In A Tale of Two Cities, what is the Old Bailey famous for?

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The answer to this question can be found in Book II Chapter II, when Jerry is given a message to take to Mr. Lorry at the Old Bailey, which is a court where criminals were judged and sentenced. The narrator of this tales goes on to explain what this location is so famous for:

For the rest, the Old Bailey was famous as a kind of deadly inn-yard, from which pale travellers set out continually, in carts and coaches, on a violent passage into the other world: traversing some two miles and a half of public street and road, and shaming few good citizens, if any.

Note how Dickens compares the Old Bailey to an inn, except this inn has only "pale travellers," who are setting off on a journey to "the other world" with a "violent passage." Criminals were tried at the Old Bailey and sentenced there, and those that were deemed to have committed a crime serious enough, were sentenced to death. When they were transported from the Old Bailey to the place of their execution, they were transported through the streets so that the residents of London could see them. This description strikes an ominous note in the trial even before the reader finds out who is actually being tried, and it foreshadows the second trial in the book which has much more tragic consequences than the first.


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