The Inns of Court are ancient institutions and as you walk around our neighbourhood you’ll see signs of them: Staples Inn, Clifford’s Inn, Furnvials’s Inn, Barnard’s Inn, but there are four really famous ones – Lincoln’s Inn, Inner Temple, Middle Temple and Gray’s Inn. They have a serious teaching function, but many of their buildings are also occupied by operating legal chambers. You join one as a law student and through them, you get “called to the bar” ie become a barrister. Not everyone who joins an Inn becomes a barrister, or even wants to, but there are few other ways to become a lawyer, and none (until 2004) if you wanted to be a barrister.
If you walk up High Holborn to Chancery Lane tube station, you will meet Gray’s Inn Rd at the lights. Cross the road and then just past the Cittie of Yorke pub, turn right into Warwick Ct – you’ll miss it if you blink. At the end of it, through an imposing arch, is an entrance to Gray’s Inn. These are the arms of each of the Inns and the notice “School of Law.” Gray’s Inn has the gold griffin on a black background.
Famous people associated with Gray’s Inn? Queen Elizabeth I was patron and “a loving glass” is still raised to Good Queen Bess. Shakespeare performed his plays there, and part of a captured Spanish galleon has been made into a wooden screen in the Hall. Thomas a’Becket was chaplain of the chapel and he occupies the centre of the stained glass triptych behind the altar. Sir Francis Bacon was a member as was Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt.
The Walks, as the gardens are called, were laid out by Sir Francis Bacon and much of what he did endures. Verulam Buildings on Gray’s Inn Rd were named after him. Almost all the buildings were destroyed by German bombs in WW2, but a few choice buildings survive.
At the entrance to Gray’s Inn you’ll see a nice bronze relief of Sun Yat-Sen, who overthrew the Manchu dynasty in China in 1911. You could say “We taught him everything he knew…”