Friday, 18 June 2010

Central Criminal Court, Old Bailey EC4

The bronze figure of Justice stands on her dome, gleaming in her sheath of gold leaf, her outstretched arms holding her sword and balance. But no blindfold - the idea that justice is blind actually derives from 16th century satires on corrupt and incompetent judges, including a woodcut by Durer showing Justice being blindfolded by a fool. It is very curious how the original jibe morphed into the noble figure of Justice blind to riches, power or outside appearances.
The sculptor was Frederick W. Pomeroy, a Londoner had worked closely with the architect Edward Mountford on buildings such as Sheffield Town Hall. The 1905 commission for the Central Criminal Court gave both men the chance to produce one of London's most instantly recognisable images.
Mountford decided at the last moment that Pomeroy's design was too small for the prominent position, and ordered him to make it a good deal bigger. Unfortunately, that meant the structure underneath had to be beefed up at an extra cost of £267 4s 5d, which Mountford had to explain in a letter to the committee in charge of the building.
Pomeroy also had to change his design for the allegorical figures over the main entrance. The original drawings show the figures of Fortitude, Truth and the Recording Angel inside the arched pediment, but the committee wanted the arms of the City of London there so the statues were bumped up to their slightly precarious seat on top.
The Recording Angel is a rather sinister figure writing on a scroll spread over her knees, her face shadowed by a huge cowl. On her left, Fortitude has a sword (for war) and a dove (for peace). To her right, Truth looks in a mirror.


Hels said...

Miscreants coming into the criminal court would not have ever seen the bronze figure of Justice on top of the dome. But they certainly could have seen The Recording Angel.

If the Angel was a rather sinister and secretive figure, her face shadowed by that cowl, Mountford must have decided that putting the fear of god into criminals was more effective than showing off Britain's splendid system of justice. After all, Ms Justice could only be seen at a safe distance.

ChrisP said...

A nice thought, but these days our most prominent criminals don't get to see any of the outside statuary at all. They are shot in by black maria through the baying mob round the vehicle entrance. Not a pretty sight.

Capability Bowes said...

Sorry to carp, but if it is the Recording Angel, shouldn't there be wings of some sort?

And what is an angel, essentially a Christian (and therefore religious) symbol, doing on a legal building?

I'd say the hooded figure is "History" or suchlike.

ChrisP said...

I noticed the lack of wings, but the figure is specifically named in the documentation, apparently.
Christian symbols do appear on courts - a massive figure of Christ stands on the central gable of the Royal Courts of Justice - but the symbology on the Old Bailey is decidedly mixed, as further posts will show.