controversial ‘short drops’ which meant the condemned would slowly strangle to death rather than have their necks broken, was to preside over the last public hanging – of Barrett – as well as the first private hanging inside Newgate – of 18-year-old murderer Alexander Mackay in September, 1868 – before eventually retiring in 1874 and dying shortly after.
Barrett, meanwhile, was buried under the ‘Birdcage Walk’ (also known as ‘Dead Man’s Walk’), the stone corridor which linked the prison with the Old Bailey. His body was transferred to the City of London Cemetery in 1903 as Newgate was demolished. The grave is marked with a plaque commemorating his place in history.
Public hangings were banned just three days after Barrett died when Parliament passed the Capital Punishment Amendment Act of 1868.
PICTURE: Image from an “execution broadside” of Barrett’s hanging in 1868. These were commonly sold at public executions in the 18th and 19th centuries.
This Smithfield institution owes its sign to its close association with the cloth fair once held nearby.
The current Grade II-listed pub at the corner of Middle and Kinghorn Streets dates from the early 19th century but there has apparently been a succession of taverns on the site since the 12th century (the sign on the pub proclaims the date 1532).
Thanks to its location within the precincts of St Bartholomew’s Priory, it became a focal point for the cloth fair which was held nearby between the 12th century and 1855 (the street Cloth Fair is named for it).
As well as being a favoured location for those attending the fair to obtain refreshment, it was also the location of a ‘Court of Pie Powder’ (from French pied poudreux for ‘dusty feet’ ) relating to travelling traders.
The pub’s name, meanwhile, is said to be a reference to the Lord Mayor of London’s practice of officially declaring the fair open by using shears to cut a piece of cloth on the tavern’s doorstep.
The pub also has some association with executions and, legend has it, was a popular spot for people to seek refreshment as they made their way to Newgate Prison where, between 1783 and 1868, executions were held outside the walls in the thoroughfare now known as Old Bailey.
For more, see the pub’s Facebook page.
PICTURE: Google Maps
The site of the climatic showdown in V for Vendetta between the silent hoards of masked protestors and the military, Parliament Square is featured in some dramatic aerial shots before, moments after midnight in the early hours of 5th November, the Houses of Parliament explode to the sprightly sounds of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture.
Of course, it’s far from the only London location to feature in the 2006 film which is largely set in the city – among other locations are Trafalgar Square where the protestors gather before marching down Whitehall, and the Old Bailey which explodes in the first scene as well as the former Underground station of Aldwych – located on a former spur line of Piccadilly Line which closed to the public in 1994.
Meanwhile, the Houses of Parliament – also known as the Palace of Westminster (for more on its history, head here) – and the Clock Tower (see our Treasures of London article for more here) have made innumerable appearances on the big screen, including in several Bond films including Thunderbolt (1965), 28 Days Later (2002), and, more recently, in Suffragette (2015).
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.
Once a visible sign of London’s legal system, the city had several pillories which were used to degrade and humiliate those offenders put within them.
Originating in medieval times, the pillories were wooden contraptions in which a standing person’s head and hands were held in place and exposed to the ridicule of the crowd (not to mention their rotten foodstuffs and other less savoury things). They were a similar form of punishment to the stocks and were designed to humiliate those put within them.
They were used to punish a broad range of offenders including everyone from con-men and forgers to traders who didn’t play fair with their customers, people publishing unlicensed literature, and homosexuals.
Some people were pilloried repeatedly and additional punishments could be handed out to some put in the pillory – such as the nailing of the offender’s ears to the structure. There was cases of enraged mobs injuring the person locked in the pillory so badly that they died and the journey to the pillory – a formal parade of the malefactor before the people – was another chance for people to shout abuse and throw things at the offender.
As well as in Charing Cross where the pillory was located just to the south of Trafalgar Square, pillories were found at locations in Cheapside, Cornhill and Old Bailey in the City as well as Old Palace Yard and Tyburn in Westminster.
Among the most famous occupants of London’s pillories was the writer Daniel Defoe. The author of Robinson Crusoe and Moll Flanders, he was placed here on 31st July,1703, due to his publication of pamphlets criticising the church. It didn’t prove the harshest of punishments, however – Defoe was greeted with flowers, not stones, by a crowd rather sympathetic to his cause.
Others to suffer the punishment of the pillory included Titus Oates, who fabricated a plot to kill King Charles II, and puritan William Prynne, who lost both his ears when pilloried for libelling Queen Henrietta Maria (although they were apparently sewed back on before he lost them again for a subsequent offence).
The punishment was formally abolished in 1837 – the last time it was used was in 1830.
PICTURE: Wikipedia. Image is from Robert Chambers’ Book of Days, 1st edition.
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.
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.
London is redolent with sites which appeared in the books of Charles Dickens and, having had a look at his life, it’s time we turn our attention to some of the sites relevant to his writing. For the next two weeks, we’re looking at just a few of the many, many sites which feature in his novels. So, here’s seven places to get us going…
• Saffron Hill, Clerkenwell. Once a notorious slum akin to St Giles (see last week’s entry) and the city’s Italian Quarter, Saffron Hill is where Fagin and his gang of thieves operate in Oliver Twist and have their den.
• Chancery Lane, Holborn. Much of the novel Bleak House is set around this narrow street between High Holborn and Fleet Street – Tom Jarndyce kills himself in a coffee shop here in the novel and Lincoln’s Inn Hall – formerly home of the High Court of Chancery – also features.
• The Old Bailey. Some have suggested Dickens worked here as a court reporter although there is no compelling evidence he did so. But the the Old Bailey (the current building dates from the early 20th century, well after Dickens’ death) and Newgate Prison certainly featured in his books – it is here that Fagin is eventually hung in Oliver Twist.
• Child & Co’s Bank, Fleet Street. While the present building dates from 1878, Dickens is believed to have used the bank as the model for Tellson’s Bank in A Tale of Two Cities.
• St Dunstan-in-the-West, Fleet Street. In David Copperfield, David and his aunt, Betsy Trotwood, make a special trip to see the giants Gog and Magog strike the church bells. It also features in Barnaby Rudge and Dickens dedicated his Christmas story, The Chimes, to the church.
• Garden Court and Fountain Court (pictured), Middle Temple. Garden Court is where Pip lived in Great Expectations and where Abel Magwitch turned up to reveal himself as Pip’s benefactor. Fountain Court features in Martin Chuzzlewit as the site for the romance of Ruth Pinch and John Westlock.
• Golden Square, Soho. Mentioned in Nicholas Nickleby – Nicholas’ uncle, Ralph Nickleby, was thought to live in a previous building at number seven.
There’s some great books about London sites which appear in Dickens’ books – among them are Ed Glinert’s Literary London: A Street by Street Exploration of the Capital’s Literary Heritage and Michael Paterson’s Inside Dickens’ London as well as Paul Kenneth Garner’s
A Walk Through Charles Dickens’ London.
Better known now as the name for the infamous former prison which whom its history is intertwined, Newgate was originally one of the seven principal gates of London and, like five others, originally dates back to Roman times.
The gate, which apparently took the name ‘new’ thanks to a rebuild in the early medieval era, possibly in the reign of King Henry I or King Stephen, was located close to where the street known as Newgate meets the Old Bailey (see picture – there’s a blue plaque marking the spot on Newgate).
It was used as a prison from the 12th century for housing debtors and felons – in the 13th century King Henry III is recorded as having issued orders for the prison’s repair (You can see our earlier entry on the prison here.)
The gate’s prison function – this was really no more than a few ‘cells’ – was substantially added to in the 1420s when, apparently as required under the terms of former Mayor Richard Whittington’s will, the gate was rebuilt and a new prison building was constructed to the south on what is now the site of the Old Bailey (home of the Central Criminal Court).
The gate was eventually demolished in the mid 18th century apparently due to urban planning issues. The prison, meanwhile, continued to be used until 1902 and was finally pulled down two years later.
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.
• Four hundred years of London’s history is being put online as part of a new project on the City of Westminster’s website. The council is publishing a new picture depicting a different historical event from the city’s tumultuous history every day throughout 2011 under its A date with history project. The images, taken from the council’s archives, include photographs, engravings and sketchings. They include a black and white photo of queues of people waiting on Vauxhall Bridge to pay their final respects to King George V lying in state at Westminster Hall after his death on 20th January, 1936, another photograph showing the King and Queen with PM Winston Churchill inspecting damage to Buckingham Palace’s swimming pool following a raid during the Blitz in September, 1940, a hand-colored print depicting the execution of King Charles I on 30th January, 1649, and an engraving showing a comet passing by the spire of St Martin in the Field in 1744. It is the first time the images have been made freely available online. To see the images, head to www.westminster.gov.uk/archives/day-by-day.
• What could be London’s oldest structure has been unearthed on the Thames foreshore. Six timber piles up to 0.3 metres in diameter have been discovered only metres from the MI6 headquarters in Vauxhall, part of what archaeologists believe is part of a prehistoric structure which stood on the river bank more than 6,000 years ago during the Mesolithic period when the river was lower. The find, made by a Thames Discovery Programme team, is only 600 metres away from a Bronze Age timber bridge or jetty dating from 1,500 BC which was discovered in 1993. The piles may be able to be seen from Vauxhall bridge during low tides between 10.25am on 22nd January and 11.15am on 23rd January.
• Homes in London were purchased for an average price of £14,000 back in 1910, according to land tax valuations documents released online this week. Ancestry.co.uk has placed the London, England Land Tax Valuations 1910 – compiled as part of David Lloyd George’s 1910 Finance Act, known as the Domesday Survey – online to help people discover more about the financial situations of their ancestors. The documents put the value of the Bank of England at £110,000, the Old Bailey at £6,600, and Mansion House at a more impressive £992,000. The average value of property on Fleet Street was £25,000 (compared with £1.2 million today) while in Cannon Street, the average value was £20,000 (£2.2 million) and in Chancery Lane, the average value was just £11,000 (£1.1 million).