Bow Street Magistrates Court – London – May 2018

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mockney reject

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The History

Bow Street is a thoroughfare in Covent Garden, Westminster, London. It connects Long Acre, Russell Street and Wellington Street, and is part of a route from St Giles to Waterloo Bridge.

The street was developed in 1633 by Francis Russell, 4th Earl of Bedford for residential purposes. A number of notable people lived here in the 17th and 18th centuries, including Oliver Cromwell and Robert Harley the 1st Earl of Oxford. In the 18th century, the street declined as a place of residence following the establishment of the Royal Opera House and the nearby Covent Garden Theatre which led to a reputation for prostitution during the late-17th and 18th centuries.

Bow Street has a strong connection with the law; the Bow Street Runners, an early voluntary police force, was established here by Henry Fielding in 1750, and the Metropolitan Police Service operated a station house from 1832, which led to the construction of the Bow Street Magistrates' Court.

Bow Street Magistrates' Court became the most famous magistrates' court in England in the latter part of its 266-year existence, on the specialisation of the Old Bailey to a Crown Court. It occupied various buildings on Bow Street in Central London immediately north-west of Covent Garden. Its modern-day equivalent is a set of four courts: Westminster Magistrates' Court, Camberwell Green Magistrates Court, Highbury Corner Magistrates' Court and City of London Magistrates' Court.

The first court at Bow Street was established in 1740, when Colonel Sir Thomas de Veil, a Westminster justice, sat as a magistrate in his home at Number 4. De Veil was succeeded by novelist and playwright Henry Fielding in 1747. He was appointed a magistrate for the City of Westminster in 1748, at a time when the problem of gin consumption and resultant crime was at its height. There were eight licensed premises in the street and Fielding reported that every fourth house in Covent Garden was a gin shop. In 1749, as a response to the call to find an effective means to tackle the increasing crime and disorder, Fielding brought together eight reliable constables, known as "Mr Fielding's People”, who soon gained a reputation for honesty and efficiency in their pursuit of criminals. The constables came to be known as the Bow Street Runners. Fielding's blind half-brother, Sir John Fielding (known as the "Blind Beak of Bow Street"), succeeded his brother as magistrate in 1754 and refined the patrol into the first truly effective police force for the capital. The early 19th century saw a dramatic increase in number and scope of the police based at Bow Street with the 1805 formation of the Bow Street Horse Patrol, which covered to the edge of London and was the first uniformed police unit in Britain, and in 1821 the Dismounted Horse Patrol which covered suburban areas.

When the Metropolitan Police Service was established in 1829, a station house was sited at numbers 25 and 27. In 1876 the Duke of Bedford let a new site on the eastern side of Bow Street to the Commissioners of HM Works and Public Buildings for an annual rent of £100. Work began in 1878 and was completed in 1881—the date of 1879 in the stonework above the door of the present building is the date on which it had been hoped that work would finish.

In its later years, the court housed the office of the Senior District Judge (Magistrates' Courts), who heard high-profile matters, such as extradition cases or those involving eminent public figures.

In 2004, the court was put up for sale by its joint owners, the Greater London Magistrates' Courts Authority and the Metropolitan Police Authority; the site facing the Royal Opera House was bought by property developer Gerry Barrett for the stated purpose to convert it to a boutique hotel in July 2005,and the court closed its doors for the last time on 14 July 2006; its remaining cases moved to Horseferry Road Magistrates' Court which itself closed and in general terms moved to the old Marylebone Court House and renamed to Westminster Magistrates' Court. The conversion into a hotel never materialized and it was sold to Austrian developers in 2008 who intend to retain the prison cells and establish a World Police Museum. Work finally started on site in April 2015, following a long procurement process and discussions with Westminster Borough Council regarding planning permission and design approval.

Many famous accused people have passed through Bow Street, often before committal (whether voluntary or in view of the circumstances) to be tried in the "Old Bailey" (Central Criminal Court) or at Crown Court centres, or when being held on extradition or terrorism charges. These include:

Giacomo Casanova
Roger Casement
Dr Crippen
Abu Hamza al-Masri
William Joyce
The Kray twins
Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst
General Pinochet
John Cyril Porte
Oscar Wilde

Another interesting Bow Street fact :-

The reason why Bow Street had white lamps in place of the traditional blue POLICE lanterns was because, when the blue ones were introduced in 1861 to differentiate police stations from their neighbours, Queen Victoria found the one at Bow Street distressing. The colour matched the room in which her beloved Prince Albert had passed away. She was therefore reminded of this terrible event whenever she visited the nearby Opera House. After the white lamps were installed at Bow Street that police station became famous for this obvious distinction against its fellow London counterparts.

The Explore

After spotting Mrwhites lead on 28 I decided that this was a bit of me and considered venturing into London to have a look.

Luckily I have a few friends that work in the city and asked one who works nearby if she could have a wander and send me a few pics. Once the pics came through I knew I had to have a look.

Once I’d established it was located near Covent Garden and not actually in Bow I was on my way.

Ok so maybe I should have realised when checking, that it was directly opposite the famous Royal Opera house and that maybe a mid-week visit wasn’t the best option. However it did give me time to have a good wander around the place.

With cameras from the Royal opera house covering the front, and cameras and tremor sensors on the back fence things didn’t look good. The only other potential way in was surrounded by a large group of homeless people all settling down for the night. How annoying that these people have to sleep on the streets when there is a perfectly decent empty building they could sleep in.

Anyways I gave up and went home.

A few nights later I headed back determined to get in. Luckily the homeless crowd hadn’t set up for the night yet and I was in.

The place is mid strip and I had no idea what I would find. It’s an odd one to navigate your way around and its essentially three separate buildings linked by the basement tunnels that I can only assume was the way the prisoners were moved from the court to the police station and vice versa.

Just the outside of the building is enough to make a visit worthwhile, is a large corner plot and in a way is a very menacing yet stunning building






Once inside there was so much to see

Here’s some random inside stuff, corridors, stairs etc











I eventually found the courts. Sadly in a much stripped state with only court 1 having anything worth photographing left in it. However the lights where all removed and it had no temporary lighting so I did the best I could in here. The tiles on the walls in here are outstanding and I can imagine in its day couples with the wooden cladding the courts must have been a real grand affair.




One thing I noted whilst walking around was that they seem to be saving everything they have removed and labelling it all up, I can on assume it’s so once they have made the building good they can refit it all again. Various rooms are being used for storage and some amazing stuff has been kept










Eventually I made my way to the roof, from here you could see some of the demo/restoration work going on as well as a fantastic view of the opera house.






As I have already stated I had to navigate by the basement which in itself was nice and showed signs of the age of the building.





Ok so I guess I’ve bored you enough now and you’re wondering about cells……
Well as I’m sure you can see from the roof pics the cells have been demolished



I’ll admit my heart sunk a little here, any thoughts of maybe sitting in a cell that once housed one of the names I listed above or even more personal for me, my much missed Uncle Davey, disappeared.

That was until I turned into another corridor and saw this


Fuck Fuck and Fuck yes!

A row of 10 lovely lovely cells. A true take your breath away moment, these are awesome and the best set of cells I have ever seen. The cells are in pairs and can be classed as left and right handed if you like. With a larger “family” lol cell at the end of the corridor. For a glazed brick fan this was where it was it. The corridors, the cells, all perfect glazed brick porn.






At the end of the corridor I found more glazed bricks in the form of a set of stairs leading up to the next floor, so up I headed



Turning out of the stairwell I almost had a meltdown as I saw a second set of 8 sells, similar to the floor below but with a different style doors.





Hope you enjoyed the report and pictures, if you get time check this one out

Hugh Jorgan

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Aberdeen, Scotland
Superb post. Your photographs certainly shows us a piece of history as you've done with the write-up. The basement is the oldest part of the building. Looking at the cells I wonder who occupied them before being tried.


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Rawdon Leeds
Tunnels connecting the Court Buildings with the adjacent Police Station are/were the norm with most, if not all, Victorian and later Court buildings. As well as keeping the accused away from the mob, it drastically reduced the escape risk.