Saturday, 7 January 2017

The Old Bailey

The Old Bailey Online proceedings of court cases from 1674 to 1913. This is a great resource for family history research. I have found it particularly useful as three of the convicts in my family were tried at this court before being transported to Australia.

A brief history of the Old Bailey courthouse can be found on the Old Bailey Online website.

The Central Criminal Court is also known as the Old Bailey or the Justice House as it has been located on a street named Old Bailey since 1673. The street follows the path of the fortified wall of the old city of London, This wall was known as a bailey.
Portico of the Old Bailey (2011)
The inscription above the pillars reads Defend the Children of the Poor. Punish the Wrongdoer.

The building has been remodelled and rebuilt many times but the basic design of the court rooms remain the same.

In 1666 the courthouse was destroyed in the Great Fire of London. When it was rebuilt in 1673 one side of the building was left without a wall in an attempt to prevent the prisoners infecting other people with gaol fever (typhus) in the court.

In 1773 the wall was enclosed  to limit the effects of weather and probably also to deter spectators.

In 1774 the building was rebuilt by George Dance, the same person who was responsible for the rebuilding of Newgate Prison. In this rebuild a wall was built around the prison to prevent communication between the prisoners and the public. The passage between the Old Bailey and Newgate was enclosed by brick walls. A detailed description of this court room is provided in the Old Bailey history page. Damage caused by the Gordon Riots in 1780 was soon repaired though much of the furniture was destroyed.
View inside the court room c1809 - London Lives 1690-1800
This was the court room in which Mary, Uriah and Richard would have been tried. The court room and its furnishings were lavish, a sharp contrast to the accommodation for the prisoners in the basement when waiting to be escorted to the court. When the prisoner was in the dock a mirror was positioned reflecting daylight on to the face of the accused. There was limited seating for spectators in the court for those prepared to pay to watch the proceedings. It must have been a daunting experience for the prisoners in the dock as to most of them this would have been an alien environment which was very different from the cells in which they had been kept before the trial and to which many would return.

A second court room was built in 1824 followed by two additional court rooms over the next twenty years.

In 1877 there was a fire in the building forcing the City of London to start making plans to replace the courthouse. The decision was made to demolish the courthouse and the prison in order to build a new courthouse on the site. The new courthouse was opened in 1907. This building was damaged during bombing raids in 1941 requiring rebuilding. An extension was added in 1972.

London Lives 1690-1800 also has a detailed article about the Old Bailey Proceedings
This website also has articles on the courts,
the criminal trial in the eighteenth century,
and punishment in Criminal Justice section of the website.

Old Bailey Online also has a section on Crime, Justice and Punishment with a variety of useful articles.

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