On the top of the Central Criminal Court (commonly known as the “Old Bailey”) stands a statue of Justice, who carries the balance of justice in one hand and the sword of retribution in the other. The area outside the “Old Bailey” is one of London’s most haunted. Over the years, there have been many reports of ghostly apparitions, and strange, unexplained noises that have been heard, especially at night.
The reason for all this supernatural activity is that the infamous Newgate Prison once stood on this side. Although the Prison, which stood here from the12th Century until1902, underwent changes and reforms during its lifetime, it always maintained its reputation for being a place of horror, misery and death. The Prison features in the works of Dickens and Defoe, amongst others. Newgate Prison was associated with Hell.
Conditions inside the Prison were notoriously bad in many ways, leading to the death of many inmates. There was violence, both from other prisoners and from keepers, and also torture – prisoners who would not enter a plea or refused to confess were often “pressed” (sometimes to death) by having heavy weights placed on their bodies until they submitted. Prisoners also often had to suffer hunger and in 1537, 10 Catholic monks from Charterhouse were left chained up to starve to death – and endure cramped, dark and unsanitary conditions.
The filth, contaminated drinking water and lack of ventilation all contributed to the spread of diseases, including the often-deadly “goal fever”. which was a form of typhoid. The stench of the Prison was so revolting and strong, at one time, that it could be smelt throughout the neighborhood. The walls of the Prison were washed down with vinegar, as were prisoners who were due to go to court, in order to try to combat the awful smell and prevent infection.
The last public hanging outside Newgate took place in 1868; after this time, executions continued to take place inside the Prison walls, until 1902, when Newgate Prison was demolished.
The Central Criminal Court was then built on the side of the Prison, using many of the original “deathlike” stones from the Prison itself. The ground floor walls are the original stones.