Category Archives: London History

The Inns of Court

Another in the series on historic secular buildings of London …

The Inns of Court, so named because they are where law students trained, and indeed still train, to become barristers,  are Gray’s Inn,  Lincoln’s Inn, and Inner and  Middle Temple.  Temple was founded in the early fourteenth century, immediately after an individual’s right to legal representation at trial was enshrined in law in the late thirteenth; Gray’s inn in the late fourteenth; and Lincoln’s Inn, in its present location, in the fifteenth. The Inns of Chancery, where,  until the late eighteenth to early twentieth centuries, novices trained preparatory to being “called to the bar” in the Inns of Court, were,  in the case of Gray’s Inn, Barnard’s Inn and Staple Inn; in the case of Lincoln’s Inn, Furnival’s Inn and Thavies Inn; in the case of Inner Temple, Clement’s Inn, Clifford’s Inn and Lyon’s Inn; and in the case of Middle Temple, New Inn and Strand Inn. 

John Fortescue wrote of the Inns in 1470, “In England, laws are learned in three languages, namely English, French and Latin [and] not in universities, but in a certain public academy situated near the King’s courts [in Westminster].  That academy is not situated in the city, where the tumult could disturb the student’s quiet, but in a suburb.  There are in this academy ten lesser Inns of Chancery to each of [which] at least a hundred belong.  These students are for the most part young men learning the elements of the law, who, becoming proficient as they mature, are absorbed into the greater Inns of Court, of which there are four in number, and to the least of which belong 200 students or more. … . [I]n these greater inns there can no student be maintained for less expenses by the year than 20 marks.  And if he have a servant to wait upon him, as most of them have, then so much the greater will his charges be.  Now by reason of these charges the children only of noble men do study the laws … .  For the poor and common sort of the people are not able to bear so great charges … and merchant men can seldom find in their hearts to hinder their merchandise with so great yearly expenses.  And thus it falleth out that there is scant any man found within the … laws, except he be a gentleman born … . Wherefore they more than any other kind of men have a special regard to their nobility and to the preservation of their honour and fame.  And to speak uprightly there is in these greater  inns, yea and in the lesser too, beside the study of the laws, as it were an university or school of all commendable qualities requisite for noble men.  There they learn to sing, and to exercise themselves in all kinds of harmony.  There also they practise dancing, and other noble men’s pastimes, as they do which are brought up in the king’s house”.

Gray’s Inn in the sixteenth century (“Agas” map)

Gray’s Inn, situated on Gray’s Inn Road, north of Holborn, takes its name from the Gray family, whose former manor house  here became the site of an Inn of Court in the late fourteenth century (the house is no longer here).   The Hall was built in  1560, and survived the Great Fire of 1666, only to be destroyed during the Blitz in 1941, alongside the Library, built in 1555 (and the Chapel, rebuilt in 1689). 

Gray’s Inn

Francis Bacon (1561-1626), of whom there is a statue here, was, among other things, a “Master of the Bench” here, that is, a member of the governing body.  He also played a leading role in the creation of the colonies in the Americas, the egalitarian vision for which he set out in his “New Atlantis”. 

Incidentally, London’s Inns of Court played a formative, though little-known, role in the founding of the United States of America.   William Taft (1857-1930), the sometime Chief Justice and President of the United States, noted that “many of the law officers of the Colonies … , appointed by the Crown before the Revolution, were members of … [the Inns of Court]”, and that the Inns were thus instrumental in “instilling in the communities of the Colonies the principles of Common Law”.  Others have even suggested that the principles of secession also came from the Inns.

Barnard’s Inn Hall exterior
Barnard’s Inn Hall interior

The surviving Barnard’s Inn Hall, now the site of the relocated Gresham College,  dates to the late fourteenth- or early fifteenth- century. 

Staple Inn Hall was built by Vincent Enghame and another between 1545-89, destroyed by a Flying Bomb in 1944, and rebuilt in 1955 (the original  one was built, on the same site, at least as long ago  as 1333). 

Staple Inn Buildings

The surviving half-timbered Staple Inn Buildings on High Holborn were also built in 1589.   

Lincoln’s Inn in the sixteenth century (“Agas” map)

Lincoln’s Inn, situated on Chancery Lane, between Holborn to the north and Fleet Street to the south, takes its name either from the Lincoln family, or from the Earl of Lincoln,  whose former land here  became the site of an  Inn of Court in the fifteenth century (the Inn of Court had previously been  located in Thavies Inn and Furnival’s Inn  in the fourteenth century). 

Lincoln’s Inn “Old Hall”

The surviving “Old Hall” dates to 1489-92 (although it also incorporates parts of the former  Bishop of Chichester’s house, dating to the early thirteenth century); the “Old Buildings” to 1524-1613 (the  Gate-House to 1517-21); and the Chapel to 1619-23. 

Temple in the sixteenth century (“Agas” map)

Temple, situated between Fleet Street to the north and the Thames to the south, takes its name from the Knights Templar of the Order of St John of Jerusalem, who relocated themselves here in the twelfth century (having previously been located in Holborn), and whose former land here became the site of the  Inns of Court of Inner and Middle Temple after the order was suppressed in the early fourteenth. 

Inner Temple Gate-House

The surviving Inner Temple Gate-House, a timber-framed town-house, including a room known  as “Prince Henry’s Room”, after Henry, the son of James I, is  Jacobean, and dates to 1610-11.

Middle Temple Hall front elevation
Middle Temple Hall rear elevation
Middle Temple Hall interior

The surviving Middle Temple Hall is Elizabethan, and dates to 1571.  Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” premiered here in 1602.  It was performed here again exactly 400 years later in 2002, with an all-male cast, authentic  hand-made costumes and period music and instruments.

St James’s Palace

Another in the series on historic secular buildings of London …

The Tudor Gatehouse and Chapel Royal
Chapel Royal
Friary Court

St James’s Palace was originally built by Henry VIII between 1531-6, on a  site where, according to Stow, “the citizens of London, time out of mind, founded an hospital … for leprous women”.  It became one of the principal residences of the royal family for the next several hundred years.

The Queen’s Chapel

The palace has been considerably extended subsequent to its original construction. The Queen’s Chapel was built by the famous Palladian architect Inigo Jones between 1623-7, and was first used as a chapel by Charles I’s queen, Henrietta Maria, who was a Catholic. During the Civil War, it was used as a barracks by Parliamentarian forces. After the Restoration of the Monarchy, it was again used as a chapel by Charles II’s queen, Catherine of Braganza, who was also a Catholic, and who established a friary adjoining.

Lambeth Palace

Westminster and Lambeth in the sixteenth century (“Agas” Map/Map of early Modern London)

Another in the series on the historic secular buildings of London …

Lambeth Palace, the London residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury,  was originally built in the thirteenth century, and subsequently extended in the late fifteenth and sixteenth, under Henry VII and Mary respectively. 

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Lambeth Palace from the roof of the church of St Mary (with the Palace of Westminster in the background)

The surviving Chapel and Lollard’s Tower date to the late Medieval; the Gate-House, built by Cardinal John Morton, to the post-Medieval, to  1495.  The Garden was probably originally laid out in the late fifteenth or sixteenth century.

Edward III’s Manor House, Rotherhithe

Another in the series on historic secular buildings of London …

Rotherhithe was first recorded as Rederheia in around 1105, and takes is name from the Old English “redhra”, meaning mariner, and “hyth”, meaning landing place.  It appears to have been a small settlement surrounding the church of St Mary in the Medieval period, when Edward III had a retreat on the river here.

The remains of the retreat still survive, near King’s Stairs.

A Museum of London Archaeology monograph describes in detail the findings of recent archaeological excavations at  Medieval sites in Rotherhithe (Blatherwick & Bluer, 2009).  Another  investigates the later, maritime history of the area, based on the findings of excavations at Pacific Wharf  (Heard & Goodburn, 2003).


Another in the series on historic secular buildings of the Cities of London and Westminster …

The Guildhall and the surrounding area in the sixteenth century (“Agas” Map)

The Guildhall was originally built sometime before 1128, possibly on the site of an even older building, where the Saxons held their “Husting”, or indoor assembly.  It was subsequently substantially rebuilt between 1298-1356, and rebuilt again, by the Master Mason John Croxton, between 1411-30. 

The exterior of the Guildhall today
The interior of the Great Hall

It was then damaged in the Great Fire of London in 1666, and repaired  in the aftermath, only to be badly damaged in the so-called Second Great Fire of 29th December, 1940, during the Blitz of the Second World War, and repaired again after that. 

A Medieval horn-glass window
Part of the Medieval crypt system

The lower levels of the walls (up to the level of the clerestorey) still survive from the Medieval period, as do some of the original windows, made from slivers of  horn-glass, and the crypts. 

The porch, though, is a later, eighteenth-century addition, by Dance, in a bizarre style described as Hindoo Gothic.  Inside, the famous statues of the mythical giants Gog and Magog replace two sets of earlier ones, the first destroyed in the Great Fire, and the second in the Blitz. 

The outline of the Roman Amphitheatre is marked by a black slate oval in Guildhall Yard

The remains of the Roman Amphitheatre were discovered some 20′ below modern ground level during renovation work on the Medieval Guildhall in 1987.


The remains of the Amphitheatre may be viewed in the basement of the Guildhall Art Gallery.

The Palace of Westminster

Another in the series on historic secular buildings of the Cities of London and Westminster …

Part of Westminster, including part of the old palace, in the sixteenth-century (left)

The old Palace of Westminster was purportedly originally bult for Cnut in around 1016, and subsequently rebuilt by Edward “The Confessor”, in 1042-65, and extended by succeeding kings, with Parliament meeting in Westminster Hall from 1265, and then in the secularised Royal Chapel of St Stephen from 1547/8.  Some of the palace complex was destroyed in a fire in 1512; and most of what remained in another fire in 1834, with essentially only Westminster Hall and the Jewel Tower surviving, together with parts of the Royal Chapel of St Stephen, including the Chapel of St Mary Undercroft.  The new palace was built by Charles Barry and Augustus Welby Pugin, in the Victorian Gothic style, between 1840-58.

Westminster Hall exterior, with part of the new Palace of Westminster in the background
Westminster Hall interior
Plaque commemorating Thomas More, who was condemned to death at his trial in the hall in 1535

Westminster Hall was originally built as a royal residence cum banqueting house by William II in 1097-99, and subsequently rebuilt,  with a spectacular hammerbeam roof by Hugh Herland and Henry Yevele, for Richard II, in 1394-1401.  It survived the fires of 1512 and 1834, but was damaged during the Blitz of the Second World War, and has since been  further damaged by Death Watch Beetle, the infestation thought to have taken hold in  timbers that had become soaked during the war-time fire-fighting (note also, though, that Westminster was historically particularly prone to floods, Matthew Paris describing one such in 1241, during which “people rode into the great hall on horseback”). 

Jewel Tower

The Jewel Tower was originally built by Henry Yevele for Edward III in 1365-66.

The Tower of London

The first in a series on historic secular buildings of the Cities of London and Westminster …

The Tower today
The eleventh-century Chapel of St John

The Tower of London was originally built under William I, William II and Henry I in the late eleventh to earliest twelfth century, between 1076-1101, and subsequently extended by Henry III in the late thirteenth (inner curtain wall), Edward I in the late thirteenth to early fourteenth (outer curtain wall), and a succession of later kings and queens, many of whom used it as a royal residence, through to the seventeenth.  The chapel of St Peter ad Vincula within is arguably of even older, Saxon origin. 

The Tower features in the earliest known painting of London, by an unknown artist, dating to the late fifteenth century, and commissioned to illustrate a book of poems written by Charles, Duc d’Orleans, who was imprisoned here for twenty-five years after his capture at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415.  

The Tower in the fifteenth century, with London Bridge in the background
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The Tower in the sixteenth century (“Agas” Map/Map of early Modern London)

Hundreds were imprisoned in the Tower over the centuries; and scores tortured, and/or executed,  in a variety of horrible ways.  One wonders how much better a world it would have been if all the imaginative effort expended in  devising means of inflicting suffering had instead been channelled elsewhere. 

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One of the more comfortably appointed cells
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Tudor graffito

The remarkable menagerie established here in the thirteenth century  was eventually closed down in the nineteenth by the then Constable of the Tower, the Duke of Wellington, who did not want it interfering with military matters any longer. The animals were rehomed in  Regent’s Park, in what was to become the zoo there.

Beasts of the Menagerie

Stepney Church (St Dunstan and All Saints)

Memorial to “honist” Abraham Zouch of Wappin, rope maker (d. 1648)

The last in the series on the historic churches of the out-parishes of London …

By the time of the Great Fire of London in 1666, there were over a hundred parish churches and other places of Christian worship within and immediately without the walls of  the City. There were a further twelve  in the out-parishes of Middlesex (north of the river) and Surrey (south of the river).


Stepney Church (St Dunstan and All Saints) was originally built in the Saxon or early Medieval period, and subsequently rebuilt in the later Medieval.  It is known as “The Mother Church of the East End”, and also as “The Church of the High Seas”, on account of the area’s maritime association.  

Saxon rood cross

There is a surviving Saxon rood cross in the interior. 

Memorial to Abraham Rallings, mariner (d. 1644)
Memorial to Admiral Sir John Berry (d. 1689)

As might be expected, there are also a number of memorials to seafarers and ancillary tradespeople.  

Tomb of Sir Henry Colet, twice Lord Mayor of London (d. 1510)

During the Great Plague of 1665, there were 6583 plague deaths in the parish, more than in any other parish in London.

St Mary, Rotherhithe (Rotherhithe or Redriff Church)

Another in the series on the historic churches of the out-parishes of London …

By the time of the Great Fire of London in 1666, there were over a hundred parish churches and other places of Christian worship within and immediately without the walls of  the City. There were a further twelve  in the out-parishes of Middlesex (north of the river) and Surrey (south of the river).

St Mary, Rotherhithe was originally built in the Medieval period, when there was comparatively little settlement in the area, apart from Edward III’s retreat on the river-front.

Watch House
Associated Free School

The church was subsequently rebuilt in 1715, by which time Rotherhithe had become an important maritime centre, with timber and ship-building yards, docks and wharves, where artisan mast-makers, coopers, anchor-smiths, and others plied their trades.

The memorials of a number of men associated with the maritime trade were salvaged from the old church. These include those of Captain Thomas Stone, who died in 1666, and Captain Anthony Wood.

Captain Christopher Jones was also buried in the church, in 1622. He had been the Captain of the Mayflower, which set sail from Rotherhithe  in 1620 for Plymouth and eventually the Americas. 

Rather remarkably, a South Sea Island Prince, Lee Boo, was also buried in the church, in 1784. The story of how this came to be is as follows. In 1782, three Rotherhithe men set sail on the East India Company’s packet the Antelope in order to round Cape Horn and cross the Pacific from east to west in search of trade opportunities. But after a year at sea they became shipwrecked on the reefs of the “Pelews” – Palau. Here, they befriended the local royal family, and, with their assistance, they repaired their ship, and renamed it the Oroolong. It was then agreed by both parties that they would take young Prince Lee Boo with them on their onward journey, that he might learn their ways, and become an Englishman. They first sailed to Macao and Canton, where Lee Boo began his “education” in the Western way of life, writing about it in a journal. Finally, in 1784, they arrived in England. Lee Boo then travelled from Portsmouth to London by coach, describing how he had been put into “a little house which was run away with by horses”, and how he had slept, but still gone on, and had gone on one way, while the fields, houses and trees went the other. On his eventual arrival, he was given a room in the house of a Captain Wilson in Paradise Row in Rotherhithe, where he lived as one of the family. He attended a local school, and, on Sundays, the local church, of St Mary. Sadly, on 27th December, 1784, Lee Boo died, of smallpox, and two days later, according to the parish register, he was buried in St Mary’s, on the other side of the world from where he had been born. He was twenty years old.

The Liberation of Belsen

The Lost City of London - Before the Great Fire of 1666

On April 15th, 1945, shortly before the end of the Second World War, the Nazi concentration camp at Belsen was liberated by the advancing British Army.  It was subsequently established that some  70,000 camp inmates died, or were  killed, here over the course of the war, 14,000 of them in the days and weeks after the liberation.   Most of the dead were Jews from all over occupied Europe, including, famously,  the diarist Anne Frank, and her sister Margot, from Amsterdam in the Netherlands.  Note, though, that many  Russian Prisoners-Of-War also died  in Belsen (which had been  used as a P.O.W. camp until 1943).

The Team.JPGInmates being boarded onto an ambulance.JPG

On  April 21st, 1945, a team from the Friends [Quakers] Relief Service arrived to help clear the camp, to comfort the many dying inmates, and to care as best they could for the surviving ones.

My uncle, Eryl Hall Williams, was among them. …

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