We pick through the murky origins of one of London’s oldest institutions – Lincoln’s Inn.
Maybe you’ve heard of London’s Inns of Court. Made up of Gray’s Inn, Inner and Middle Temple Inns and Lincoln’s Inn, they’re a key part of Britain’s legal system. In fact, you can’t be a barrister in the UK without belonging to one of these institutions.
The truly baffling bit about this rule is that it dates back so far into the depth of history that its origins are obscured to us. What we can say for sure is that a key player in all of this is Lincoln’s Inn.
It’s an institution that’s at least 600 years old and possibly older. But just how did this early mediaeval law school come to be, and why is it worth a visit all these years later?
That might be harder to pick apart than you expect…
Why Visit Lincoln’s Inn?
Perhaps this question is the easy part to answer. We’re guessing you’ll want to visit Lincoln’s Inn because it’s a historic institution that’s got its tail so far in the past that we can’t actually say for certain how long it’s been functioning. Interesting right?
Not only that but this historic institution has been key to the development of the British legal system and therefore, legal systems all over the world.
But what about the stuff you can actually see? Well, Lincoln’s Inn is remarkably well looked after, and thanks to a stroke of luck we’ll cover below, has remained in one piece through one of the most destructive periods of London history – making it something of a time capsule.
The History of Lincoln’s Inn
Now things get complicated. Truth be told, the above subheading might be a little misleading. A more accurate title might be something like: theories on Lincoln’s Inn. That’s because Lincoln’s Inn is so old that the history of it is obscured and, for the early periods at least, is largely educated guesswork.
The earliest solid proof we have of Linocoln’s Inn being operational comes from minutes of a meeting held in 1422. These are kept in the mysteriously named ‘Black Books”.
600 years still might be a bit short of the mark though. One theory points to sometime around the year 1310 to its year of foundation, that year marking the death of the man that’s believed to have given the inn its name, Henry de Lacy, 3rd Earl of Lincoln.
Back Further Still?
But then why did Henry de Lacy get his name on such a prestigious institution? The answer gives us a clue as to why the Inns of Court exist in the first place.
Going back to the 1300s law was traditionally taught by the church but there was a split. Common law and Roman civil law emerged as two schools of thought. The church sought to control and protect the latter while the crown, the former.
In 1218 the Pope banned the church from teaching common law and in 1238, the King of England, Henry III, banned lawyers from studying, living and practising law in the City of London where the church had power.
Henry de Lacy, 3rd Earl of Lincoln was the man who led a group of lawyers to set up shop in Holborn, on what is now the site of Lincoln’s Inn – probably, we can’t be sure.
Skipping Ahead Instead
How about some concrete information? Isn’t that what history’s all about – what we can know about the past? Try this for size…
The land that we think of as Lincoln’s Inn now probably wasn’t Lincoln’s Inn then. It belonged to the bishops of Chichester. In the early days, they leased the land out to the lawyers but by 1580 the Inn began acquiring the land for itself.
This was done by a group known as The Benchers – so called because they had benches in the main hall of Lincoln’s Inn. The Benchers would go on acquiring land and building ever more impressive buildings on it right up to the present day.
Lincoln’s Inn Today
These days Lincoln’s still functions as an Inn of Court. Notable figures who have been members of Lincoln’s Inn include two Prime Ministers, Tony Blair and William Gladstone.
The Inn also boasts many stunning buildings, very well intact thanks to the fact the inn went unscathed during the Second World War. Probably the grandest of these is the Great Hall, which was finished in 1845 with Queen Victoria herself cutting the ribbon.
Around Lincoln’s Inn Field you can also find King’s College and Sir John Soane’s Museum – the former being a great place to get an education and the latter, well, the same, except in a much shorter time frame.
If you’d like to visit the Great Hall and other buildings of Lincoln’s Inn you can do so on restricted hours – this is a working legal institution after all.
For a self-guided tour, the hours are 10am – 12pm on weekdays, or you can take a guided tour with someone who’ll dish out a bit more info. These happen once a week at 11am but the day changes. You can find out more info about those tours and visiting solo here.
Lincoln’s Inn: Practical Information
Address: Lincoln’s Inn London WC2A 3QB
Opening Times: Lincoln’s Inn Fields are open to walk around 24/7 but the buildings around them will work at their own hours.
Tickets: Free to walk a