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Photographing the Old Bailey

“Can you come to the Old Bailey and see the Sheriffs?” is the sort of text message that would strike terror into most peoples’ hearts, or at least make them wonder if there was an outstanding parking ticket they had forgotten to pay; but for Mike Williams, it is a fairly typical message.

Photographing the Old Bailey


“Can you come to the Old Bailey and see the Sheriffs?” is the sort of text message that would strike terror into most peoples’ hearts, or at least make them wonder if there was an outstanding parking ticket they had forgotten to pay; but for Mike Williams, it is a fairly typical message.For the last 3 years, Mike has been the personal photographer to the Lord Mayor of the City of London. Unlike the Mayor of London who serves a 4 year term, The Lord Mayor serves for just 1 year, starting in early November with the Lord Mayor's Show, and continues with numerous state, official and charitable events. The Lord Mayor spends almost 1/3rd of the year abroad, promoting GB plc as the premier financial services centre, gives over 800 speeches, receives over 40 Heads of State, foreign diplomats and foreign dignitaries and raises over £2million for the Lord Mayor's Appeal.

Assisting the Lord Mayor are 2 Sheriffs, at least one of whom will be an Alderman of a ward in the City of London. The title of Sheriff evolved during the Anglo-Saxon period of English history and today the role and responsibilities of the Sheriffs are varied. They officiate at the sessions at the Central Criminal Court, also known as the Old Bailey and look after the “comfort of Her Majesty's Judges.” They too serve for just one year, living at the Old Bailey in order to perform their duties.

The Sheriffs for 2017 to 2018 were Alderman Tim Hailes JP and Mr Neil Redcliffe JP. As is common, outgoing Sheriffs present a gift to the Old Bailey to commemorate their year in office. Having seen Mike’s pictures of previous Lord Mayors and Sheriffs, as well as having their own portrait session earlier in their year of office, they asked Mike if he could produce a series of photographs from the Old Bailey as well as the wider City of London. These would be hung in the long corridors that house the Jury Rooms and Judges Rooms.

Picture of Old Bailey
Picture of The Old Bailey

Photography restrictions


The use of cameras around courts is severely restricted and especially one as high profile as the Old Bailey - which has witnessed some of the most famous criminal cases. This meant that in addition to background security screening Mike could only have access to take photographs once the courts were not sitting and the public had left the building and was always accompanied when working in the building.

Mike has been a Canon user for over a decade, and used his 1DX for the bulk of the shots, but also experimented with digital medium format photography with a Pentax 645Z supplied by The Flash Centre. The size and logistics of working in the Bailey meant that Mike restricted himself to natural light, in many cases using bracketing and long exposure to pull out the details of the architecture.

Photograph selections



Over many months Mike assembled a gallery of over 200 images of the City, which were offered for consideration. His Honour Judge Nicholas Hilliard QC, The Recorder of London and the most senior judge at Central Criminal Court worked closely with Mike in both the selection and placement of the photographs.

Numerous meetings were held to look at the size, location and framing options for the pictures. Mock-ups of the various options were supplied and examined to find the most appropriate for the building. The final selection was a mixture of classic black frames approximately 36” x 24” and 24” square.

First class photo print supplier



During this process, Mike was looking at suitable suppliers who could provide products of suitable quality for the commission. Mike finally settled on SimLab in Hatfield. SimLab offers professional photography printing services with really fast delivery times in a variety of sizes. The professional high quality large format photo prints are perfect for mounting and placing into the frames. Printing on Fuji crystal archive lustre professional photo paper gives realistic vivid colour reproduction with brilliant whites.

Working to timescales so that the Sheriffs could present them on their last day in office, Sim Lab delivered everything with a day to spare, and the presentation was made to critical acclaim of the permanent Old Bailey Judges.

Mike said that ‘The team at Sim Lab have always been extremely helpful, and often pull all the stops out to get things done and are fantastic at offering advice and assistance to produce the best possible products for clients’.

Past Sheriff Time Hailes commented ‘Mike has done a fantastic job in capturing the very essence of so many of The City of London’s traditions and rich history, reflected by the images of these iconic building and symbols. That is particularly true of the Rule of Law, which is the absolute bedrock upon which our global trading, commercial and enterprising success has been founded for centuries.

Picture of Central Criminal Court


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