The photograph shows the Old Bailey from the north and the Edwardian entrance to the Central Criminal Court is the archway on the left of the picture. Facing it is a large white build which is on the site of a public house
called The Magpie and Stump. I think there is still a pub there tucked into the modern office building but not as I remember it.
There has been a Pub here, at the corner of Bishops Court, for over 300 years. When Newgate Prison stood opposite, where the Central Criminal Court is now, and public executions took place outside it, the upper rooms of the Pub, overlooking the street and the gallows below, were rented out to wealthy people, who wanted to watch the public executions.
While the lower classes were crammed into the street below, the rich were able to get a good view of the proceedings, while enjoying a “hanging breakfast” for a cost of 10 pounds or more. They must have been very rich-ten pounds seems a lot for breakfast even now, but I suppose they had steak, lamb chops, devilled kidneys and as much ale and porter as they could drink.
When the crowd of spectators below stampeded on one occasion, the Pub acted as a temporary hospital for many of the injured. The landlord is said to have collected several cartloads of discarded items of clothing from the street after the tragedy.
The Pub also supplied condemned prisoners with their very last pint of ale. The ale was taken across the road to the prisoners, in their condemned cells, on the morning of their executions. The last hanging took place there in 1868.
In 1718 it was described as being the hangout of ‘thieves, thieftakers and turnkeys, when I began my pupillage it was a meeting place for lawyers, police officers and journalists. Not much had changed then ! The interior was very theatrical , all red plush and brass fittings, The seats were arranged in booths so that conversations could be conducted in private and I suspect many a secret was spilled in those dark recesses.
Another group associated with the lawyers who worked in the Court were their clerks. Charles Dickens described one of a group of clerks at the Magpie and Stump as ‘a young man with a whisker, a squint, and an open shirt collar (dirty)’ putting emphasis on their shabby gentility which, he thought, was never quite overcome. Newspapers of the time supposed them ‘dapper’ and used phrases like ‘spruce young lawyer’s clerk’ or a barrister’s clerk ‘genteelly dressed’
I took this photograph of two clerks I saw at the top of Middle Temple Lane, no doubt sharing gossip about their senior clerk and the barristers for whom they work. They are still very distinctive when you see them scampering about The Temple or up and down Chancery Lane. Now of course some of them are women and they have mobile phones.
One of my favourite books is Bleak House by Charles Dickens. Indeed it was the first book on the reading list when I began to study law at the University of Sheffield. In it Esther Summerson describes going into Old Square Lincoln’s Inn ‘we passed into sudden quietude under an old gateway, and drove on through a silent square..’ and in The Mystery of Edwin Drood the change as one passes into the Inns of Court in this case Staple Inn is evoked in these words – ‘It is one of those nooks the turning into of which out of the clashing street imparts to the relieved pedestrian the sensation of having put cotton in his ears and velvet on the soles of his boots.’
I’m not sure it is so quiet these days but walking into Middle Temple towards Fountain Court one does leave much of the bustle of modern London at the entrance. Today the gateway under the sign of the Knights Templars is guarded by a modern barrier to prevent any entry by motor vehicles. It does look rather incongruous.
There is a small shop at the entrance that is now the premises of Thresher and Glenny Tailors and Outfitters for three hundred years, the blackboard proclaims along with the boast that they were the inventors of the Trench Coat and through the window I could see a khaki coloured coat looking rather battered as if it had lived through two world wars, as indeed it may have.
As I walked down Middle Temple Lane where my imaginary Burke Court is set squeezed in between other sets of Chambers, rather like platform 9 and 3/4 at Kings Cross nothing has changed for two centuries, although I suspect it is rather cleaner than it was. I did see a noticeboard with posters warning about terrorist threats, thefts and events in Middle Temple Gardens; similar lunches may well have been enjoyed in the Garden, indeed the Inns were known for their conviviality, but City of London Police posters would not have been evident until recently.
In Fountain Court, where John Westlock woos Ruth Pinch in Martin Chuzzlewit, the fountain splashes into the round stone basin, the mulberries stain the ground around it and a young man eats his lunchtime sandwich from a Pret A Manger carrier bag.
I have described The Temple in the following passage taken from my novel, Crucial Evidence-
‘Cassie’s chambers were at 3 Burke Court, part of that area of London inhabited by lawyers for centuries and known as The Temple. Walking through the arch bearing the Pascal Lamb, was like time travelling; each time, she was stepping out of the tumult of the twenty-first century into the ordered calm of the eighteenth. She was reminded of her home town, where similar Georgian buildings surrounded the castle, built by John O’Gaunt, which remained a centre of law and punishment, judges and offenders at its heart. So unlike The Temple which turned its back on the bulk of the Royal Courts of Justice across the Strand, a row of the banks and sandwich shops providing a barricade to the noise of traffic and the bustle of pedestrians, and creating a sanctuary of narrow lanes and courtyards for its lawyer inhabitants.’
As I have remarked here the changes are ‘de minimis’ to quote a legal phrase.
Researching Fleet Street for my novel I was reminded about the advice to look above shop window level to see what the buildings really looked like. I was doing just that when I noticed the number of different type of signs that shops displayed. The American interlopers MacDonalds and Starbucks had bland fascia boards on their shop fronts – so did Sainsburys so we can’t just blame trans-Atlantic invaders. Not surprisingly the pubs and wine bars had more distinctive signs.
So I wrote the following in my second Cassie Hardman novel,
‘She noticed the sign above the Punch public house, a gold painted profile of the character holding his truncheon aloft.
Then she saw the three gold balls of a pawn brokers, next to a sign proclaiming they were pawnbrokers of distinction. She wondered how long there had been a need for them so close to the Temple and what the phrase ‘a pawnbrokers of distinction’ meant; did they only deal with people of distinction or only lend money against objects of distinction. Whichever it would rule her out.
In an optician’s window she was amused by a poster for spectacle frames by Lanvin; a hundred or so sketches of faces with little bits of colour, a green bow tie or purple earrings, but hardly any glasses.
They walked past what had once been the entrance to Sergeants Inn. Cassie glanced into the courtyard where there was a large green elephant. She pondered on what the animal was meant to represent or indeed why it was there at all.
Soon they were under the oval sign of El Vino’s wine bar. The painted glass, in addition to the name, had the words Spain, Portugal, France, Germany Wines. What no Australian, New Zealand or Chilean, she thought. She remembered her pupil mistress telling her that at one time women were not allowed into the wine bar unless accompanied by a man and then they had to sit in the rear of the premises.
As they drew level with the faded sign of the three squirrels outside Gosling’s Bank, she heard James’s voice as if it was coming through water, asking her something about accounts. She shook her head as if to shake out fluid from her ear. ‘Sorry, I was miles away. You were saying?’
Last night August 4th 2014, like many others I watched the broadcast from Westminster Abbey. We had switched off all our lights at 10pm and had a single candle glowing in the dark, as we commemorated the date and time a century ago when Britain plunged into World War I. My Grandfather was not killed during the war, but he died early from the injuries he received. He was gassed and never fully recovered from that, so that my Grandmother, a weaver, as many women were in Lancashire, continued to work after the war ended in 1918.
He died before my mother was married in 1939. Her brother Jack the child in the photograph was the one who walked her down the aisle to giver her away; my Grandmother would have walked alone. Although he knew he had one grandchild, Keith the eldest son of my Uncle Jack, he never knew about Roger, Keith’s brother nor myself or my younger brother Stewart. My Grandmother was a widow for over thirty years, dying when I was 26. Not for her the comfort of a shared life, shared memories and experiences into old age.
We, his grandchildren, never knew him and I don’t remember either my Grandmother or my Mother reminiscing about him. I don’t know which regiment he served with or what he did during the war. I know he loved horses and from time to time my mother said he would groom and harness the team of horses that drew the hearse in the small town of Haslingden Lancashire; black horses whose coats gleamed and who wore black ostrich plumes on their heads. He must have been interested in Art because I have a set of three books published by Odhams Press of Long Acre London in 1934 called The Worlds Greatest Paintings. My mother said they were an offer by one of the daily newspapers.
Of course, compared with too many, my family were lucky he did come back alive when so many didn’t. But the only way I can remember him is by this photograph; for me he will always be a handsome soldier with a pretty wife and young son.
The protagonist in my novel Crucial Evidence, Cassie Hardman walks from the Old Bailey to her chambers in Middle Temple Lane and as my novel is set in contemporary London I wanted to find out how much it had changed since the days when I took the same route. At the beginning of my career Fleet Street was the home of the newspapers. Here journalists and lawyers rubbed shoulders in the pubs and bars, although only males if El Vinos was your drinking hole of choice.
As you can see from the map along the street are some fascinating places redolent with history. I have already mentioned St Brides Church but not the Institute and Printing Library, which is attached to the church. Shoe Lane runs north and there is a library on the western side of that lane. Between Shoe Lane and Fetter Lane are a number of Courts, narrow lanes and squares of a type familiar to all who read Dickens. Dr Johnson’s House.a 300 year old town house nestles among these narrow lanes at 9 Gough Square (see http://www.drjohnsonshouse.org) On Fleet Street is the public house with which the Dr is associated ‘The Cheshire Cheese.’
On the same side of the road is the building that was occupied by the Express group of newspapers. The curve of black glass a contrast to the shop fronts next to it. It is difficult to tell what the building is used for now. I noticed a number of serviced offices being advertised. One of the old Inns of Court, Sergeants Inn has become a hotel. The photograph shows it with the ground floor hidden by the red London bus.
Some things remain the same, the signs outside the public houses, but there are now banks, coffee shops and the small stores the supermarkets have reinvented rather than the offices of newspapers. The Church on the right in the photograph of the map is St Dunstan’s in the West.
St Dunstan-in-the-West was a well-known landmark in previous centuries because of its magnificent clock. This dates from 1671, and was the first public clock in London to have a minute hand. The figures of the two giants strike the hours and quarters, and turn their heads. There are numerous literary references to the clock, including in Tom Brown’s Schooldays, the Vicar of Wakefield and a poem by William Cowper (1782):
When labour and when dullness, club in hand,
Like the two figures at St. Dunstan’s stand,
Beating alternately in measured time
The clockwork tintinnabulum of rhyme,
Exact and regular the sounds will be,
But such mere quarter-strokes are not for me.
The courtyard also contains statues of King Lud, the mythical sovereign, and his sons and Queen Elizabeth I, all of which originally stood in Ludgate. The statue of Queen Elizabeth I dates from 1586 and is the only one known to have been carved during her reign. Taken from the website http://www.stdunstansinthewest.org Here too there has been change as the church now caters to the Romanian community in the city.
El Vino’s was of course the inspiration for Pomeroys Wine Bar beloved of Rumpole in John Mortimer’s books.
One of the other changes I noticed was that the vehicles using the street were mainly the buses, taxis and the little white van. Private cars pushed out by the congestion charge no doubt. Parking was always a nightmare, very expensive and difficult to find a space.