A gruesome piece of Islington’s history – a reputedly haunted building where convict were whipped, sent to their deaths and transported to Australia – has been sold.
The Old Middlesex Sessions House in Clerkenwell Green has been the home of the Central London Masonic Centre since it purchased the building for £300,000 in 1979.
The masons are moving to a new building in Lever Street, Finsbury, but the secretive group refuses to reveal how much they have sold the building for or who they’ve sold it to – though a planning application has been put into Islington Council to turn it into a private members club.
The sale represents the latest chapter in the long and often morbid history of the former courthouse, which was built in 1780 at a cost of £13,000.
The original building held two courtrooms, dungeons and accommodation for judges – a whipping post was added outside in about 1788.
In total, the building acted as a court of law for 140 years and earned a reputation as one of the strictest in the country – in one year alone 200 convicts were transported.
Prisoners were taken from the building through tunnels in the basement to Newgate Prison, where the Old Bailey now stands, and from there down the River Fleet to transport ships on the Thames.
A complex of tunnels under the building once linked the court not just to Newgate but also Clerkenwell House of Detention, the cellars of adjacent Marx Memorial Library and The Crown and The Horseshoe pubs.
Meanwhile prisoners who were to be executed were taken round the corner to the Hangman’s Cottage in Sans Walk where portable gallows were routinely employed.
And according Alice Merino, from the Clerkenwell and Islington Guides Assocation, a legend exists of a female ghost who haunts the building - sitting on the main stairs, crying and waiting for her boyfriend, who was presumably killed or sent to a penal colony.