The Magpie and Stump and Barristers’ Clerks
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.