Architecture of London's Staple Inn, Gray's Inn and Lincoln's Inn

Having accumulated its buildings over a long time, London contains a variety of architectural styles of different historical periods. Among the oldest architectural landmarks in London are structures that survived the Great Fire of 1666 and the Nazi German bombing of 1940-1941, which destroyed most of central City. Such places of note include Staple Inn, Lincoln's Inn and Gray's Inn, all situated in the area of High Holborn road.

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The buildings of Staple Inn, Lincoln's Inn and Gray's Inn date back to the thirteenth century, when the entire England had but three Universities. Two of them were Oxford and Cambridge, respectively. The third University was located in London and it was a University of Law. It consisted of four senior level colleges, which were called the Inns of Court, and nine Inns of Chancery, which played a supporting role of training law students. The four Inns of Court were The Honorable Societies of Lincoln's Inn, Inner Temple, Middle Temple and Gray's Inn, whereas Staple Inn was among the Inns of Chancery.

Lincoln's Inn

Although by tradition none of the Inns makes claims to be the oldest of four, Lincoln's Inn is the only one that is capable of tracing its official records to the year of 1422. The Inns have similar architectural organization, commonly cover several acres and present substantial complexes consisting of a great hall, library, garden, chapel and consequently, sets of chambers for barristers. Among general grades of Inns of Court membership traditionally were barristers, law students and the governing body represented by Masters of the Bench.

Lincoln's Inn is located in the London Borough of Camden in Holborn. The precise date of its founding remains unknown, but, according to the oldest records of 1422, it can be presumed that Lincoln's Inn was founded prior in time, since the record describes it as a fully disciplined and structured body. The majority of scholars come to a conclusion that Lincoln's Inn was named in the honor of the third Earl of Lincoln, who originally encouraged the lawyers' migration to Holborn after the decree of Henry III of England, which prohibited institutions of legal education in the City of London.

The Inn consists of three major squares and is separated from the street by a brick wall erected in 1562. The three squares are Old Square, which includes Hardwick Buildings and Old Buildings, New Square, known as Serle Court, and Stone Buildings.

The section of Stone Buildings was built between 1775 and 1780 by Robert Taylor in terms of a massive Lincoln's Inn rebuilding, which, however, never took place. Contemporary external appearance of the Stone Building is very close to the original. Material used for the Buildings is stone. Their structure is capacious and especially effective when viewed from the gardens. The northern entrance to Stone Buildings is through elegant iron gates in the upper part of Chancery Lane.

New Square was built of brick between 1682 and 1693 and presents eleven chambers distributed along the three sides of the square. In 1843, the open area in the middle of the square was replaced by lawns and gardens. Formerly, the center of this open space was occupied by a Corinthian column with a vertical sun-dial. The houses themselves were erected by Henry Serle in 1682 and the top stories were added later in the eighteenth century.

The New Square, Old Square and Stone Buildings of Lincoln's Inn buildings are commonly divided into four or five floors of chambers and are used by solicitors, barristers and other professional bodies. Residential flats take up the top floor.

Lincoln's Inn noble library and hall were built of red brick with stone dressings, designed by Mr. Philip Hardwick. The buildings were commenced in 1843. The first stone of the hall, laid on April 20 by the society's treasurer Sir James Lewis Knight-Bruce, bears the following inscription in Latin: "Stet lapis, arboribus nudo defixus in horto, fundamen pulchr tempus in omne dom's. Aula vetus lites et legum nigmata servet, ipsa novo exorior nobilitanda coquo. XXIJ. CAL. MAIJ, MDCCCXLIIJ." According to Sir George Rose's translation, it is interpreted as: "The trees of yore are seen no more: unshaded now the garden lies. May the red bricks, which here we fix, be lasting as our equities. The olden dome with musty tome of law and litigation suits: In this we look for a better 'cook' Than he who wrote the 'Institutes.'".

Due to significant architectural alterations of 1625, 1652, 1706 and 1819, the modern Old Hall is far from the original building. It is 71 feet long and 32 feet wide in size and bears an eloquent history of extensive remodeling. Thus, the 1800 remodeling led by Francis Bernasconi resulted in such innovations as covering of oak beams with a curved plaster ceiling. This innovation was not exactly successful, as the plasters' significant weight could lead to the consequential collapse of the entire roof. In order to improve the situation, Sir John Simpson initiated and directed the 1924-1927 dismantling of the hall. He removed the plaster, strengthened warped timbers, replaced all the impracticable segments and accordingly restored the building. It was officially reopened by Queen Mary on November 22, 1928.

The building of Old Hall performed multiple functions. It was used to hold feasts and revels, as well as court processes. In fact, its most acknowledged use as a court was the scene described in Charles Dickens' Bleak House . Nowadays, the Old Hall generally functions as a room for lectures and examinations. It has an external high-pitched roof, buttresses and pointed windows, which contribute to the building's general monastic appearance. Although Old Hall is of approximately the same date with the gateway, its exterior coating of white plaster or stucco significantly differs from the entrance's dull red brick.

The Lincoln's Inn chapel was first mentioned in historical documents of 1428. The original chapel was very small and failed to meet the needs and demands of modern public. The first attempt to extensively rebuild the chapel was made by Indigo Jones between 1620 and 1623. It was followed by subsequent repairs in 1797, 1883 and 1915. The construction of a contemporary chapel is built on blocks of pillars. The building is 60 by 40 feet and approximately 44 feet high. Each inner side of the chapel has three stained glass windows of brilliant shades. The windows' stylish design with Perpendicular tracery is attributed to the Van Linge family. Handsome oaken seats reveal carved work of chaste construction and superior execution, characteristic for the style which was prevailing in the reign of James I. The chapel contains an open undercroft and a tunnel vault in rich deep red color. Traditionally complete with an ancient bell, the chapel commonly functioned as a meeting place, a place of recreation and a Crypt.

The Lincoln's Inn Chapel is widely acknowledged as an exquisite music hall. The first pipe organ in the chapel was a Flight Robson model installed in 1820. It was substantially replaced in 1856 by a more advanced model designed by William Hill, which had tin pipes, thick lead, three manuals and a set of pedals. This instrument was played in a chapel up until 1969. It was rebuilt nine times and finally replaced with a reliable Kenneth Tickell model installed between 2009 and 2010.

Lincoln's Inn is also famous for its remarkable library, which contains a large collection of rare exemplars of books, pamphlets and manuscripts. The entire collection of library presents approximately 150,000 volumes of divergent works of literature connected with law. Built as an addition to the New Hall, the current library is 80 feet long, 40 feet wide and 44 feet high in size. Being initially situated in a building adjacent to the Old Hall, the library was transferred to the Stone Buildings chambers in 1787.

The oldest existing part of Lincoln's Inn is the Gatehouse, built between 1518 and 1521 by Thomas Lovell. It is a large Gothic type four stories high tower featuring a set of 1564 oak gates and diagonal rows of bricks, darker in tone. The gate presented three square compartments with Coats of Arms belonging to the third Earl of Lincoln, king Henry VIII, who ruled England at that time, and Sit Thomas Lovell, the Lincoln's Inn Treasurer, who greatly contributed to the initiation and building of the Gatehouse. It was repaired in 1695, 1967-1969 and 1815 and the Coats of Arms of three more Treasurers were added to the inner side of the building.

Gray's Inn

Gray's Inn is another notable Inn of Court located at the intersection of High Holborn. It is especially noted for its famous gardens, known as Walks that exist approximately since the late sixteenth century. Among the members of Gray's Inn were such prominent individuals as Francis Bacon and William Cecil. The Inn also gained popularity due to the revels and masks that were held there. In fact, it is believed that William Shakespeare used to perform in Gray's Inn.

Gray's Inn originated as a single manor house, which had a hall and a chapel. In 1591, an additional wing was added marking the following expansion. By 1586, the Inn consisted of a central court surrounded by two supplementary wings and several sets of chambers for the members. Although initially the Inn's land was open to the public, with the subsequent extension it became necessary for the purposes of safety to separate it with a wall. This process gradually continued over almost 10 years. The year 1629 was marked by an official order, according to which any further architectural alterations on the territory of Gray's Inn should be supervised by an especially appointed architect, whose duty was to ensure that all new constructions remain architecturally similar to the original buildings. This order was strictly enforced during the eighteenth century, providing a reasonable explanation for the evident uniformity, which is a distinctive feature of Gray's Inn.

The seventeenth century became the most productive in terms of adding new constructions to Gray's Inn. Many original buildings were demolished in order to improve or modernize their structure and many new buildings were built over the open land around the Inn. Such intense extension was highly controversial and provoked a number of requests and petitions aiming to restrict the process.

Over its history, Gray's Inn has undergone a number of necessitated restorations, which subsequently led to the replacement of originally used wood and plaster by a more fire resistant material, brick. One of these restorations was caused by the Coney Court fire in 1679, resulting in the rebuilding of an entire row, the second Coney Court fire happened in 1684 and destroyed the library along with several other buildings and a fire of 1687 seriously damaged Holborn Court. The ensuing architectural solution to the problem of fire-resistance led to the replacement of the previously dominating domestic style of Tudor architecture with more advanced modern styles. By 1774, the only parts of the Inn that remained untouched by restorations were hall and chapel. In the course of eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, more new buildings were added to the Gray's Inn.

Similarly to Lincoln's Inn and many other London buildings, Gray's Inn significantly suffered under the 1941 German bombing. Hence, the contemporary Inn has been restored and rebuilt to a large extent and bears slight resemblance to the appearance that original buildings had. The layout of the contemporary Inn consists of Gray's Inn Square and South Square, and the remaining buildings are distributed around the Walks.

Having undergone two significant restorations, by the year of 1559, the Gray's Inn hall appeared 70 feet in length, 35 feet in width and 47 feet in height, which are the measures that remain till the present. The hall features a hammer beam roof and a raised platform at the end, on which stands a grand table for Masters of the Bench and other notable guests. The entrance to the vestibule is covered by a large carved screen, which, according to the popular legend, was presented by a prominent patron of the Inn Elizabeth I. Supposedly the wood used for the screen was taken from a galleon, which belonged to the Spanish Armada. Traditionally, the hall was filled with the Coats of Arms of the Inns Treasurers and its walls were decorated with paintings depicting the Inn's eminent members and patrons such as Elizabeth I and Nicholas Bacon. The interior of the hall was lit with the aid of massive windows.

As a consequence of significant damage caused by the German bombing, the valuable paintings and Treasurers' Arms were transferred from the hall to a place of safety and thus survived till the present. After the War, the hall was rebuilt according to Edward Maufe's design and was formally opened in 1951. The exterior of the hall is notable for a modern Gothic porch, which is curved with the griffin forming the Inn's coat of arms.

SEE ALSO: "List of Research Topics in Architecture"

The original building of the Gray's Inn chapel dates back to year 1315. Taking into consideration that initially the chapel was of an insignificant size, in 1625 it was expanded to correspond with the Inn's growing requirements. In the course of history, the chapel was restored one more time and then entirely destroyed during the abovementioned bombing in 1941. The current building of the chapel was reconstructed in 1960. It contains elementary furnishings made of Canadian maple and original stained glass windows, which were removed and thus rescued from German bombing. Although the interior of the chapel contains no visible monuments, its east window commemorates four Archbishops of Canterbury who were connected with the Inn. The chapel's exterior is covered with stucco and its Gothic windows are walled up from the south by the library.

The famous Walks of the Gray's Inn date approximately from 1597. They were enhanced and maintained by the Treasurers of the Inn, among which was Francis Bacon. His contribution to the development of Walks is especially significant and many crucial improvements were made under his lead. For example, in 1608 the southern wall was implemented by a separate gate and a group of qualified gardeners was employed for maintaining the Walks. The splendid gardens were especially protected from the public in 1711, when the gardeners were given an order not to admit women and children into the Walks. Moreover, in 1718 they were officially allowed to physically remove the unwanted guests. The old gate installed in the times of Francis bacon was eventually replaced by a newly embellished iron set in 1720. Among the major changes that took place during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries was the introduction of plane trees.

Another significant part of the Gray's Inn is the library. In 1568 it presented a restricted collection of books stored at the chambers of Francis Bacon. The first official librarian was appointed in 1646 and a first propped catalogue was established in 1669. However, in 1684 a great part of the library's collection was destroyed in the Coney Court fire.

The significance of the Gray's Inn library grew in the eighteenth century, when it was made public. Hence, since 1789 the library began to expand. New rooms were being added up to 1883, when the building was constructed and designed to store approximately 11,000 books. A new Holker library was officially opened in 1929. However, the building was irrational and impractically constructed. It was completely destroyed by the bombing in 1941along with a large amount of books. The new library building, designed by Edward Maufe, was opened in 1958 and is currently noted for its organized and systematic design allowing easy and convenient access to the books, unlike that suggested by the 1929 building. The material used for the modern library building is red brick.

Staples Inn

Staples Inn was originally a subordinate part of the Gray's Inn and belonged to the Inns of Chancery. It is located on the south side of High Holborn and currently functions as a house for the Institute of Actuaries. It is the only Inn of Chancery that survived till nowadays. The site dates back to 1585 and was originally used as a staple for wool, where it was weighed and taxed. Staples Inn has a distinctive crockery roof, a black and white timber-framed Tudor faade, and an internal courtyard. The Inn's historic interiors include also a Great Hall, whereas the rest of the buildings are mostly post-war reconstructions. Nowadays, the ground floor beneath the overhanging frontage of Staple Inn is let to restaurants and shops. However, they are required not to interfere with the Inn's architecture, enhance the appropriate historical atmosphere and use a quieter signage than usual. Staple Inn presents a historically valuable site that attracts tourists' attention because of its distinct exterior features that look especially captivating in the framework of the surrounding modern buildings and because it was mentioned as a place where Dickens' character Pip lived in Great Expectations. Staple Inn's courtyard, situated behind the arched entrance from High Holborn, has long been noted as a secluded haven away from the urban congestion and noise of the capital. The Inns' courtyard owes its reputation to another Charles Dickens' reference in The Mystery of Edwin Drood.

The front faade of Staple Inn belongs to a conjunction of buildings that also includes a hall built around a courtyard. The current faade consists of two buildings, one of which was the original Staple Inn and the other was a separate house of a similar age. The distinction between two houses becomes evident when observing the larger part of the front faade created by the Inn as the house was incorporated during restorations. Furthermore, the original Staple Inn building was initially covered by extensive plaster obscuring the faade. During a restoration guided by Alfred Waterhouse, the plaster was removed along with many other post-medieval alterations. However, Waterhouse' restoration was generally sympathetic, unlike the one that followed it in 1937. A significant amount of woodwork, visible in the modern Staple Inn faade dates from this restoration and very few Tudor elements actually survive. It reveals a row of houses built in two parts in 1586 accompanied by a row of seven gables, which were produced somewhat later in time. Staple Inn is characterized by a close-studded frontage with the timbers set vertically and close together. Notable, this architectural solution was an expensive one because it used additional hidden timbers to provide the building with necessary strength. Staple Inn hall dates from approximately 1580 when it functioned mainly for holding banquets. The design of building is of a fundamental nature, featuring oriel windows and an iconic hammer beam roof common for medieval London banqueting halls.

The courtyard and the Old Hall were destroyed in a destructive 1944 air raid. The Inn was subsequently restored and reopened in 1950s. The contemporary courtyard contains mature plane trees, lamp posts and seats. Until the 1930s, its pump and well used to provide the supply of particularly pure water from underground springs to the Inn. It is nowadays acknowledged as one of the most popular historical sites on High Holborn.

Lincoln's Inn, Gray's Inn and Staple Inn occupy distinctive settings within the heart of the central City of London. They pose as historically eloquent landmarks within modern industrialized European City and thus present particular interest and value to specialists as well as a more general public, such as tourists and architecture admirers. These historical sites are especially protected and advocated by the leading British conservation bodies such as English Heritage and the Commission for Architecture.


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