Mr Bell At The Inns of Court London Part 2: Grey’s Inn And Lincoln’s Inn


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The second part of my Inns of Court walk starts at the beginning of Chancery Lane. At number five there is a plaque marking the former location of the now closed Serjeant’s Inn. The Serjeant’s at Law were a superior rank of barrister, Judges used to be appointed from this small group until legal reform in the late 19th century made this rank of lawyer obsolete. The Inn at number five was sold in 1877.

Taking a quick detour down Fleet Street and I come across the old entrance to Clifford’s Inn which was one of the defunct Inns of Chancery. These were the poor relations to the main Inns of Court and so attracted students to begin their studies. It was not possible to be called to the bar from these Inns so students would try to move to the more prestigious Inns of Court. Over the centuries the Inns of Court became easier to join and the Inns of Chancery became largely redundant.

I continue up Chancery Lane where up on the right is a large building that served as the Public Record Office from the 1880’s until 1996. Today it is used as a library for King’s College.

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Opposite is the Law Society, headquarters of the institution that governs the solicitors’ profession. This building dates from 1832.

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Ede & Ravenscroft is the oldest tailor in London and is situated on Chancery Lane. Operating since 1689, it is the traditional outfitters to barristers working at the Inns. The famous wigs worn by barristers were originally made from human hair, but in the 1830’s Humphrey Ravenscroft patented the current design, which uses horse hair.

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In Star Yard there’s a very rare and unusual Victorian public toilet made from green metal. James Mason played a toilet attendant who had a habit of keeping gold fish in the water tank in the documentary film “The London Nobody Knows” (1967).

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Along Carey Street is the formidable gated entrance to Lincoln’s Inn but just past the entrance is the Seven Stars Pub, a place that’s been popular with lawyers since it was founded 400 years ago.

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I enter Lincoln’s Inn through the gateway which leads into the south side of New Square. Covering around 11 acres this is probably the best preserved of all the Inns of Court. Former members have included Sir Thomas More, Oliver Cromwell, William Pitt, Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair.

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Official records for Lincoln’s Inn start in 1422, making it the oldest of the four Inns but like the others it was probably in existence much earlier. The name is derived from Henry de Lacy, third earl of Lincoln, who lived in nearby Shoe Lane.

The eastern side of the square houses the Old Buildings which contain the Old Hall built in the 1490’s. The Old Hall used to be one of London’s main courts and features in the opening scene of Dickens’s “Bleak House”.

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By the mid 19th century the Old Hall was too small to cope with the demands being placed upon it, so on the west side the Inn built the Great Hall and Library. Designed by Philip Hardwick and opened by Queen Victoria in 1845.

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Beside the Old Hall is the Chapel, built between 1619 and 1623. It stands over a fascinating undercroft with gravestones set flat in the ground. Women were not allowed to be buried here until 1839. Poor mothers also left their babies in the undercroft knowing the Inn would look after their children, many of these foundlings were given the adoptive surname “Lincoln”.

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Heading east from the Old Buildings I go through the Gate House. This was built around 1520 and the oak doors date from 1564. It is said that dramatist Ben Jonson (1572-1637) worked as a bricklayer during the Gate House’s construction. There are a number of original heraldic arms above the Gate House including those of Henry de Lacy, Earl of Lincoln and Henry VIII.

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Leaving Lincoln’s Inn I walk north up Chancery Lane then through the Southampton Buildings and out onto busy High Holborn. Heading over High Holborn I take the tiny passageway beside the Cittie of Yorke pub which is thought to have been founded here as early as 1430.

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Going through the passage I come into the South Square of Gray’s Inn. In South Square there is a statue of Sir Francis Bacon (1561-1626), a prominent member of Gray’s Inn in the 16th century. Number 1 on South Square was once the office of Ellis & Blackmore, where the teenage Charles Dickens worked as a law clerk in 1827.

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Further north is the larger Grey’s Inn Square. Grey’s Inn is named after Reginald de Grey, a Chief Justice whose London mansion housed the original Grey’s Inn after he died in 1308.

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The chapel on the south side of the square dates from 1689 and was built on the site of the Inn’s original chapel, built in around 1315. Next to the chapel is the hall dating around 1556-8, although extensively renovated after Blitz damage.

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On the west side a narrow passage takes you through to Grey’s Inn Gardens, better known as “The Walks”. The Walks were first played out by Sir Francis Bacon in 1606 when he was Treasurer of Grey’s.

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Leaving Grey’s Inn on the western side I come across Bedford Row, a fine street of Georgian houses, historically popular with firms of solicitors.

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My next stop is the vast expanse of Lincoln’s Inn Fields, London’s largest square covering 12 acres. It is said to have the same dimensions as the base of the Great Pyramid at Giza, and to have been the inspiration for Central Park in New York.

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Leaving the square at its southwest corner I walk down Portsmouth Street, at number 13-14 is The Old Curiosity Shop, which dates from the 1560’s, but which, despite its claims, is unlikely to have been the inspiration of Dickens book. However it is a rare example of an Elizabethan building in London, and one of the oldest shops in the capital.

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Following the road I eventually come onto the Strand where in front of me is Wren’s fine church of St Clement Danes, once used by the lawyers of Clement’s Inn. It claims to be the church referred to in the opening line of the nursery rhyme “Oranges and Lemons”.

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That is the end of my Inn’s of Court walk. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about it as much as I enjoyed walking it.

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