Master Avoids Old Bailey Dock

Colin Reese QC, Master of the Worshipful Company of Bakers, narrowly avoided being put into the dock in the infamous Court Number One at the Old Bailey on the evening of April 14, 2016. The very dock where individuals such as Dr Crippen and the Yorkshire Ripper have stood and been sentenced in the past.

The Master and Mistress Baker led a Livery Society party of 35 liveryman and their guests on a private tour of Central Criminal Court, one of the City’s most iconic buildings which is owned and run by the City of London Corporation.

Most are familiar with the famous facade but few are privileged to see inside. After a brief welcome, to what he described as his workplace, Second Warden HH Judge Stephen Kramer who helped arrange the tour, introduced the man who runs the Old Bailey Charles Henty. His official title is The Secondary of London, Under Sheriff and High Bailiff of Southwark. He says the role is more akin to being its managing director praising the dedication and efficiency of his team.

With the party seated in the Edwardian grandeur of Court Number One, the Master and Deputy Master Paul Heygate on the bench reserved for evidence presented during a trial, Charles gave a fascinating and at times gruesome account of the history of the Bailey explaining how the present building stands on the site of the old Newgate Prison which itself replaced the original Roman west gate into the City to the present day.

One, however, could understand why former Liberal leader Jeremy Thorpe who was acquitted of conspiracy to murder in 1979 took a cushion into court with him – the benches are unforgiving! Today there are 18 courts a number of which are much more modern than Court Number One and user-friendly for all concerned.

During the following tour which included the Great Hall (see picture above) with its series of axioms, some of biblical reference running around its entirety he explained how the figure of Justice on the dome above weighs 22 tons and how it is incredible inside but that it’s only open to him and building manager who go up once a year to check it’s OK.

Many will remember back in 1973 the Provisional IRA exploding a car bomb in the street outside the court, and Charles pointed out how a shard of glass embedded in the wall at the top of the main stairs has been preserved as reminder.

As an appreciation of the Livery Society’s thanks The Master presented the Secondary with a donation to the Sheriffs’ & Recorder’s Fund for ex-offenders. On receiving the cheque the party was told they were “Free to go” rather than the refrain “Take him, or less frequently her,  down” which many, including the Kray Twins, Lord Haw-Haw and have heard from the bench while standing the fabled Old Bailey Docks.

Those free to go were treated to an excellent three course supper and convivial conversation at a nearby Bistro organised by Livery Society Chairman Max Elvidge.