"the Old Bailey was famous as a kind of deadly inn-yard"

The Old Bailey, Known Also as the Central Criminal Court
Public DomainThe Old Bailey, Known Also as the Central Criminal Court - Credit: The Microcosm of London: or London in Miniature, 1808

The Old Bailey is London's Central Criminal Court. It is located just off Newgate Street, next to the site of Newgate Prison, just outside the former western wall  of the City of London.  This fortified wall was termed a "bailey". 

The original medieval courthouse was destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666. In 1673 the Old Bailey was rebuilt as a three level Italianate brick building. In front of the courthouse was the Sessions House Yard, where people could gather. The ground floor, where the courtroom was located, was open on one side to allow fresh air to circulate, thus inhibiting the spread of gaol fever (typhus). Spectators had easy access, and trials attracted large crowds. 

In 1737 the building was remodelled and enclosed, limiting access for casual spectators. This saw a rise in infections.  In 1750, an outbreak of gaol fever led to 60 deaths, including the Lord Mayor and two judges. Subsequently, the judges spread nosegays and aromatic herbs to keep down the stench and prevent infection.

The Old Bailey today
Creative Commons AttributionThe Old Bailey today - Credit: TB Murray
Spectators still flocked to the trials; courthouse officials charged fees for entry.

In 1774 the court was again rebuilt, further controlling public access and improving security.  In 1877, the courthouse and Newgate Prison were demolished to make room for a larger building, opened in 1907. This was heavily damaged by bombing in 1941 and rebuilt. Trials are still held in the building.