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Gray’s Inn Furnival’s Inn

Staple Inn

Barnard’s Inn Thavies Inn

Lincoln’s Inn

Six Clerk’s Inn

Clifford’s Inn

Clement’s Inn

Middle Temple

Inner Temple

The surroundings of Staple Inn in 1313 based on Williams’ Staple Inn (London) Archibald Constable and Co, 1906 – an outstandingly readable description of Holborn in medieval times.






The need for reform This history of Gray’s Inn begins with an appalling scandal. In 1289 Edward I had been on the throne for 17 years − ruling England and Gascony and attempting to subjugate Wales. In August, he returned from three years in France to be greeted with allegations of widespread corruption against his senior judges. A commission of inquiry was appointed, and it confirmed the allegations. The public criticism of the law did not end with the judges. Litigants complained that the lawyers appearing in the courts were unskilled and corrupt. In 1292 the King’s Council issued a ‘writ’ entitled ‘De Attornatis et Apprenticiis’. It directed the Chief Justice of the Common Pleas and his fellow judges to ‘provide and ordain, from every county, certain attorneys and apprentices of the best and most apt for their skill and learning … and those so chosen only, and no other, should follow the court and transact affairs therein’. The ‘attornatis’ referred to in the writ were not advocates. King Edward 1. 5


Cecil should move upwards in the law or in the state service, which had so far not been resolved, was answered. He stood close to the Protector, Somerset, and then – a move requiring some dexterity – to his successor, Northumberland. He was appointed one of the Secretaries of State in 1550. He navigated the troubled waters of the period between the death of Edward VI (1552) and the accession of Elizabeth I (1558) not only without Elizabeth’s charge to Cecil shipwreck but even without serious on his appointment

William Cecil.

damage. One of the first acts of Elizabeth was his re-instatement as Principal Secretary of State. From that time until his death, 40 years later, he remained the Queen’s closest and wholly faithful adviser.

This judgment I have of you, that you will not be corrupted with any manner of gift and that you will be faithful to the state, and that without respect to my private person will give me that counsel you think best.

1556–1559 The Hall refurbished It is not known when the present Hall was built, because the records of the Inn only go back to 1569. But there are convincing reasons for believing that the brick hall replaced a medieval stone hall and was built sometime in the first half of the 16th century. Beside the north door into Hall is a carving of the shield of Charles Brandon, intimate friend and brother-in-law of Henry VIII. The shield, hidden under a coat of plaster for over for four centuries, was discovered when building works were carried out in 1901. The prominent placing of Brandon’s shield at what was then the main entrance suggests that the Hall was built during the years when Brandon was still active in public life. It may also be that Brandon was a member of the Inn or closely associated with it. The shield may have been covered when any association with Brandon’s family became dangerous after the execution of his granddaughter, Lady Jane Grey.7 In 1551 the interior of the Hall was panelled ‘with 54 yards of wainscot at two shillings a yard’. Five years later an ambitious project of ‘re-edification’ was undertaken. This took four years Shield of Charles Brandon.



The interior of the Great Hall, Gray’s Inn (drypoint etching by A. Williams)

to complete at a cost of £863 10s 8d. It does not seem likely that this involved the construction of the Hall itself. Although £863 was a large sum in the 1550s, it would not have covered the building of a new Hall. Nor is it likely that such work would have been undertaken only five years after the Hall had been repanelled. But it may be that the work included the construction of the hammer beam roof to replace a much simpler roof. The Elizabethan roof was destroyed in World War II but the present roof is a perfect replica.8



6 1870s

LATE VICTORIAN PERIOD AND A NEW CENTURY The Inn at its nadir By the 1870s, the very survival of the Inn was at stake. The crisis reached a climax in 1873 following a period of three years when the average Call at Gray’s Inn was less than one student per term. No students were Called in 1873. The Inn was governed by about 20 Benchers, and it is no exaggeration to suggest that they practically outnumbered all other members. The Society appeared to exist solely for the benefit of this ageing band of brothers, who looked down on a void in Hall or at best on fewer than two messes huddled together in a corner. Such was the Inn’s plight that, when the youthful Lewis Coward (later Sir Lewis Coward KC, head of the Railway and Canal Commission) joined the Inn as the solitary entrant, the press were so exercised by this novelty that they flocked to interview him to discover the cause of such a rash step. Since the crisis was fuelled by an inability to attract members, the choice was stark: either the Society died of inanition or there was an urgent need to recruit. The Benchers looked to the slender resources of the Inn and by the simple expedient of creating the Bacon and Holt Scholarships − opened to competition for the first time

Queen Victoria.



in 1874 − the Inn made play for new students. Equally important, Joseph Arden established a scholarship in his name that depended on obtaining Honours in the Final School of the Bar Examination. These blue ribbon prizes had an electrifying effect on recruitment, and it was not long before the Inn emerged from its temporary obscurity. The intellectual rigour of the early winners of these scholarships and prizes gave such lustre to the Society that in a relatively short time the Inn stood in the first rank among the other Inns.

Life in Hall

A view of the ‘bridge’ from a 19th century watercolour by John Crowther. (Acknowledgement, Guildhall Library)

The rise in its fortunes permitted the Inn to resume a pattern of life that is recognisable today, though inevitably there are some differences. As yet, there was no meal service at lunchtime and the dinner hour was at 6pm, put back from 4pm in earlier times. The Hall was still lit by gas light and heated by a large black stove positioned under the louvre roof space, its flat top used for warming serving plates. Candelabra shed light across the Bench table. Call Night had Arthurian characteristics. Each student to be Called was required to attend the Lancaster Chamber (now the Small Pension Room) promptly at 5.30pm wearing evening attire. After being addressed by the Treasurer the newly Called Barrister circled the round table shaking the hand of each Bencher present. From the Lancaster Chamber the Barrister passed into Hall to undergo the ordeal of making a speech to the assembled company, every one of whom gave the impression of being there to pass judgment. But, once this rite of passage was over, the conviviality of Hall was rekindled and the joy of success celebrated in traditional rumbustious style by all those fortunate to be present.

Sir John Holker Sir John Holker, a major benefactor of the Inn, died in 1882. His name remains closely associated with Gray’s, attaching as it does to the Library and several scholarships, both funded by his considerable financial success at the Bar.



not only survived but, what was more, its members were life-affirming and full of exuberance. The success of the rebuilt Hall, and indeed the entire vision of Gray’s Inn as a physical presence post-war, was largely due to its architect, Sir Edward Maufe RA. He was made an Honorary Bencher of the Inn in 1951 in recognition of the Society’s debt to him and knighted in 1954 for his services to the Imperial War Graves Commission.


A House Dinner and a Graya Anniversary For the first time since 1938, when the principal guest was Lord Atkin, a House Dinner was held in Hall in 1952 to honour the Rt Hon Winston Churchill, Prime Minister, and the Rt Hon Robert Menzies, Prime Minister of Australia, both Honorary Benchers of the Inn. On the calendar it was Friday 13 June, but Churchill was reconciled to the date because, as he said, he was at Gray’s Inn and among friends. In reply to the toast to his health, Churchill spoke of his late friendship with President Roosevelt and how they had first met at the Inn in 1918. He continued: ‘Roosevelt had a tremendous feeling for Gray’s Inn. I was asked by your body to convey to him the fact that you wished him to become a Bencher. When I went in to him at the White House on one of my visits there during the War he almost jumped for joy. “Oh! Thank you”, he said at once. If he had to come to England … there was no engagement which he would rather have accepted than to take part in a proceeding like we are having tonight.’ In his speech, Menzies paid tribute to Churchill:

The Rt Hon Robert Menzies.

‘I have no doubt that in the records of Gray’s Inn … It will be recorded that the first House Dinner after the greatest War in history, after the destruction and reconstruction of this ancient Hall, it was the privilege of Gray’s Inn to have as its guest and to hear as its principal speaker a man who is assured of immortality as any man in the history of our race.’ Six months later, on 5 December 1952, the Society held another Dinner in Hall. It was less momentous than the Dinner in June, yet the Silver



Dinner for the Silver Jubilee of Graya in 1952.

Jubilee of Graya was much to celebrate. It gives some sense of the time that fog hung thickly over London throughout the morning and visibility decreased as the day and early evening wore on. This was the second day of the ‘Great Killer Fog’ of 1952. The fog lasted nearly a week and blanketed London in every direction for 20 miles, adversely affecting transport, all live entertainment, electricity supplies, and public health. It was probably a tribute to the importance that the Society accorded to its in-house magazine that over 200 guests managed to attend the Anniversary Dinner despite the difficulty of reaching the Inn. In 1977 the Inn published a ‘Portfolio of Jubilee Prints’, seven in number, depicting scenes of the Inn. This was to coincide with the 50th Anniversary of Graya. The original drawings were the work of Leonora Ison, who coincidentally had begun her career with a firm of architects in Verulam Buildings.

1953–1954 A Coronation Ball and a Royal Treasurer In June 1953 the Society held a Ball at the Inn to mark the Queen’s Coronation. There were 500 guests and dancing in Hall until 2.30 am. The screen was garlanded and the windows were deep in flowers. Outside, it was a fine evening. Field Court was hung with Chinese lanterns and underneath the trees guests enjoyed a buffet while listening to soft music.



Some of the women at Gray’s inn who changed things It would be impossible to attempt to list the many who have brought about the change in the position of women practising at the Bar. But mention should be made here of Ann Curnow (a formidable advocate in the criminal courts), Ann Goddard (whose generosity has provided the Inn with funds for scholarships for young advocates doing publically funded work), Jean Southworth (for many years Dean of Chapel), Ann Ebsworth (the first woman to be appointed to the Queen’s Bench Division) and Joyanne Bracewell (senior Judge in the Family Division who played a major part in the implementation of the Children Act 1989).

Dame Ann Ebsworth.

Dame Linda Dobbs on the occasion of her receiving an honorary Doctor of Laws at the University of Kent.


A general rule in writing this book is that there is no discussion of members of the Inn who are still alive, but exceptions are allowed. One exception must be Dame Linda Dobbs, who was the first non-white woman to be appointed to the High Court Bench. She was a much-liked advocate at the Criminal Bar and retained her good humour and common sense approach when in 2004 she was appointed to the High Court. But, in a recent interview, she remembered the discrimination from clerks and clients she faced when she first came to the Bar and (what is sometimes not mentioned, how hurtful that could be). Since her retirement in 2013, she has spent much time training advocates overseas and has remained committed to helping young people who want to join the profession. She says: ‘For me it is all about unlocking potential.’


Chambers in the Inn In the sixties and seventies, the Bar entered a short lived era in which new entrants to the Bar working in publically funded work could expect to earn a reasonable living. Legal Aid became available in criminal, divorce and county court work. The industrial tribunals opened up new opportunities for advocates. Chambers operated in a collegiate style. Numbers were usually limited to perhaps 20 or 30 members. Many chambers were still ‘common law sets’, in which members were expected to be able to deal competently with many different types of case. Today, the position is very different. The size of chambers has increased very substantially, and in chambers with 50 or more members, some of the collegiate spirit has inevitably been lost. And, although members of the Bar practising in commercial and specialist chambers can expect to earn a good (sometimes very good) living from the start, new entrants undertaking Legal Aid criminal and family cases have a difficult task to earn a reasonable living. In London, ‘common law sets’ have virtually disappeared. In the seventies in Gray’s Inn a few pioneers set up their own chambers or moved from the Temple – notably Richard Yorke QC, Sir Douglas Frank QC and Stephen Terrell QC. These experiments proved very successful. Gray’s Inn became recognised as an attractive home for new chambers. By the 2000s highly prestigious sets had been established in the Inn undertaking administrative law work, defamation and privacy, insolvency, banking, intellectual property, construction, complex fraud and international criminal cases. As room at the Inn filled up, new well-regarded chambers were established in the streets adjoining, notably in Bedford Row, Doughty Street and St James Street. One of the leading chambers undertaking major criminal work which moved from the Temple is at 3 Raymond Buildings. The chambers are now well known not just for their expertise of its members in criminal work but also in extradition, cross-border offences and cyber- crime.


Book release: An Illustrated History of Gray's Inn  

The Graya Board is pleased to announce the publication of An Illustrated History of Gray’s Inn written by David Barnard and Timothy Shuttlew...

Book release: An Illustrated History of Gray's Inn  

The Graya Board is pleased to announce the publication of An Illustrated History of Gray’s Inn written by David Barnard and Timothy Shuttlew...