Rebels, Radicals and Rough Justice: Historic Clerkenwell
Now stop here, and look to your left. Before you is a fine classical building.
Stop to admire its facade for a minute. At the time of recording, it was undergoing renovations, so if it’s still covered in scaffolding, see if you can get a glimpse of it’s glory through the gaps.
This is the Sessions House, built in 1782. The Palladian Portland stone facade has the royal arms and a sculpture of King George III on top. He was king at the time. The Sessions House was originally the court-house for the former Middlesex county. Middlesex was subsumed by the Greater London Council in the 1960s. Today the building is the London Masonic Centre, but it is being sold off for use as a private club.
Try and imagine standing before this building, awaiting your judgement. In the 1700s there were over 100 crimes which could result in the death penalty. But judges were often reluctant to use this for what seemed minor offences, so they used the alternative of deportation to the colonies. Originally many were sent to America. But when George III lost the American War of Independence in 1776, convicts were sent to Australia.
Many people who were sent out as prisoners gained their freedom, and became the backbone of their new continent. Before being transported, they were held in underground cells in the House of Detention. This building still exists, and today the cells are used for events, including theatre performances.
Now cross the road, towards the Sessions House. Then veer right and walk past it to the road ahead.