I have been blogging about the history around where I work and now I thought it was time I actually blogged about where I actually work. I am lucky enough to work within Grays Inn on High Holborn. Famous as one of the great city Inns of lawyers barristers and Judges. I will say this I don’t work in a legal firm but an insolvency practice.
Of course the inn will be known to you who have read CJ Sansom’s Shardlack series of books, as he lives on chancery land near Lincolns inn and Grays Inn is often mention as are Bishopsgate, St Paul’s and Southwark.
The badge of the Inn is a golden griffin against a black shield. The first known history for the site was the ancient manor of Purpole. The last known owner of the Manor was a distinguished man, Sir Reginald de Gray. He held many important offices including constable and sheriff of Nottingham! He died in 1308. It is possible that the Inn took its name from him.
None of the Inns of law have exact dates of when they were formed. The records for Gray’s Inn start in 1569 but we do know that the Inn was used by the early legal practice much earlier than that.
It is widely thought by the inn and historians that the city Inns started due to a writ made by Edward I which came about from advice made by his privy council in 1292 after the legal profession was viewed to be corrupt. Our site became a lodge house or hospitum. The lodgers were widely thought to be legal scholars.
Did you know that during the fifteen century there were more scholars and legal professionals called up to be serjeants from Gray’s Inn than any other city Inn. Edmund Dudley, darling of Henry VII’s court was member of Gray’s Inn later beheaded by his tyrant heir and son Henry VIII.
Another notable Tudor of Grays inn was the Star of Hilary Mantels Wolfe Hall and Bring up the Bodies, Thomas Cromwell. He too would meet a traitor’s death and loose his head at Henry VIII’s order.
As well as beheading members of the Inn Henry VIII also desecrated the chapel of the in during the reformation when he ordered the image of Thomas Becket to be taken out of one of the chapels windows. It is good to know that the current chapel has now got a replacement Thomas Becket window. Henry you didn’t win that battle!
Queen Elizabeth I was the Inn’s patron and 2 of her most trusted and important advisors were Gray’s Inn members William Cecil – Lord Burleigh and her spymaster general Francis Walsingham was a Gray’s Inn man.
There is also a high possibility that Shakespeare performed at the inn as one of his patrons, Lord Southampton was a member of the inn. There is a myth that the screen housed in the great hall came from one of the Spanish ships lost and was gifted to the inn by Elizabeth I.
The Restoration period however has a bumpier less smooth past. The Inn thought to commemorate the restoration and showed loyalty to the restored monarch Charles II by paying 10 shillings to meet Charles II as he marched into London in 1660.
Dispite be roughly the same age as Lincolns inn down the road Grays inn as we see it today is relately modern. It has modern reproduction or in the style of Tudor archtecture but is mostly modern. One reason for this is that within a 7 year period, 1680 to 1687 there were no less that 3 fires in the Inn. The worst happened in 1684 when the library was destroyed and is probably when the early records for the Inn were lost.
The Inns became most important when in 1846 when parliament called that all those who practiced law should have a uniform and thorough and exhaustive legal training and education. In 1872 legal exams were introduced and were originally held in Lincolns Inn. They eventually moved to Grays Inn after the Second World War into a specially built building.
There is a memorial plaque in the Inn to remember those who fell in the Great and Second World War. There are 3 poppies above it all year round. The plaque can be found just in North Square near the alley that leads to Field court by the Inns fields.
The Inn did not escape the Blitz of the Second World War. The hall which is where the Inn eat & hold entertainment was practically destroyed in 1941 many of the treasures such as Glass from the windows, pictures and important shields were saved and have been put back in the new space. The library was also brought to the ground and the Inn lost some 30,000 books. Thankfully the Inn had the foresight to remove some of the more precious manuscripts. The Chapel was alsodestroyed in the Blitz. The precent day chapel you see today is on the same site as the orginal 14th century one.
I love that I am lucky enough to work in a place that is so full of history – if I can’t work in the hertitage industry then I feel that I am lucky enough to work in a part of London dripping with history.