Brief History of the Honourable Society of Lincoln's Inn

          In the heart of Central London lies Lincoln's Inn, a haven from the roar of traffic and crowded pavements.

         The Inn occupies most of the rectangle formed by High Holborn on the north, Carey Street and the Royal Courts of justice on the south, Chancery Lane on the east and Lincoln's Inn Fields on the west. Indeed, if one excludes the frontage to High Holborn and the south-eastern block, the eleven acres of the Inn comprise virtually all that remains.

          The Inn is old, very old; but it is no mere relic. It houses a living, functional body of public importance, the Honourable Society of Lincoln's Inn. ''Lincoln's Inn'' is thus a term which describes both the place and the Society which inhabits it. Before looking at the place, something may be said about the Society.

          Lincoln's Inn is ancient. Its formal records, contained in the "Black Books", go back continuously to 1422. This is nearly 80 years earlier than any other Inn (Middle Temple 1501, Inner Temple 1505, Gray's Inn 1569). It is plain, too, that in 1422 the Inn had been in existence for some while. There is some ground for saying that an ordinance of Edward I made in 1292 was in some part responsible for the founding of the Inns. That Ordinance placed both branches of the profession (barristers and solicitors, as they would be called today) under the control of the judges, and hastened the end of the clergy as lawyers in the King's courts; and the new race of professional lawyers that began to emerge needed places where they could congregate, and where apprentices could be housed.

          It was probably early during the 14th century that the Inns first took shape. "Inn" (or "hospitium") then meant a town house or mansion, and in particular a mansion used as a hostel for students. Lincoln's Inn probably takes its name from Henry de Lacy, third Earl of Lincoln (died 1311); and from his arms the lion in the arms of Lincoln's Inn is derived. He seems to have been the Inn's patron, his own great house lying a mere 400 or 500 yards to the east, in Shoe Lane.

      The inn today stands partly on land that was formerly held on a tenancy from the Hospital of Burton Lazars, and partly on land (the southern part) that was once owned by the Bishops of Chichester. All the land was conveyed to the Inn on November 12, 1580; and the mill-rinds displayed in the arms of the Inn were derived from the arms of Richard Kingsmill, a bencher who played a leading part in the acquisition. ("Mill-rind" is the heraldic name for an iron support for a moving millstone).

      Whatever their origins, the Inns, when established, came to provide all that was needed for practice at the Bar. There were chambers to live and work in, a hall to eat and drink in, a chapel or church to pray in, and a library to consult books in. (In 1565 the Benchers of Lincoln's Inn sought to preserve morals in the Inn by decreeing the exclusion of all laundresses and other female servants "except under th'age of xij yeres or above th'age of fourtie yeres" )

      Times change, and today, with a much larger Bar, few barristers live in the Inn. Indeed, a quarter of them practise in large towns outside London. But otherwise the picture remains unaltered in its essentials.