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Tuesday  23rd July 2019

Tuesday 23rd July 2019

A tour of the Grand Hall and Courts in the Central Criminal Courts followed by Supper in the Judges Dining Room

by Peter Green (Framework Knitters)

Late afternoon, 29th January 2016. Liz and I experienced the wonder of the Old Bailey courtesy of
a charity auction ‘Tea with Sheriff’ prize courtesy of Phoenix and Firebird vice-presidents Christine
and Stephen Rigden. Over the last year, Liz and I have had the pleasure of leading groups small
and large around this amazing building and I always recall our initial awe as we toured the building
for the first time.


Therefore it was with much pleasure that we were able to host a group of 49 Firebirds and Phoenix
Past Masters for a tour and supper on July 23rd 2019. The City of London is host to many fabulous
buildings, but for me the Old Bailey is particularly special, due in part to being a working building
and the contradiction of amazing architecture with horrific criminal trials.


We have been on both the ‘giving and receiving’ end of numerous Old Bailey tours, and each
‘guide’ tells the story from a different perspective so there is always something new to learn. Our
predecessor, Neil Redcliffe, was a Charles Dickens fan so brought to life some of these novels with
stories from the Old Bailey and Newgate prison. Without a literary bone in our bodies, Liz and I took
a different route by recounting some of the idiosyncrasies of past cases (some of which may even
have been true!) and explaining a little about the current judicial process from trials to rehabilitation.
And no tour would be complete without background on the architecture and artwork. So we had
some homework to do before our early tours. In 1898 the land was purchased by the City of London
Corporation and an architectural competition ensued. Six architects submitted plans with no
restriction but requiring “impressiveness and dignity without excessive ornamentation”. Edward
Mountford’s design was selected although, as an unbiased observer, only the late Victorians could
consider the Grand Hall ‘understated’.


The ‘wow factor’ of walking up the main staircase into the Grand Hall never diminished during our
year at the Old Bailey and it was always a great pleasure watching faces on rounding the first flight
of stairs (having first told the story of Edward VII who, for the opening of the new building in 1907,
had a special lift installed, since “the King doesn’t do stairs” – and then proceeded to stride up the
staircase to the bemusement of all).


During evening visits it is easy to forget the role of the building as the senior criminal court in the
country. The trip to the cells is a stark reminder, and of my surprises during our year was the impact
on Liz of learning about the judicial system and in particular the challenges of prisoner rehabilitation.
The events of the last few days at Fishmongers’ Hall is a stark reminder of the human cost of any
failure in the system. We met several amazing charities such as Working Chance, and companies
such as Timpson’s that help to rehabilitate and reintegrate ex-offenders into society – surely the best
outcome for all. And other charities such as Leadership Through Sport and Business that focus on
creating aspiration and opportunity for youngsters who would not typically be exposed to potential
careers in professional services.

The committee agreed for a charitable donation to be included in the ticket price since we did not
have to pay for the venue hire (or tour guides!). Combined with two extremely generous personal
donation, the evening raised £1,000 for the Sheriffs’ and Recorder’s Fund. Thanks to all those who
joined us.

Now our year at Old Bailey has drawn to a close, we can look back on so many happy occasions.
Our evening with fellow Firebirds was clearly one of these – good food and fine wine, but more
importantly the conviviality of our year group. And although Liz and I are now members of a second
year group, we will always be Phoenix and Firebirds at heart!

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