Travel to London and your list of must-see attractions invariably includes places such as the Tower of London, Buckingham Palace, the Houses of Parliament, and many more well-known places. Understandably, if you are in London for only a few short days, you don’t want to miss these, but, if you find yourself in London for anything more than 3 days, it is worth looking for some alternatives that will still give a flavour of London and its history, but are perhaps not on most tourist trails.
With that in mind let me show you London’s Inns of Court. This is the heart of legal London and consists of four ancient Inns of Court; Gray’s Inn, Lincoln’s Inn, Middle Temple, and Inner Temple. Just take a tube to Temple, head North and start exploring from there. One thing to note is that any exploring needs to happen during the weekday as the inns are closed in the evenings and weekends.
The inns are where barristers first train and then later practice and are all located within the vicinity of the Royal Courts of Justice, at the boundary between the City of London and Westminster. The inns started in the Middle Ages, and even back then were devoted to the technical study of English law rather than Roman law, which was taught in the universities. The Inns of Court were set up as an answer to the problem of legal eduction, as by this time (the mid-13th century) the common law of the land had become extensive and intricate. All manuals and books for teaching were produced in French rather than Latin.
As you can see, there is plenty of history in these streets in around the inns and plenty of little streets and corners to explore. Additionally, it is also where you will find the church of the Knights Templar, Temple Church (see my previous post for some information on this church). In the Middle Ages Inner and Middle Temple were part of the monastery of the Knights Templar. When the order was suppressed in 1312 most of the premises of Inner and Middle Temple were taken over by lawyers. Middle Temple Hall (on Middle Temple Lane) is famous for having the first performance of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, which took place on 2nd February 1601 (Candlemas).
In amongst all the inn buildings you will find something that looks rather out-of-place; the Old Curiosity Shop, which stands on Portsmouth Street, between the London School of Economics and Lincoln’s Inn Fields (London’s second largest square,Trafalgar Square being the largest). It is apparently the oldest shop in London and is said to be the original of Dickens’ eponymous novel.
The only original house left in Lincoln’s Inn Fields is now two houses, numbers 59 and 60. This is also were Spencer Perceval once lived; he was the only British Prime Minister to have been assassinated (in 1812). Number 65 on the same street used to be the home of William Marsden, founder of both the Royal Free Hospital (so-called because treatment was free to all) and Cancer Hospital, now called the Royal Marsden Hospital. Number 66 are the offices of the Queen’s solicitors, Farrer and Co.
Amongst all the buildings you will find plenty of little gardens, some of which only open during lunch time, to explore and have your lunch, so bring a little picnic! Alternatively, there are plenty of pubs and sandwich shops around, but be warned, as lunch approaches these will all be very busy (the busier they are, the better their offering!).
So, next time you are in London with some free time give the Inns of Court a chance to take you back into time.