WCIT LGBTQ+ Social Group at the Old Bailey – 16 February 2023

On Thursday 16 February, a group from the WCIT LGBTQ+ Social Group were privileged to join Aldermanic Sheriff Alastair King for a private tour around the historic Old Bailey.

The Central Criminal Court, as it currently stands, dates from 1902 with a modern extension in 1972. However, the history dates back so much further, tracing its roots back to the first mention in the late 1500s.

The building today stands on the site of the old Newgate Gaol, and still features some of the medieval city wall.

As February is LGBT History month, the Old Bailey was a unique tour for the group who were able to reflect on the history of LGBT persecution in the UK, most notably the trial of Oscar Wilde in 1895.

Sheriff King added his own unique views and perspective on the events to which the Old Bailey, and specifically Courtroom one, had born witness. As we moved between courtrooms we were able to see how social, and criminal, influence had changed the design and layout of the courts. Whereas previously the defendant was in an almost open space, the more modern design ensures the defendants – up to nine at a time – are secured and the witness protected.

As we moved into the bowels of the Court building we had the opportunity to see the cells and walk up the steps into the dock. Turning the decend the stairs, we were reminded of the number of people who had walked that same route knowing that their freedom had been just been removed.

Sheriff King’s knowledgeable, and entertaining, accounts of the complex, kept the group enthralled for over 90 minutes, before we retired to the private rooms held by the Sheriffs of London. Here, we were able to discuss various current events that the courts will be party to and, indeed, the upcoming events of the Sheriffs’ year.

The Sheriffs still play a major role in the running of the Old Bailey, from a ceremonial influence, through to feeding the judges four days a week. We learnt that this used to be done by the families of the accused, but apparently that led to a few issues over the quality – and lethality – of the food!

Following the tour, we popped across the road for a few drinks and to start planning our next adventure!