Welcome to our Newgate and the Old Bailey history section. You can skip to subsequent pages using the links below or simply continue reading to start at the beginning.
NEWGATE AND THE OLD BAILEY.
The visible glory of Newgate and the Old Bailey has departed. House breakers pulled down the frowning old prison of Newgate in 1904 with picks and crowbars, and the Old Bailey has now become new.
Only St. Sepulchre's Church remains, on the steps of which and in the churchyard spaces hundreds of sightseers used to sleep on the night before a public execution. Yet about the spot there still hangs a mean and tainted but irresistible romance.
"The gaol was a vile place, in which most kinds of debauchery and villainy were practised, and where dire diseases were bred that came into the court with the prisoners and sometimes rushed straight from the dock at my Lord Chief Justice himself and pulled him off the bench."
These words make a sufficiently just epitaph for the prison and the court, the one the complement of the other, as they once were. They are from the account of Charles Darnay's trial in "A Tale of Two Cities," and it is noteworthy that Dickens, although he felt and loathed the horror of the two places, yet found their dramatic qualities too strong for him. If it were not for Dickens many of us would not know much about them.
As it is, what he did for the Old Bailey in one memorable scene he did for Newgate in three. There is the burning of Newgate in "Barnaby Rudge", Fagin in the condemned cell in "Oliver Twist" and, better than either, because more restrained, the visit of Pip and Mr. Wemmick to the condemned prisoner in "Great Expectations".
The man in the green frock coat with "eyes that went wandering about when he tried to fix them" who "thought he should be out of this on Monday," and left Mr. Wemmick two tumbler pigeons in lieu of a mourning ring, is as good as anything in the Fleet in "Pickwick" or the Marshalsea in "Little Dorrit."