Place in the narrative
The Old Bailey features in Oliver Twist as where Fagin is condemned to death. Being convicted of his crimes in the courtroom, Fagin spends his last hours till his hanging in Newgate Prison which Dickens describes vividly. Chapter 52 is dedicated to Fagin's last days until he hanging. The Old Bailey is also referred to earlier in the book when Oliver is first taken in by Fagin and is regaled on the subject of ingratitude. Fagin lectures Oliver on the evils of ingratitude and tells him about a similar young boy who had been hung at the Old Bailey for his actions.
‘The court was paved, from floor to roof, with human faces. Inquisitive and eager eyes peered from every inch of space. From the rail before the dock, away into the sharpest angle of the smallest corner in the galleries, all looks were fixed upon one man – Fagin. Before him and behind: above, below, on the right and on the left: he seemed to stand surrounded by a firmament, all bright with gleaming eyes.’
‘Mr Fagin laid great stress on the fact of his having taken Oliver in, and cherished him, when, without his timely aid, he might have perished with hunger; and he related the dismal and affecting history of a young lad whom, in his philanthropy, he had succoured under parallel circumstances, but who, proving unworthy of his confidence and evincing a desire to communicate with the police, had unfortunately come to be hanged at the Old Bailey one morning…Mr Fagin concluded by drawing a rather disagreeable picture of the discomforts of hanging; and, with great friendliness and politeness of manner, expressed his anxious hopes that he might never be obliged to submit Oliver Twist to that unpleasant operation.’
‘As it came on very dark, he began to think of all the men he had known who had died on the scaffold; some of them through his means. They rose up, in such quick succession, that he could hardly count them. He had seen some of them die, - and had joked too, because they died with prayers upon their lips. With what a rattling noise the drop went down; and how suddenly they changed, from strong and vigorous men to dangling heaps of clothes!’
‘Those dreadful walls of Newgate, which have hidden so much misery and such unspeakable anguish, not only from the eyes, but, too often, and too long, from the thoughts, of men, never held so dread a spectacle as they passed, and wondered what the man was doing who was to be hanged tomorrow, would have slept but ill that night, if they could have seen him.’
‘A great multitude had already assembled; the windows were filled with people, smoking and playing cards to beguile the time; the crowd were pushing, quarrelling, joking. Everything told of life and animation, but one dark cluster of objects in the centre of all – the black stage, the cross beam, the rope and all the hideous apparatus of death.’
The Old Bailey
The Old Bailey, also known as the Central Criminal Court, is located is the western part of the City of London and is where many famous trials have taken place in the course of history. The 'Old Bailey' is named after the street where it is situated and follows the line of the old wall or 'bailey' of the City of London. At the time Dickens was alive, the courtroom was adjoined with Newgate Prison which is where Fagin spends his last hours and meant that prisoners could be easily brought to trial. It is said that Fagin’s trial was based on the trial of Ikey Solomon, which caused a considerable furore in the newspapers at the time when Dickens was writing. It also has strong similarities with Fagin's, despite the fact he wasn’t hung. When Dickens was writing, hangings were a popular public spectacle with unruly crowds gathering to watch prisoners hanged and throwing stones at the prisoner.
What I wrote in London
This was our last stop on the locations tour. All of the locations are surprisingly close to one another so it was amazing to walk from the heart of Smithfield and find yourself at the base of the Old Bailey. The name of the Old Bailey originates from the name of a wall 'bailey' so the real name is Central Criminal Court. At the time Dickens wrote, it was adjoined to the Newgate Prison which is long demolished but there is a plaque on the side of the court building that shows where it would have been. The statue on top towers from miles around – on a level with St Pauls and the newest addition to the London skyline, the Shard. This is where Fagin is hung and though I didn't see inside the building, the outside was very ominous and made me feel small in the eyes of the law. While we were here, the sunlight was particularly dramatic so the shaft of light shone over the head of the statue and shone off it. It was a very imposing building and I can't imagine what Fagin felt, going to be hung. In the centre of the city, it may be easily missed and so no one may not notice it's here but it's an interesting and important landmark to see.
This was our last stop on our day of locations. Coming from Smithfield, we were surprised how quickly you could see the Statue of Justice dominating the sky. Standing at the base on the 'Old Bailey' or Central Criminal Court, it is very imposing dark grey stone building spanning the entire length of two corners of the street. The Central Criminal Court is stationed on one corner of a busy crossroads opposite the St Sepulchre without Newgate which houses the bell they used to ring when a hanging was going to take place. There is no sign of Newgate Prison now as it was demolished in 1777 but a plaque tells the story of where it was. Looking at the buildings from the other side of the road, the full scale hits you and I'm not surprised Fagin used it as a caution for Oliver. However ending there himself wasn't very clever. I really can't get my head around what Fagin must of thought but I could imagine the courtroom he was tried in. Having not seen inside I would like to go back and see the court room that is in use today. The main thing you can see is the Statue of Justice which shines over everything with it's gold decoration. The Statue of Justice represents the law with a sword in one hand and scales in the other and sums up the building and what it stands for.