After years of reading and rereading John Mortimer's Rumpole of the Bailey series, I'm finally going to London and that means I'll get to visit some of the landmarks I've been hearing about for so long. Which ones should I go to?
Would the series have been as popular if John Mortimer had been more of a pedant and named it Rumpole of the Central Criminal Court, which is the correct name of the court that everyone else knows as the Old Bailey? It's a moot point. But thanks to the British tradition of open justice, you can visit Rumpole's old stomping grounds for free.
Make sure you go to the unprepossessing public entrance on Newgate Street, which provides access to the atmospheric and historic Court One and three others that date from the start of the 20th century, and not the entrance on Warwick Square, from which you access the other 15 courts in the less-interesting 1970s-era extension. Court One - scene of the trials of Dr Crippen and the Yorkshire Ripper and possibly the setting of Rumpole's finest legal moment, the Penge bungalow murders trial - also tends to have more interesting and important cases.
Hours are roughly 10am to 1pm and 2.15pm to 4.30pm, but you'll have better prospects of seeing something interesting in the morning session. You'll have to leave your cameras and smartphones outside and undergo a security check. More details are at www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/oldbailey.
Equity Court, Rumpole's fictitious chambers, is based on the Inner Temple, an unexpectedly peaceful and leafy bastion of magnificent buildings and gardens that feels far more like an Oxford or Cambridge college than something you'd expect to find in central London. It's just off the south side of Fleet Street but since the Inner Temple was originally owned by the Knights Templar and featured in The Da Vinci Code, Rumpole afficionados are likely to be vastly outnumbered by Dan Brown groupies. It is also, of course, still a functioning centre for barristers.
Pommeroys, the bar within which Rumpole sought succour and courage before returning to face his wife, the infamous She Who Must Be Obeyed, is a thinly disguised version of El Vino (www.elvino.co.uk), which has been fortifying the reluctant husbands of London since 1879.
Just across the road are the Royal Courts of Justice, where Rumpole would have appealed against the decisions of his nemesis, Judge Bullingham, and which is an even more magnificent building than the Old Bailey. This also has free public access on the same times and restrictions as the Old Bailey (more details at www.justice.gov.uk/guidance/courts-and-tribunals/courts/rcj/) but access is via the front gate, which provides the chance of ending up in a Fleet Street media scrum if your arrival coincides with those involved in a newsworthy case.
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