This is the entrance to the Hall of Barnard’s Inn. A beautiful, fascinating little courtyard with old date stones, a story on the wall, the coat of arms of the Baden Powell family – and this glorious, small Hall. The Hall itself dates from the late 1300s, but in a chamber beneath, the southern wall is chalk and tiling from the Roman period, 2000 years ago. In 1252 the estate was recorded in the property of the then mayor of London Sir Adam de Basyng, and in the mid 1400s became one of the Inns of Chancery. Law students would enrol here for some time, then move on to Grays Inn, to which Barnards Inn and Staples Inn were associated.
It’s a strange place; to get to; from Holborn Circus walk up Holborn, cross Fetter Lane and look for the Barnards Inn archway on your left, with a Gresham College sign. Go boldly down the short alley and it opens out into this courtyard. Young couples sit here eating their lunch and on a sunny day the courtyard is warm and cosy, with historic carved stones set into the walls and an interesting story about the Mercers’ School carved into a large slate. After you have explored the courtyard you can move onwards under another arch into an altogether more modern courtyard, left, then beyond that again, back onto New Fetter Lane. It’s hard to tell you have almost turned back on yourself.
This Flemish lady shows Sir Thomas Gresham’s status as Royal Agent of Antwerp.
In Dickens’ time, Barnards Inn had fallen badly into disrepair and in Great Expectations young Pip came to London and found “Barnard to be … a fiction, and his inn the dingiest collection of shabby buildings ever squeezed together in a rank corner as a club for tom cats.“ In the 1890s the Mercers’ Company renovated the building and moved their boys school here from College Hill for about 60 years, closing in 1959.
The whole site has been purchased by Gresham College and you can now attend free lectures here, in this lovely Hall, at lunchtimes or about 6pm, mostly on Tuesdays. The Gresham Professors were set up in the 1500s and studied and taught the following disciplines: Astronomy, Divinity, Geometry, Law, Music, Physic (medicine) and Rhetoric. Even today the lectures follow the same themes – great topics, though – “Mathematics in the modern age – The 18th Century; Crossing bridges” and “Handel and London” and “Should we take our leaders as seriously as they take themselves?.”