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Many months in the planning and making, our co-productions The Petty Sessions and the Coroner’s Inquest have come and gone without a hitch. Okay, just the one, when our special effects smoke set off the alarm for a little while. But that was it. The place was packed, and our talented cast from Twisted Events Presents were amazing. The material was researched by academics from the University of Hertfordshire, led by Professors Tim Hitchcock and Owen Davies with Louise Falcini and then sympathetically scripted by Janet Rawson and Stephanie Grainger. Production, Lighting and Special Effects by Ben Cooper. Inspired court-room drama. For some background on why many lower court sessions were held in pubs during the 18C and 19C, please see our previous post.

A big thank-you to the staff of The George in the Strand who supported us superbly and did sterling work to keep our boisterous audience fed and watered

Here are some pictures – all by Patrick Loftus.

The Petty Sessions

Great atmosphere: smoke-alarm inducing, in fact.

The Petty Sessions.

These loaves are under-weight. But are they also adulterated?

The Petty Sessions

The Petty Sessions.

Joseph Powell, notorious con-man, is no measure for our magistrate.

The Coroner's Inquest

The Coroner

The Coroner's Inquest

The master of the house values his own opinion and voice!

The Coroner's Inquest

Show some respect!

The Coroner's Inquest

Was it poison? Was it deliberate?

The Coroner's Inquest

The Coroner's Inquest

Next stop, Newgate, the Old Bailey and possibly the hangman.

Coroner's Inquest.

Our talented cast: Albert Welling, Kali Peacock, Paul Anthoney, Nerine Skinner, Janet Rawson.

University of Hertfordshire, Twisted Events Presents.

Please check our web site frequently for other fabulous London history events.

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A guest post by Wendy Wallace.

old bailey

The 20 tonne gilded statue of Justice by F.W. Pomeroy.

On a bitterly cold March evening, a group of London Historians had the opportunity to look around the Old Bailey – London’s most famous and historic criminal court.

There’s been a court on the site since the 1500s and much of the pomp and gravitas attached to this venerable institution survives. Dressed in an elaborate lace bib over a specially tailored suit, a black rosette hanging down from the collar at the back (a wig guard, for catching the powder from the syrup someone in his position would traditionally have worn) our guide and host had a title as elaborate as his garb.

Charles Henty, Secondary of London and Under Sheriff, High Bailiff of Southwark, is an ex-military man who’s been running the Bailey for the last eight years. Disarmingly, when asked how long it took him to master the job, he replied that he is still learning.

And it is quite a job. The Bailey contains 18 courts and what the Secondary’s talk made clear above all else is that it’s a business. Each court costs around £80-100 per minute to operate and keeping courts running, with defendants, counsel, judges, press, relatives and public all in the right place at the right time, is a mighty exercise in logistics and security.

The Bailey – so known for the street on which it sits, is in its current incarnation an architectural mix, with the old building opened by Edward V11 in 1907 and the ‘new’ extension built in the 1970s. Its courtrooms and steps are familiar to all of us through television dramas and news programmes; trials ranging from the Kray twins to that of Yorkshire Ripper Peter Sutcliffe, and the quashing of the convictions of the Guilford Four, have occurred here.

In the sombre grandeur of court number one with its scarred wooden desks, curtained witness box, wide dock and under a dome through which pours what looks like natural light but is in fact electric light, Secondary, as he is addressed, gave a witty and passionate talk about an institution which lies at the heart of British justice. He expressed his concern over the ever-younger ages of defendants. Eleven and twelve year old children have in recent years appeared in this dock charged with murder, and rape.

Outside the main courts, briefs congregate in a magnificent marbled hall, its domed ceilings decorated with painted allegories of justice by the artist Gerald Moira. (Moira slipped in his own face in to a couple of these, showing himself as a artist in one and, in his painting of the Blitz, a tea-drinking crone.)

High on a wall in the new building, an embedded shard of glass has been allowed to remain; it’s a tiny and telling reminder of the IRA bomb that partially destroyed the building in 1973.

Down two or three storeys, in the bowels of the building, carpet gives way to quarry tiles. Here the walls are not Carrera marble but the most utilitarian painted brick. Here, in small cells, prisoners are held on their way in to and out of court.

And beyond this holding area, outside the building, in the most sombre and spine-chilling aspect of the visit, Secondary walked us by torchlight down Dead Man’s Walk – a series of brick doorways of ever decreasing size through which condemned prisoners once made their lonely way to the gallows.

The Old Bailey seems to indicate in its architecture the range of social positions, from the most exalted to the lowliest. One can’t help wondering how many of the defendants down the ages – if they’d had the advantages of those who run the system – would never have been ended up in the dock.

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Wendy Wallace is an author and journalist, whose first novel – The Painted Bridge – was published in 2012.

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Our visit was also covered by London Historians member, the writer Vic Keegan here.

Here’s a video clip showing interiors of the Old Bailey and featuring Charles Henty, Esq – Secondary of London and Under Sheriff, High Bailiff of Southwark.

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Whereas offences against property have of late increased in and near the metropolis; and the local establishments of nightly watch and nightly police have been found inadequate to the prevention and detection of crime, by reason of the frequent unfitness of the individuals employed, the insufficiency of their number, the limited sphere of their authority, and their want of connection and co-operation with each other: And whereas it is expedient to substitute a new and more efficient system of police in lieu of such establishments of nightly watch and nightly police, within the limits herein-after mentioned, and to constitute an office of police, which, acting under the immediate authority of one of his Majesty’s principal secretaries of state, shall direct and control the whole of such new system of police within those limits.

So goes the preamble of the Metropolitan Police Act of 19 June 1829, which established the organisation we know today. As every child should know, Sir Robert Peel was the moving force behind the Act. The Met was actually founded and operational a few months later on 29 September. Its first two commissioners were Sir Charles Rowan and Richard Mayne. The City of London was excluded from these arrangements, running their own force, as they do to this day.

Much is made – rightly – of the so-called Peelian principles, although there is no evidence that he himself devised them:

  1. The basic mission for which the police exist is to prevent crime and disorder.
  2. The ability of the police to perform their duties is dependent upon the public approval of police actions.
  3. Police must secure the willing co-operation of the public in voluntary observation of the law to be able to secure and maintain the respect of the public.
  4. The degree of co-operation of the public that can be secured diminishes proportionately to the necessity of the use of physical force.
  5. Police seek and preserve public favour not by catering to public opinion, but by constantly demonstrating absolute impartial service to the law.
  6. Police use physical force to the extent necessary to secure observance of the law or to restore order only when the exercise of persuasion, advice, and warning is found to be insufficient.
  7. Police, at all times, should maintain a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and the public are the police; the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent upon every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.
  8. Police should always direct their action strictly towards their functions, and never appear to usurp the powers of the judiciary.
  9. The test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with it
It is a shame that they seem unfamiliar to today’s politicians and police commissioners.

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