History

THIEVES, MURDERERS AND REVOLUTIONARIES

Old Sessions House finished construction in 1779 and opened in 1782 under the name of Middlesex Sessions House as a courthouse. The Palladian-style building was grand, with a façade of solid Portland stone and lonic columns – some of the most expensive materials of the time. For the next 70 years, its coffered dome – built in the style of the Roman Pantheon – saw hundreds of legal cases, and prisoners marched down to the basement cells.

The scene was just as lively outside the building. Literature’s mischievous Oliver Twist was caught and taken to the magistrate in 1837 for the skilful pickpocket work of his friend, the Artful Dodger. In 1863, Farringdon opened as the terminus of the Metropolitan Railway, the world’s first underground subway, bringing with it a flurry of activity from the other end of the line at Paddington.

Literature’s mischievous Oliver Twist was caught and taken to the magistrate in 1837 for the skillful pickpocket work of his friend, the Artful Dodger.

And in 1902, Vladimir Lenin and his wife arrived just across the street and made the Edwardian house at 37a Clerkenwell Green the publishing headquarters of the pre-Bolshevik newspaper that would bring Lenin’s ideas to thousands of Russians. Today, the house is the Karl Marx Memorial Library, with Lenin’s original office preserved inside.

In the early 20th century, the court was relocated and in 1931 the building became the headquarters of Avery Scales, a manufacturer of weighing machines. In 1950, the building was included on a national list of buildings of special architectural and historic interest despite the fact that over the next 30 years, Clerkenwell would go through a period of decline. With the lag in traditional industries, the building became a Masonic Lodge—yet its historical significance through this turbulent time did not go unnoticed. In 1994, Old Sessions House became a Grade II* listed building, a designation awarded to less than five per cent of buildings in the UK that pays homage to its unique architecture. And today that grandeur is being reinstated, bringing this storied landmark into a new era.