Another compact area today but one packed full of history, sights and places to visit. We start on the border between the Strand and Fleet Street with a tour round the Royal Courts of Justice then head north up Kingsway to Holborn tube before working our way back south through Lincoln’s Inn Fields and surrounding streets, taking in Sir John Soane’s Museum and the Hunterian museum along the way. And there’s a pretty good pub of the day thrown into the mix as well. On the downside none of those ports of call (apart from the pub) allow internal photography so either take a bit more notice of the external links than usual or better still go and visit yourselves – especially since they’re all free admission.
The Royal Courts of Justice is home to both the High Court and the Court of Appeal. The former deals with higher level civil disputes and is comprised of three divisions; the Queen’s Bench division, the Chancery division and the Family division. The latter is split into two divisions which hear referrals from the Crown Court (criminal cases) and the High Court (civil cases) respectively. However, since the establishment of the Supreme Court in 2009, the Court of Appeal at the RCJ is no longer the last chance saloon for those who wish to challenge their convictions. Most of the Courts’ proceedings are presided over by a single judge but certain cases may be heard by a bench of two judges and very exceptionally, usually for cases against the police, a jury will sit. Cases being heard on any particular day are published on the Daily List which is available for public view just inside the entrance. On this occasion there were no cases sitting which I was inspired to look in on – but you would have to be very lucky to come across anything juicy if just visiting on spec.
This soaring Gothic edifice was opened by Queen Victoria in 1882 following eleven years of construction. The architect, George Edmund Street (1824 – 1881), beat off competition from ten of his peers to win the commission but since, as you see, he didn’t live to see its completion that may have something of a pyrrhic victory. The cathedral-like quality of the building is perhaps unsurprising given that when the architects bid for the contract that was exactly what they were led to believe it was for. You need to pass through security control to enter the building as a visitor and, as already noted, no photography is permitted. However you can wander around quite freely including along the corridors lined by the 19 courtrooms where barristers and their clients will often be huddled together discussing strategy. There are bookable guided tours or you can pick up a self-guided tour leaflet at the reception desk. This I didn’t do until I’d already been round once so I’d spent some time looking for the “Bear Garden” in the mistaken belief that this might be an actual garden. The lady on the desk set me straight by explaining that the Bear Garden is just a room where solicitors, barristers and their clients meet to discuss cases (and so I had already passed through it a couple of times). The name arose after Queen Victoria, on one of her visits, described the noise in the room as sounding like a “bear garden” (i.e. a place where bear baiting takes place). I have to say it was a bit more subdued than that when I was there.
Once back outside we turn up Clements Inn which flanks the western wing of the RCJ and then along St Clement’s Lane and Portugal Street which cut between the main buildings that make up the London School of Economics (LSE). (I had intended to make a visit to the LSE library to look at some papers but had overlooked the fact that this was Freshers’ week so that turned out to be a non-starter). Emerge onto Kingsway by the Peacock Theatre (which is affiliated with Sadlers Wells and presents a more family-oriented dance programme) and head north.
On the corner with Sardinia Street you’ll find this sculpture called Square the Block by the artist Richard Wilson which was commissioned by the LSE for the opening of its New Academic building in 2009.
A bit further up on the eastern side of Kingsway is the Roman Catholic Church of Saint Anselm & Saint Cecilia. Despite being a bit on the shy and retiring side as far as RC churches go there were quite a few members of the faithful paying their respects this particular lunchtime.
Next block along on the same side is the grade II listed Africa House. This was built in 1921 and both the name and the large scale sculptural group above the central colonnades are a somewhat bathetic evocation of the British Empire which was already only just holding together by that time. The sculpture is by Benjamin Clemens (1875 – 1957), assistant master at the Royal College of Art. The group has Britannia at its centre, flanked by noble Arab traders with their camels and a big game hunter oiling his rifle. A native bearer carries a pair of tusks while the hunter’s victim lies open-eyed next to them. Other animals include a lion, a crocodile, a bison and a massive python. After a major overhaul in 2013 the building is now home to international law firm Mishcon de Reya LLP. But on its ground floor it also houses a branch of Ladbrokes and a Wetherspoons Pub – which couldn’t make more of a mockery of the pretensions of its original designers.
On the other side of the road is what was originally Holy Trinity Church, built around 1910 following the demolition of Little Queen Street Chapel of 1831 whose foundations were destroyed during the building of the Piccadilly Line. Holy Trinity Church was badly damaged by fire in 1985 and was closed. At the turn of the millennium it was redeveloped as offices and incorporated into the adjacent Aviation House which is home to both Ofsted and the Food Standards Agency.
Turn right past the tube station then cut down the alleyway that is New Turnstile, take a right again on Gate Street back to Kingsway, go past Africa House and left down Twyford Place. At the end turn left into Gate Street again before veering off up Little Turnstile, another alleyway, which re-emerges on High Holborn. Heading east from here takes us past the Rosewood Hotel, yet another 5* job, opened in 2013 in the former Chancery Court which was built in 1914 as the headquarters of the Pearl Assurance Company in which capacity it lasted up until 1989. (From 2000 to 2011 it was The Renaissance Hotel, part of the Marriott Group).
About a hundred yards further along turn south down Great Turnstile (the third and final of the turnstile alleyways). Return west along Whetstone Park which has nothing park-like about it and is, considering its length, one of the most unremarkable streets in the capital apart from these two very strange tiny doors on the southern side about half way down.
After a quick look up and down Remnant Street we switch eastward again along the northern stretch of Lincoln’s Inn Fields which is the location of Sir John Soane’s Museum. This inhabits nos. 12 to 14 which were all owned by SJS, no.12 bought initially as family home and the other two acquired subsequently to house his burgeoning and eclectic collection of paintings, sculptures and historical artefacts, and then bequeathed to the nation on his death in 1837. Four years before that, he had negotiated an Act of Parliament: to preserve his house and collection, exactly as it would be at the time of his death – and to keep it open and free for inspiration and education.
The no-photo rule is strictly enforced here and mere words would struggle to convey the remarkable nature of the collection and the unique ways in which it is displayed so I would urge you to take a look at the website or simply go and see it for yourselves. I will just mention a couple of things though. Firstly, the original paintings of Hogarth’s Rake’s Progress form part of the collection that is ingeniously housed in the tardis-like Painting Room. If you’re not familiar with this series of eight tableaux, they depict a salutary tale of the perils of a life of dissolution and ignoring the love of a good woman. Secondly, down in the basement you will find the astonishing Alabaster sarcophagus of the Egyptian Pharaoh Seti of the XIX dynasty. This is regarded as one of the most important relics of Ancient Egypt ever found. It was discovered by Giovanni Battista Belzoni in 1825 and was originally offered to the British Museum but when they baulked at the £2,000 asking price Soane stepped in to acquire it (then held three separate parties to celebrate its arrival.)
After leaving the museum we cut through Lincoln’s Inn Fields itself (the park rather than the fours streets surrounding it) where there is no shortage of folk taking advantage of the Indian summer weather.
Once out the other side we head south down Newman’s Row and enter into the grounds of Lincoln’s Inn. I won’t repeat the origins of the four Inns of Court that we covered when visiting Gray’s Inn a few posts back but just note that this is considered the earliest of the four with records dating back to 1422. The Great Hall and Library which are the first buildings you come to, on the north side of New Square, completed in 1845 these have a touch of the Hogwarts about them though the former is basically just a glorified refectory cum common room. From the north-east corner of New Square we head up through Old Square into Stone Buildings passing Chambers that mostly date from the last quarter of the 18th century.
Retracing our steps we return to the Chapel the basic structure of which dates back to 1620. This was laid by John Donne (1573 – 1631) who was preacher of the Inn at this time prior to becoming Dean of St. Paul’s. The Chapel bell, cast in 1615, also has an association with John Donne. In addition to ringing for curfew at nine each evening, the Chapel bell, cast in 1615, is by ancient custom rung at midday on the death of a bencher of the Inn. This a practice is held to be the inspiration for the quotation from Donne’s poem beginning “No Man is an Island” which concludes “And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee”. The stained glass windows on the north and south sides are original 17th century. The window on the east side depicts the crests of the 228 treasurers from 1680 to 1908. The window at the west end shows the colours of the Inns of Court regiments. Inside the entrance there is a Latin-inscribed memorial to Spencer Perceval (1762 – 1812), the only British Prime Minister to have been assassinated whilst in office and who studied at Lincoln’s Inn.
Next door to the Chapel is the Old Hall which was erected four years into the reign of Henry VII, three years before Columbus set foot in America (do the Math). Sir Thomas More, who joined the Inn in 1496, spent much of his professional life here. In the 18th and 19th centuries the Old Hall was used as a court of justice and the opening scene of Dickens’ Bleak House, with the start of the interminable Jarndyce vs Jarndyce case, is set here. (Had I known all this beforehand I would have taken more notice of the building – which only just about made it into the shot below).
Circle round the back of the Chapel through Old Buildings and return to New Square by the Hardwicke Building. After a circuit of the square we exit Lincoln’s Inn via New Square Passage and the southern entrance onto Carey Street.
Here we turn left and then left again up Star Yard which is home to Ede & Ravenscroft, founded in 1689 and thought to be the oldest firm of tailors in the world. Beginning with the coronation of William and Mary they added royalty to their client base for the supply of ceremonial robes alongside church, judiciary and academia.
Also in Star Yard is this decorated cast-iron structure which is apparently a urinal (though one which hasn’t been in use since the 1980’s). It’s the sort of thing you might expect to commonly find in Paris but I’m not aware of anything similar in London; which is why it has a Grade II listing no doubt.
Bishops Court takes us out onto Chancery Lane and from there we go south and turn west back onto Carey Street. We’ve passed many red telephone boxes on our previous travels without comment but the collection at the back of the RCJ is unusual enough to warrant some remark. As hinted at in the last post, the designer of the first all metal red box was Sir Giles Gilbert Scott. This came about as a result of a 1924 competition to find a replacement for the concrete boxes (known as K1’s) introduced four years earlier but rejected by the London Metropolitan Boroughs. At the time Scott had just been made a trustee of the SJS Museum and his design for the K2 includes a dome inspired by Soane’s self-designed mausoleums. After going through a number of iterations the design was refined by Scott until in 1935 he arrived at the K6 version which is the one which can still be seen everywhere today. The USP of the group on Carey Street is that the outer pair are original K2 models which can be compared to the two common or garden K6s in between.
Opposite the phone boxes is today’s pub of the day, the Seven Stars. One of London’s oldest pubs, this dates from 1602 when it was reputedly a popular haunt Dutch sailors. Nowadays of course the clientele is principally from the legal profession, something reflected in the decor of the pub, as you can see the photos below. Based on the merguez sausages with couscous I had the food here is highly recommended. Not surprising as the landlady, the fantastically and genuinely named Roxy Beaujolais, has form presenting one of the BBC’s myriad of food programmes.
(You might also have spotted the long overdue return of reflection of the day in amongst the above). Also on Carey Street, another family business dating back to the later 17th century – it’s a different world round here and long may it stay that way.
We’ve already mentioned Sir Thomas More in connection with Lincoln’s Inn and in the south-western corner at the junction of Carey Street with Serle Street, on the Chambers that bear his name, is this statue, designed by George Sherrin and erected in 1888. The inscription reads :
Sir Thomas More Kt
Lord High Chancellor
Martyred July 6th 1535
The faithful servant
both of God and the King
At the end of Serle Street we turn left into the southern section of Lincoln’s Inn Fields, go past the old Land Registry building (now another part of the LSE) and arrive at the Royal College of Surgeons, built 1813, which is home to the Hunterian Museum.
The museum houses the collection of human and animal anatomical and pathological specimens put together by John Hunter (1728 – 1793) considered as the founding father of scientific surgery. Much of the collection of 14,000 items was lost when the College was struck by bombs in 1941. The present form of the museum, with the remainder of Hunter’s collection at its core, took shape more than 20 years later in 1963. Due to the nature of certain of the exhibits photography is again disallowed here so I’m afraid we’ll have to make do with this shot of the staircase leading up to the museum and this report on the 1963 re-opening in the Illustrated London News at the time hunterian_2. (The skeleton of the “Irish Giant” is still on display.)
From the south-western corner of Lincoln’s Inn Fields we do a round trip of Sardinia Street back in the heart of LSE territory. The London School of Economics was founded in 1895 by Beatrice and Sidney Webb with support from Graham Wallas and George Bernard Shaw. These four, who were all members of the recently created Fabian Society, decided to establish the School following a bequest of £20,000 in the will of Derby lawyer Henry Hunt Hutchinson who wished to advance the Fabians’ objectives of a fairer society. Today the LSE has a student body of over 10,000 around 70% of which are international (the highest proportion at any British University) representing over 150 different nationalities. And, as an illustration of how far things have changed since the LSE’s origins, a recent survey revealed more billionaires amongst its alumni than those of any other European university.
At no.13 Portsmouth Street is this representation of Dickens’ (yes that man again) Old Curiosity Shop. The old part is certainly apposite as the building is 16th century and was once the dairy on an estate given by Charles II to one of his mistresses. There is though no direct evidence that this actual building was the inspiration behind the novel. At the time of writing the shop is an upmarket men’s and women’s shoe store.
Fork right into Sheffield Street then left into Portugal Street past the LSE library on the other side of which is a building that from 1920 to 1076 was the head office of WH Smith, as celebrated by this plaque.
Here we veer off right for another visit to Carey Street and once beyond the phoneboxes turn south along the eastern flank of the RCJ to end up back where we started and so bring today’s marathon – in terms of word count rather than distance travelled – to a close.