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

Old Baily

Old Bailey

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’

Barrister's Clerks - Loitering with Intent

Barrister’s Clerks – Loitering with Intent

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.




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About scribblingadvocate

Born in Lancashire, Law degree from Sheffield University and MA in Creative Writing from Exeter. A barrister for twenty five years, who appeared in the Crown Courts in and around London. When I retired we moved to live in Devon, first on Dartmoor, more recently overlooking the Exe Estuary. After twenty years I still feel an exile from London. Married, no children but own an affable Springer Spaniel. I love reading, walking and travel. I completed an MA in Creative Writing at Exeter University and have written three books, Crucial Evidence, Reluctant Consent and Legal Privilege, all set in London. You can email me

One response to “The Magpie and Stump and Barristers’ Clerks”

  1. 5sah law says :

    Looks like very distinctive with genteelly dressed.Nice post.

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