Bow Street Magistrates' Court
Bow Street Magistrates' Court was the most famous magistrates' court in England for much of its existence, and was located in various buildings on Bow Street in central London close to Covent Garden throughout its history.
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, when he became a Justice of the Peace. 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 Patrole, which covered edge of London and was the first uniformed police unit in Britain, and in 1821 the Dismounted Horse Patrole 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 leased a 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; sale to Irish property developer Gerry Barrett for conversion into a boutique hotel was agreed in July 2005, and the court closed its doors for the last time on 14 July 2006, with the caseload moved to Horseferry Road Magistrates' Court, now renamed City of Westminster Magistrates' Court and which itself has now been closed, moved to the old Marylebone Court House and renamed simply Westminster Magistrates' Court. The conversion of the Bow Street Court into a hotel never materialized and it was sold to Austrian developers in 2008 who intend to retain the prison cells and establish a police museum.
The final case was that of Jason John Handy, a 33-year-old alcoholic-vagrant who was accused of breaching his anti-social behaviour order. He was given a one-month conditional discharge. Ironically, this was an illegal sentence as conditional discharges are not available for ASBO breaches. The unfortunate Mr Handy was therefore detained to be re-sentenced by another court. Other cases on the last day included beggars, shoplifters, illegal minicab drivers and a terrorist hearing—the first of its kind—in which a terror suspect was accused of breaching his control order. The final day was heavily attended by members of the press and some became a little carried away by the slightly festive atmosphere and wrongly reported that a defendant by the name of "Mr Bunbury", who did not attend court, was in fact fictitious and that the case was an elaborate joke on the part of the court and a completely unsuspecting solicitor, Sean Caulfield since Mr Bunbury is a character in a work by Oscar Wilde, a previous defendant at Bow Street Magistrates' Court.
Many famous accused people have passed through Bow Street, often on their way to be tried in the "Old Bailey" (Central Criminal Court) or the Crown Courts, 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
- Oscar Wilde
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Bow Street Magistrates' Court.|
- Battle of Bow Street
- Bow Street
- Bow Street Runners
- Royal Courts of Justice
- Central Criminal Court
- City of Westminster Magistrates' Court
- Jerry White (2007) London in the 19th Century, Vintage, p383
- The Times, 31 July 2005, "Bow Street hits the end of the road": http://www.timesonline.co.uk/newspaper/0,,176-1714810,00.html
- BBC News, 11 July 2006, "Judge laments Bow Street closure": http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/london/5167606.stm
- BBC News, 12 July 2006, "Bow Street bows out": http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/magazine/5169614.stm
- World Architecture News, 3 June 2011, "Neri & Hu to redevelop Bow Street Magistrates Court in Covent Garden, London": http://www.worldarchitecturenews.com/index.php?fuseaction=wanappln.projectview&upload_id=16793