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History of Lincoln's Inn Fields

Lincoln’s Inn

Lincoln’s Inn is one of four of the London Inns of Court (the others being Gray’s Inn, Middle Temple and Inner Temple) that developed as educational establishments in which young apprentices could study law. Sir Henry Chauncey wrote that the Inns of Court were “excellent seminaries and nurseries for the education of youth, some for the Bar, others for the seat of judicature, others for the Government, and others affairs of state” (Blackham: 1932). They differ from the Inns of Chancery (Staple Inn, Barnard’s Inn, Serjeants’ Inn etc.) in that they have the exclusive right to call lawyers to the Bar to act as advocates in the Royal Courts (Herber: 1999, 68)

Lincoln’s Inn have meticulously recorded their own history, mostly financial, in the “Black Books” since 1422, but there is evidence that the Inns of Court and the processes of training apprentices in law were already in place long before this, as the earliest Black Books refer to traditions that seem to be longstanding such as the revels or the practice of moots (see Black Books vol. 1 in the Lincoln’s Inn library).

The exact origins of the Inn remain uncertain. In the past it was believed that the founder of the Inn was Henry De Lacy, the Earl of Lincoln (died 1311) who was known to have leased property and land in the Holborn area, and his coat of arms are seen on the Gatehouse (Roxburgh: 1963). However, it is almost certainly proven that his Inn was located on Shoe Lane and there are alternative possibilities for founders (See Williams 1927 for documents relating to Henry De Lacy pp. 676 – 720). Thomas De Lincoln, a sergeant-of-law who practised in the court of common pleas, was also known to own property in Holborn although this was not on the Lincoln’s Inn site, but at Castle Yard. There is a theory that he founded a small Inn pre-1422, which then migrated to the present day site as it expanded and the Black Books were started, although again there is no solid historical evidence for the move (Roxburgh, Black Books, Vol. 5, 1968).

What is known about the land is that it was originally part of the holdings of the see of the Bishop of Chichester, and that a sumptuous palace was sited there before 1244, that included a Hall, a Chapel, a Bakery, Brewery and other appurtenances (Black Books, Vol. 4, frontispiece). The exact location of this is unknown, but may have been a timber structure, and is probably partially covered by the existing Old Hall at Lincoln's Inn. What is also known is that the Society of Lincoln's Inn was renting the land from the Bishop of Chichester by 1422 and that they had purchased the freehold by 1580 (Williams 1927, pp 38).

Sir John Simpson was responsible for refurbishing the Old Hall of Lincoln’s Inn from 1924 and wrote “it is impossible to speak with certainty of these early annals…we have to admit that nothing is known of the origin of the Society, or of the ancient topography of their buildings. Here in the heart of London, lies an unworked mine for the skilled palaeographer” (Simpson 1928, 23).

Present day Lincoln’s Inn stands on the west side of Chancery Lane. The Old Buildings are situated around an irregular quadrangle with the hall on the west side, the gatehouse to Chancery Lane on the east and the chapel on the north with groups of chambers extending to the south beyond the hall. The oldest surviving building is the Old Hall built between 1489-92. The chambers at No. 18-20 Old Buildings date from 1524. No. 16 Old Buildings and 12 & 13 New

Square were built circa 1534. No. 21-24 Old Buildings were rebuilt in 1609. The Chapel dates from 1623 and was considerably restored in 1685, and then extended by an extra bay later still. It is recorded in the Black Books that the Old Chapel was still standing derelict when the new chapel was consecrated, so is unlikely to be beneath the present day one. New Square was built in the late 17th century and the top stories are an 18th century addition. In 1845 the New Hall and Library were added in elaborate Tudor style to the designs of Philip Hardwick, with additions to the library at the east end by Sir George Gilbert Scott in 1871-3.

During WWII, various parts of the Inn were damaged during the bombing raids; Stone Buildings, Old Buildings, the Chapel and Old Hall all had to be extensively repaired throughout this period. (Taken from Appendix of Black Books, Vol. 4 pp 301 – 302, and various earlier volumes of the Black Books).

Famous past members of Lincoln’s Inn include Thomas More, Oliver Cromwell, Pitt the Younger, Benjamin Disraeli, William Gladstone, Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair.

Today Lincoln’ Inn continues to train Barristers and call people to the Bar; the Inn itself contains 70 separate flats to be used as chambers by the residents.