Wander around Blackfriars, Ludgate Hill, Fleet Street and Chancery Lane and see various places in London associated with the English legal system.
Attractions include the area of Temple, Temple Church, the Old Bailey, the Royal Courts of Justice and Sir John Soane’s museum.
This walk was written and first published in October, 2004 and last updated in February, 2014.
The walk starts from Blackfriars tube station and ends at Chancery Lane tube station.
on arrival at Blackfriars tube station, take exit number 8 marked New Bridge Street. Stop when you reach street level and look across the road to the pub on the corner (The Black Friar).
Blackfriars and the Black Friar pub
Blackfriars was an important political and religious centre during medieval times.
The Black Friar pub stands on the site of the old monastery and is the only art nouveau-decorated pub in London.
The unusually-shaped building, in the shape of a wedge, was built in 1875.
Did You Know?
The area around Blackfriars was first settled around 1278, by Dominican monks. Under the patronage of Edward I, the monks became rich and influential, soon building a quay to enable trading. In 1311, Parliament met here and for many years the monastery was used to hold state records.
The monastery was eventually dissolved in 1538 and many of the buildings were demolished. However, the refectory was kept and used as a series of playhouses during Elizabethan times until it too was destroyed, in the Great Fire.
Walk along New Bridge Street (away from the river) and stop in front of number 14, near Ludgate Hill.
The old Bridewell House of Correction
Number 14 New Bridge Street (Bark and Co Solicitors) marks the site of the old Bridewell House of Correction.
It was built as a royal palace in 1515 and converted into a prison, hospital and workrooms in 1556. As well as holding prisoners, it became home to destitute children and orphans of the Freemen of the City.
Many of the buildings were destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666 and later re-built. The prison was finally closed in 1855 (and its buildings demolished in 1863) when prisoners of both sexes were moved to Holloway, which is now London’s prison for women.
Though, just like London’s other historic prisons, Bridewell had its harsh side, it was also the first to introduce better conditions for prisoners.
Public floggings took place twice weekly, and in 1628 a ducking stool was set up on the river bank. However, the prison was the first to appoint a prison doctor (in 1700) and to provide prisoners with straw bedding.
continue along New Bridge Street, cross to the other side and turn right along Pilgrim Street. Go up the steps, then turn left at Pageant Master Court.
Cross Ludgate Hill and walk along Old Bailey.
The Old Bailey (Central Criminal Court)
“Old Bailey” is the name by which most people know England’s Central Criminal Court.
The first court house on this site was built in 1539 and the current buildings, which include at their base, stones from Newgate prison, date from 1907. The buildings were badly damaged during the Blitz in 1942 and bombed by the IRA in 1973.
The court is reserved for trying the most serious crimes such as murder and famous trials that have been held here include those of Oscar Wilde (1895), Dr Crippen (1910) and the Yorkshire Ripper (1981).
You can view details of all criminal trials held at the Old Bailey between 1674 and 1834 on their web site.
Pilgrim Street is said to be named after the pilgrims who walked along it from the nearby Fleet River (near New Bridge Street) to St Pauls.
Ludgate Hill, which leads up to St Pauls, is named after the Lud Gate, which was built nearby by King Lud in 66 BC. (However, an earlier gate may actually have been built here by the Romans to lead to one of their burial grounds in Fleet Street.)
The gate was damaged in the Great Fire and demolished in 1760. The area was a fashionable shopping district in the seventeenth century.
Did You Know?
Records of criminal London go back to medieval times. There are references from the 13th century to burglaries, and organised crime started to emerge in the 17th century.
Soon after, criminal areas developed, filled with houses where boys could learn their trade – similar to Fagin’s school for boys described by Dickens in Oliver Twist. Nearby Fleet street and its surrounding area was one such place.
The penalty for many types of crime was death by hanging and thousands of petty criminals took their last journey from Newgate to the gallows at Tyburn (where Marble Arch now stands).
As London did not have a police force until the early 19th century, crime fighting was left to watchmen, constables and professional thief-takers (similar to modern private investigators).
It wasn’t until 1829 that the Metropolitan Police force was created. As Sir Robert Peel was the Home Secretary who pushed through the Act of Parliament to create it, the police are still known as “Bobbies”.
pass the Central Criminal Court and stop at the corner of Old Bailey and Newgate Street
Newgate Prison and St Sepulchure’s Church
The building on the corner of Old Bailey and Newgate Street marks the site of Newgate Prison, which had stood here since the 12th century.
It was destroyed during the Great Fire, and re-built, only to be finally demolished in 1902.
As you might imagine, it was not a pleasant place to be imprisoned within: there was no ventilation and little water and it was ruled by highly corrupt prison guards (who made fortunes charging prisoners for “privileges” such as being freed from shackles.)
Did You Know?
Prisoners from Newgate Prison used to pray at St Sepulchure’s, the church diagonally opposite, around their open coffins on the morning of their execution.
Anatomy teachers used to buy bodies stolen from the church to use in training their students at nearby Bart’s Hospital.
return along Old Bailey and turn right, down Lime Burner Lane, then right again through / along Fleet Place (a walkway) and down the stairs to Farringdon Street
At Farringdon Street, turn left and walk to the main junction (Ludgate Circus). Turn right at Fleet Street, crossing to the other side of the road (passing Punch Tavern).
Fleet Street area
Synonymous with printing and journalism for many years, Fleet Street was where Britain’s first newspaper, the Daily Courant, was published (nearby, at Ludgate Circus) in 1702. The street had been home to many printers and booksellers, from the 1500’s.
The satirical magazine, Punch, was established at no 99 Fleet Street, in the Punch Tavern. (The bar is filled with original drawings from the magazine.)
In 1846, Charles Dickens established his own newspaper, the Daily News, at 90 Fleet Street. He resigned after only 17 issues but the paper continued, as the News Chronicle, until 1960.
St Bride’s church, on the left just after the Punch Tavern (down Bride Lane) is known as the journalist’s church. Most of the pews are dedicated to Fleet street reporters and editors, and during John McCarthy’s captivity in the Lebanon in the 1990’s, allnight vigils were held here.
Across the road, the former offices of two famous British newspapers, the Daily Express (at no 121 – 128) and the Daily Telegraph (at no 135), can still be seen, along with offices of Reuters, the world’s most famous news agency, which was established in 1855.
Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese pub was re-built in the 1600’s and is one of London’s few remaining old style pubs, with tiny rooms and big tables. Famous customers have included Dr Samuel Johnson, Dickens and Mark Twain.
One of its most infamous lodgers was a parrot whose knowledge of abusive words was extensive. People came from all over to hear it swear. When the parrot died in 1926, obituaries appeared in newspapers throughout the English speaking world. It was even mentioned on the BBC.
Dr Johnson moved to a house in nearby Gough Square (you can reach it via Johnson’s Court) in 1746, and soon after, he started work on his famous Dictionary of the English Language.
In the 18th century, dictionaries weren’t just consulted, they were browsed. That was largely thanks to Johnson’s mammoth 1755 achievement, wherein he defined not just the difficult words, but also common words found in everyday speech. To their definitions, he added illustrative quotations from the finest works available at the time.
Though the dictionary made him famous, it did not make him wealthy and he was arrested for debt in 1758, moving out of this house the following year.
El Vino (no 47), a wine bar established in 1879 and located in Fleet Street since 1923, is famous for being found guilty, in 1982, of breaking the law by continuing to refuse to allow women customers to stand and be served at the bar.
Did You Know?
Though most famously known for his Dictionary, Dr Johnson wrote several other works including a complete edition of Shakespeare, a number of frequently cited political tracts, sermons, a description of his 1773 tour to Scotland with a Scot named James Boswell, and a series of biographies of numerous British poets (The Lives of the Poets), commissioned to accompany reprints of each poet’s works.
After Johnson’s death in 1784, Boswell published his biography of his friend, called The Life of Samuel Johnson, which provides us with much of what we know about the man, including many of the quotes to which he is attributed.
If you are doing this walk during weekdays, continue along Fleet Street and turn left down Old Mitre Court to enter the area known as Temple. Otherwise, at weekends, continue along Fleet Street to the junction with Middle Temple Lane (on the left).
Follow Old Mitre Court towards the river, then turn right along Crown Office Row (there is a building on the corner signposted “Paper Buildings”) and turn right again along Middle Temple Lane. You will soon pass Middle Temple Hall on your left.
Soon after Middle Temple Hall (and courtyard), turn right at Pump Court and walk through the cloisters to see Templar’s Church on your left.
Temple, and Temple Church
The area you may have just walked through is known as Temple, which includes two of the four Inns of Court (see below), the Middle Temple and the Inner Temple.
The name, Temple, derives from the Order of the Knights Templar, a chivalrous order established in 1118 for the purpose of protecting pilgrims. (You may know of them as the knights who wore white tunics with red crosses on them.) In 1162, the group built their first church and houses nearby, on the banks of the Thames.
When the Templars were discredited in the 14th century, their property was leased to lawyers who used it as a hostel. They continued as tenants until Henry VIII appropriated the property.
In 1608, James I gave the freehold of the “inns” to the lawyers, on the condition they maintained it forever.
Today, barristers continue to have their offices (known as chambers) here, in addition to training and practising in the area.
The first performances of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night were held in 1602 in Middle Temple Hall.
The building in front of you is the main entrance to Middle Temple, built in 1684. The church on your left is the Temple (also known as Templars’) Church, which was built in the 12th century (though little of the original building remains). Secret initiation ceremonies took place within its crypt and there are 13th century effigies of the Knights Templar in the nave.
Turn left between the front of the church (the rounded part) and the nearby building (along the narrow Inner Temple Lane) and proceed back to Fleet Street.
Turn left along Fleet Street (which becomes the Strand) and continue along to the Griffin in the centre of the road, in front of No. 1 Fleet Street. Cross the road and stop.
Royal Courts of Justice
The Royal Courts of Justice (“the Law Courts”) were built in the nineteenth century to situate all English superior courts associated with non-criminal cases (such as divorce, libel and civil cases) in one place.
Currently there are 60 courts in use, including the Court of Appeal, the High Court and the Crown Court.
Three traditional legal ceremonies take place each year : in one, the Corporation of the City of London pays its Quit Rent to the Crown for land near Chancery Lane.
The rent is six horse shoes and sixty one nails which have been paid since 1118.
Directly opposite the Royal Courts is the original shop of Twinings Tea, which has been selling tea here since 1706.
St Clement Danes church is supposedly so named because a Danish King and other Danes were buried here in ancient times. It is the central church for the Royal Air Force.
The section of Fleet Street you are now in marks the point where Fleet Street meets the Strand. The spot is marked by a bronze griffin, the unofficial badge of the City. (This is also where the City of London meets the City of Westminster border.)
Since 1351, a gate called Temple Bar stood here. It was repaired several times and from 1684 until 1746, was used to display the heads of traitors. In 1806, it was draped in black for Lord Nelson’s funeral, and the gate was finally removed in 1878 because it was blocking traffic.
Did You Know?
The legal profession in England and Wales is made up of two separate groups – barristers and solicitors.
A barrister is a lawyer who has been admitted by one of the four Inns of Court to “plead at the bar” (address the court), after having spent a year in pupilege with a practicing barrister and passing a “bar exam”.
A solicitor (though qualified in the law) is, however, rarely allowed “rights of access” to the court and must usually instruct a barrister to present their client’s case to the court for them.
The Inns of Court, which date from before the 14th century, were originally eating and lodging places for students of the law. Though there are references throughout history to over 30 different Inns, only four survive.
These are Lincoln’s, Gray’s, Inner Temple and Middle Temple. Each has its own colour: Green for Lincoln’s, black for each Temple (because the knights templar were a religious order) and red for Gray’s. They still offer accommodation and food, however only a few privileged judges and senior barristers have rooms there and these are mainly used only during week days.
The term “being called to the bar” refers to young barristers being allowed to practice: they are only permitted to do so after having eaten 24 dinners in one of the Inns, a tradition dating back centuries. This is because attending the dinners provides a student with an opportunity to mix with qualified colleagues and understand the traditions of “the bar”, such as never shaking hands with a fellow barrister.
Barristers are not supposed to discuss fees directly with the solicitors who instruct them, and the flap at the back of their gowns is supposedly where, in days of old, solicitors used to slip their payments.
continue past the Royal Courts of Justice, then turn right through a gate into Clements’ Inn (within the grounds of the LSE). Walk along Clement’s Inn Passage, which leads into Clare Market. Turn right at Portugal Street, then second left into Portsmouth Street, passing the Old Curiosity Shop on the right.
Continue along Portsmouth Street, along the side of Lincoln’s Inn Fields to the top, then turn right and stop in front of Sir John Soane’s Museum on the left.
Lincoln’s Inn Fields area
Lincoln’s Inn Fields evolved from two waste grounds that had been playgrounds for students of nearby Lincoln’s Inn since the 14th century. It was London’s first garden square, though it was originally a public execution site. In the 17th century, it was an exclusive area to live in. However, the only houses remaining from this time (around 1641) are at no 59 and 60. Since 1894, the gardens have been open to the public.
Alleged to be the fictional home of Charles Dickens’ Little Nell, the building housing the Old Curiosity Shop in Portsmouth Street was built in 1567. It is now a listed building and thought to be the oldest shop in London.
Sir John Soane’s museum is in a house he left to the nation in 1837. Soane was one of Britain’s leading architects and the designer of the Bank of England building. He lived at no 13 and before he died, secured an Act of Parliament ensuring that on his death the house and its contents would be left intact as a public museum. The museum contains a variety of objects ranging from paintings, manuscripts, pottery, antique marbles, books, scold’s bridles, shackles, pistols belonging to Napoleon and more.
Did You Know?
London has more museums than most other cities in the world. Most were founded between 1750 and 1914 to feed the appetite among Londoners for exploration (both geographical and scientific) and fine art.
Its main and most visited museum is the British Museum, opened in Bloomsbury in 1759. The main art museum is the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square and the main historical museum is the Museum of London, at the Barbican.
There are also hundreds of smaller museums, ranging from the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis museum through to the Museum of Garden History (in Lambeth) and the Bethnal Green Museum of Childhood.
continue ahead and turn left at the end, along Newman’s Row. Go through a walkway called Great Turnstile (passing the Mary Ward Centre on your right) to High Holborn. Turn right along High Holburn until you reach Southampton Buildings on your right (after Chancery Lane).
Walk to the end of Southampton Buildings, and turn right. Stop in front of the London Silver Vaults entrance, on the right.
High Holburn, Staple Inn and London Silver Vaults
High Holburn was a main road from the old City of London to the west, and until the 15th century remained open country. It was named after the ground above Hole Bourne stream.
Staple Inn was once a wool staple, where wool was weighed and taxed. The building dates from 1378, though its facade is from 1586. It is the only remaining Elizabethan half timbered frontage left in central London.
London’s silver vaults originate from the Chancery Lane Safe Deposit Company, which was established in 1885. They are home to over 30 underground shops selling all sorts of silverware, both antique and modern.
Did You Know?
London has had its share of gruesome murders, though most of the infamous addresses, such as 10 Rillington Place, Notting Hill (where John Christie murdered a number of women) have been changed. Others, such as 39 Hilldrop Crescent, where Dr Crippen buried his wife, have been demolished.
However, it is still possible to wander around the streets of Whitechapel where London’s most infamous and probably best known killer of all, Jack the Ripper, murdered a number of women. You can see some of the places associated with Jack the Ripper on our Ripper walk.
Addresses that still exist include the Blind Beggar pub (in the East End) where East End gang leader, Ronnie Kray, shot an underworld colleague, and the Magdala pub in Hampstead, outside which Ruth Ellis (the last woman to be hanged for murder in England) shot her unfaithful lover. The bullet holes are still in the walls of the pub.
continue to Chancery Lane, then turn left along it (towards Fleet Street) and after a short distance, turn right through a wooden door or gateway to enter Lincolns Inn.
Lincolns Inn is the oldest of the four Inns of Court, being able to trace its origins back to the fifteenth century or earlier.
The grounds, open to the public, include some remarkable medieval buildings, fortunately undamaged by the Blitz. It is a pleasant place to relax on a sunny day.
Did You Know?
Fifteen Prime Ministers, including Tony Blair and Margaret Thatcher, have been members of Lincolns Inn.
you have now completed this walk …… I hope you enjoyed it
return to Chancery Lane, turn left and follow it along to High Holburn. Cross the road and turn right to Chancery Lane tube station.