Tag Archive | Charles Dickens

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.

 

 

 

Middle Temple Lane London

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.

Gate to Middle Temple

Gate to Middle Temple

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.

Thresher & Glenny
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. Fountain Court
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.

Work in Progress

I was asked to do this by Catherine Lumb. I think it’s an interesting excercise to make you think about your writing.

What is the title of the book/WIP?

The book is called Crucial Evidence. Apart from WIP it’s had about five titles including ‘Defending the Innocent.’ and ‘Missing Alibi’

Where did the idea come from?

I know that defending an innocent man is the hardest thing a barrister can do. I expanded on that theme so that my main character goes to unusal lengths to ensure her client gets a fair trial.

What Genre is your WIP.

It’s a crime novel, legal drama.

Which actors would you chose to play your characters in a movie rendition.

I am tempted to say Maxine Peake as she plays a very similar character in Silk, but prehaps she should play my police officer, Alexis Seymour, and Anne Marie Duff could play Cassie Hardman, my barrister, but perhaps she’s too attractive for Cassie.

What is your one sentence synopsis of your WIP

Female barrister Cassie Hardman, sure her client is innocent of murder, searches for a crucial witness, and with Police woman, Alexis Seymour, finds the witness and then identifies the real killer.

Is your WIP published or represented?

I have sent the book to a number of Literary Agents without any sucess, but this year the consulting editor of a major publishing house asked to read the whole book. She didn’t want to take it any further after reading the novel, but she made some suggestions about the book and I am now redrafting it with those in mind with the intention of resubmitting it again.

How long did it take to write it?

About three years so far. I keep on rewriting it when I see flaws or I’ve had comments about it from Literary Agents, which make sense to me.

What other books within your genre would you compare it with.

‘Presumed Innocent’ by Scott Turow, the outstanding example of  a legal thriller, and John Grisham’s ‘A Time to Kill.’

Which authors inspired you to write this WIP

Charles Dickens. ‘Bleak House’ is a great legal drama with strong identifiable characters.  You can find the same types in the legal profession today.

Tell us anything else that might pique our interest in this project?

If you have ever asked yourself how can a barrister represent a person they believe is guilty, you will find the answer.