Rebels, Radicals and Rough Justice: Historic Clerkenwell
Stop here, on the corner next to the church on your right. This is our last stop.
From here you have a good view of the Old Bailey - England's Central Criminal Court. It’s the magnificent building on the corner across the road and to the left. You can’t miss its huge columns, nor the massive dome protruding from its roof.
This building was constructed in 1907 on the site of Newgate Prison. On top of the dome you can see the gilded statue of Justice holding a sword and scales. Many famous trials have taken place here, including Oscar Wilde and Peter Sutcliffe, known as the Yorkshire Ripper. You can pay it a visit, if you want to watch court proceedings.
Newgate Prison had been on this site for nearly 700 years. Public executions took place outside the prison until 1867. On the night before, a handbell from St Sepulchre's was rung by the priest outside the condemned person's cell. The priest then recited these words:
'Ye who in the condemned cells lie
Repent your sins for tomorrow you die.'
The bells of St Sepulchres are featured in the Nursery song ‘Oranges and Lemons’. In the song they are referred to as the bells of Old Bailey. One of them tolled when Newgate prisoners were about to be executed. The last person to be executed here was Michael Barrett, as you heard earlier.
Here our walk ends. We may be thankful that justice in this country is now delivered less violently and haphazardly than in the past. You might like to have a drink or meal in the Viaduct Tavern on the corner to your left. There are some prison cells in the basement which the landlord may allow you to see if the pub is not busy. These were were part of 'the Giltspur Comptor', a debtors’ jail affiliated to Newgate Prison.
The nearest Underground Station is St Paul's. To get there, turn left and walk about 500 metres down the street. It will be on your right hand side. There also several buses going to and from the City along the street in front of you.
Thank you for joining me on this walk. It was the first walk I designed myself when I started guiding and I am rather proud of the title - Rebels, Radicals and Rough Justice. I’ll leave you with the thought that for 4 years, between 1863 and 1867, it was possible to travel by Underground to watch a public hanging from where you are standing.