One of the most famous names in British legal history will disappear next year, it was confirmed today.
London's Bow Street police station and the neighbouring magistrates' court have been sold to an Irish property developer for an undisclosed sum.
The court's closure will end the street's links with crime and punishment which date back to the formation in 1754 of the Bow Street Runners, the model for the world's first modern police force.
The building's cells have held Oscar Wilde, murderer Dr Hawley H Crippen, wartime traitor William "Lord Haw Haw" Joyce, Irish playwright Brendan Behan and the East End gangster Reggie Kray.
Joint owners of the Bow Street site, the Department for Constitutional Affairs (DCA) and the Metropolitan Police Authority, today said they had signed a binding contract with Galway-based Edward Holdings to transfer the site next summer.
There has been a court at Bow Street since 1740, when Colonel Thomas De Veil sat as a magistrate in his home.
One of his successors, the novelist Henry Fielding, suggested the establishment of the Bow Street Runners.
Set up by his brother, John, they were Britain's first paid police force and operated out of the court, helping to keep the peace until Sir Robert Peel established the Metropolitan Police 75 years later.
The current purpose-built police station and court, opposite Covent Garden Opera House, was designed by Sir John Taylor in a Palladian style and was completed in
The police station has stood empty since 1992.
In 1861, it became the only police station in London to have a white lamp rather than a blue one after Queen Victoria complained it reminded her of the room in which Prince Albert died.
The complex's three courtrooms will operate as normal until next summer while the DCA draw up plans to expand an existing court elsewhere in central London.
The Lord Chancellor, Lord Falconer of Thoroton QC, said: "The sale of Bow Street will release further capital to reinvest in our court building programme.
"Financial investment in courts means that we are better able to provide a modern, effective justice system, tailored to meet the needs of the people who use the courts every day."
A DCA spokesman refused to reveal the building's sale price on "commercial confidentiality" grounds.
It has previously been reported that the owner of Edward Holdings, Gerry Barrett, planned to convert the building into a boutique hotel but a spokesman for the company declined to comment on current plans.
In fiction, Charles Dickens' pickpocket the Artful Dodger was brought before magistrates at Bow Street in the 1839 novel Oliver Twist.