Gray's Inn

Head Porters

The History of the Head Porter at Gray’s Inn

On 3 February 1591, Edward Ingram became the first porter elected to the Society of Gray’s Inn. At a Pension held the previous November, the Readers of the Inn had ordered that the position of porter should be created to keep their gates secure at night-time. This was in response to a 1586 Council order, sent to the Readers of all four Inns of Court, directing them each to appoint a porter to shut up the gates of each Inn at half past nine every night, and to keep them shut until the next morning. As the Inn grew, so too did the porter’s responsibilities, and the number of staff employed by the Inn. Thus, by the eighteenth century, the Inn required there to be a Head Porter, to oversee the various duties of the porters. Though much at the Inn has changed in the previous four centuries, the Inn porters, and the Head Porter in particular, have continued in their primary duty of keeping the Inn secure.

The Porters at Gray’s Inn, 1591-1721

The first Inn porter, Edward Ingram, had only one duty, “to kepe the gates”. For this, he was paid four marks a year. In addition to his wages, Ingram received a chamber in the gate house, was allowed to have meat and drink with the other officers of the Inn, and received one sack of coals weekly from Hallowmas (1 November) to Candlemas (2 February). The porter could also receive one-off payments for miscellaneous services or purchases. In 1592 the Steward of the Inn was ordered to pay forty shillings (three marks) to the porter on top of his wages; three quarters of a porter’s annual salary. Similarly, in 1598 the Treasurer paid a former porter forty shillings as a charitable benevolence. In 1599 and 1619, the Readers in Pension agreed to give the porter twenty shillings to purchase a gown, though in 1599 it was specified that this was not to set a precedent.

In the early seventeenth century, the porter’s wages were augmented by the rents for the “shedds and shopps” built under the newly-erected South Gate of Gray’s Inn. These shops are first mentioned as subsidising the porter’s wages in 1605, when Sara, widow of the porter Robert Knight, was allowed all the wages and rents of her deceased husband for as long as the Readers of Gray’s Inn deemed appropriate.

The porter’s position was vacant in October 1627 when the Readers of Gray’s Inn declared that William Holmes, the “porter’s man”, should never be admitted into any place of office in the Society because of his “impudencie” in petitioning for the role of porter. Though never specified, it is likely that the Readers considered Holmes too junior to be applying for such a role. In this instance, Francis Bowen was elected porter instead. However, despite the Readers’ order to the contrary, William Holmes was allowed to be the Keeper and “Clenser” of the Courts and Boghouse in May 1628. Then, when the position of porter became vacant in 1645, William Holmes not only applied for the vacant position but succeeded in being elected Inn porter. He worked as porter until his retirement in the late 1650s, when he was paid five pounds “towards his releefe”.

By 1651, it was no longer feasible for one man satisfactorily to see to the safety of the Inn at night. Though the porter now had working under him a “porter’s man”, or under-porter, more people were needed. In response to a “sad accident”, it was ordered that William Holmes, the porter of the Inn, be aided by two other officers of Gray’s Inn, on rotation throughout the week, to shut up all the gates of the Inn (except the gate next to Gray’s Inn Lane) “as soone as it beginneth to bee a little darke”. From then until 11 o’clock these men should patrol the Inn searching for suspicious persons not of the Inn. The porter and his under-porter (William Browne in 1651) stayed posted at the gate in Gray’s Inn Lane, which was not closed, to observe all persons going in and out of this gate after dark. After 11pm this gate was also closed, and the other officers of the Inn were allowed to depart. The porter was also directed to make note of any officer of the Inn that did not perform his watch on his allotted night.

The porter’s duties were much the same at the end of the century. In 1695, instead of manning the gate in Gray’s Inn Lane, the porter was directed to shut up Holborn Gate every night at 10pm, and to attend there until midnight in case any gentlemen of the Society wanted to enter or leave. From 1708, the porters also controlled entry into the chapel. During Divine Service, the porters were ordered to keep the inner door at the lower end of the chapel closed until the first lesson was over “to prevent weomen and other people from crowding in whereby gentlemen are hindred from comeing to theire seates”. They were also directed to stop idle people from lurking about the Inn, and to prohibit horses and hackney coaches from riding through or turning in the Inn.

Gray’s Inn Head Porters, 1720-1895

As the number of porters increased in the seventeenth century, so did the need for a “chief porter” to oversee them. There was no specific creation of the title “Head Porter”, and instead the role developed naturally as the Inn employed a greater number of porters. The first mention of a “Head Porter” in the Pension minutes dates from a 1720 Hilary term report by a Special Committee created to assess and evaluate the effectiveness of the various officers of the Inn (including the porters). It was the opinion of this Special Committee that the porters were failing in their duties. The porters were not performing their night-time watch satisfactorily, and they were “very negligent” in not appearing more during the day to keep the gateways and passages of the Society free from “beggars and disorderly persons”.

In response to this damning assessment of the Inn porters, the Benchers of Gray’s Inn laid out the official duties and salary of the Head Porter, on 30 November 1720 (an adjourned Pension from 27 November). This is the closest that the Pension minutes ever get to an official “creation” of the role, and from this point onwards Gray’s Inn has a Head Porter distinguishable from the other porters. The first man assigned to this “new” role was John Ferbee (Ferby). He was to receive 18 pounds a year as salary, as well as the rents of all the shops the former Inn porter had. He was to be aided by an under porter who received 9 pounds a year, as well as all the fees and perquisites which the former porter’s man used to have, and that the scavenger had. The office of scavenger had been abolished just a few days before this order. James Nicolls was the first man to be appointed to the new office of under porter. As well as performing the duties formerly prescribed to the Inn porter – paramount of which was the security of the Inn and its members, both in the day and at night – the Head Porter of Gray’s Inn also gained some new responsibilities from this 1720 order. In future, he had to trim and light all the lamps every night and, with his under porter, had to clean and empty the “Bogghouse” and care for the engines belonging to the Society. By 1739, the under porter also took on the responsibilities of the Inn bell ringer.

In 1724, John Ferbee complained that one of the Head Porter’s ancient privileges (dating back from when there was a single Inn porter) was being neglected. In past times, it was customary for residents of the Inn to give the porter a basket of coals (or sixpence) for every load of coals brought into the Inn. This had developed slightly from the appointment of Edward Ingram as porter in 1591; he received a sack of coals each week during the winter months. The Benchers of the Inn, recognising that this was an ancient custom that was being neglected, ordered that in future all persons were to pay the Head Porter according to past usage. Another of the Head Porter’s “ancient privileges”, that he and his under porter had to wait in Hall at meals, was confirmed in 1739. Though no specific mention of this duty is mentioned before this date, the porter had received money as early as 1599 to buy a gown. This vestment would only have been worn at formal or ceremonial occasions, such as mealtimes in Hall, so it seems likely that the Inn porters waited in Hall from their creation in the late sixteenth century.

John Ferbee worked as Head Porter for twenty years, until his death in 1740/41. Little mention is made of him in the Pension minutes, which is suggestive of a job well done. However, he was ordered to vacate his chambers at 5 Holborn Court on 25 May 1736 after the Benchers of the Inn received repeated complaints from gentlemen residing at Holborn Court about him and his family, who allegedly were causing disturbances on the staircase. It is unknown where Ferbee and his family relocated to in his final years as Head Porter of the Inn.

The appointment of John Winter, Ferbee’s replacement, in February 1741 lists together for the first time all the duties expected of the Head Porter. From dusk until the watch was set, the Head Porter attended at the lodge at Holborn Gate, while the under porter manned the gate at Gray’s Inn Lane. On alternate nights, the Head Porter and under porter had to watch the entrance at Holborn Gate, make a note of all the watchmen on duty, and prevent thoroughfare at night, after the gates were shut. The watchmen, overseen by the under porter and Head Porter, had stands in Holborn and Field Courts, and had to enter each staircase every hour and declare “with a loud voice” the hour of the night and the weather. These watchmen were also responsible for lighting gentlemen to their chambers after dark. A Pension order from 1784 reiterated these duties of the Inn watchmen, and that the Head Porter should keep a record of the watchmen, and the times they came on, and went off, duty every evening.

During the day, the Head Porter and the under porter emptied the “boghouse”, and the Head Porter daily walked around the courts to keep “boys and other people” from playing or making too much noise, and cared for the pipes and engines around the Inn. The Head Porter was also expected to wait at Pensions. Additionally, during term time, the Head Porter waited in Hall at dinner, in the Chapel on Sundays, and at the Walks gate every other Sunday in the afternoon to keep the peace. In 1745, by which point John Winter had been replaced by William Hart, it was specified that the Head Porter had to wear his gown and staff on such Sundays, and stand with another porter at the great gates at the entrance to the Walks (erected in 1723). The Head Porter was also required to have his gown and staff when attending Pension, where he was required to wait at the foot of the stairs of the Pension Chamber.

William Hart was discharged from his post on 21 November 1753 for providing the Inn Benchers with an “inconsistent and contradicting” report relating to a fire in one of the Society’s chambers. In his principal role of ensuring the safety of the Inn and its members, the Head Porter had to report to the Bench any such matters. Hart’s dismissal was, however, short-lived; less than a week later he was restored to his office, having acknowledged his fault and promised not to offend again. He continued in post for a further year and a half, until he was discharged for good, “for his neglect of duty”, on 29 April 1755. Hart was not the first porter discharged from his post. In November 1681 (before the official title of Head Porter existed), Morris Pugh was removed as Inn porter, and Thomas Reynolds became acting-porter (de bene esse) in his place until the next term. William Hart’s replacement as Head Porter, Thomas Sherwood, had worked as an officer of the Inn since at least 1741, when he was appointed to ply as a porter. In February 1754, he was promoted to under porter and scavenger of the Society until his appointment as Head Porter in November 1755.

In the mid-1700s, some of the shops that the Head Porter received rents from were closed, while the Holborn Gateway was repaired. In 1766, the Head Porter was allowed 3 guineas as recompense for the closed shops. In 1770, the Head Porter John Saunders, who had replaced Thomas Sherwood the year before, was allowed 4 shillings a week for twenty weeks, while the more substantial work was completed on the gateway. After the repairs, one of the shops was permanently taken away from the Head Porter, and as such he was compensated 5 pounds per annum, to be added to his salary. Saunders was still Head Porter in 1782, when a Special Committee was formed to assess the salaries of various officers of the Inn. By this point, the Head Porter received a salary of £20 a year and received 2s. 6d. a week for a shop under Holborn Gateway, plus 1 shilling for every chaldron of coals brought into the Inn (a chaldron was a measure of dry volume, and one chaldron was the legal limit for horse-drawn coal wagons). The under porter (listed in the report as scavenger) also received £20 a year, though by this point the under porter performed three previously-separate roles (under porter, scavenger, and bell ringer). Later in 1782, the Steward of the Inn was ordered to make a regular list of all porters working at Gray’s Inn, and the duties each person performed. This is perhaps in response to the suspension of three porters – Hawksworth, Smith, and Eades – in July 1782, suspended for failing to capture two suspicious characters when called upon to do so.

In July 1798, Thomas Philpot was elected Head Porter of the Inn, after the post was made vacant by the death of John Jones. Jones had replaced John Saunders in July 1784. Philpot worked as a Badge Porter at the Inn before his promotion, and was the first in a long line of Badge Porters who rose to be Head Porter. On 12 May 1813, William Parton, former Badge Porter, was elected Head Porter on the death of Philpot. Another Badge Porter, Thomas Barnes, was elected Head Porter on the death of Parton in November 1841, who himself was succeeded by Robert Reeve, also a Badge Porter, in April 1844.

In the nineteenth century, the responsibilities and salary of the Head Porter remained fairly constant, as the majority of his duties were confirmed the century before. In 1813, however, the Head Porter William Parton successfully petitioned for a pay rise to reflect the Head Porter’s duties as a watchman of the Inn (as well as overseer of the other watchmen). Therefore, after this date, the Head Porter had on top of his annual salary a watchman’s pay, being £5 per annum. However, greater responsibilities (and salary) meant greater expectations from the Inn Benchers, and Parton was politely reminded in 1828 that one of the duties of the Head Porter was to pay strict attention to the sobriety and good conduct of the different porters; failure to inform the Bench of any such miscreants would result in his dismissal, for neglect of duty. In 1868, under the Head Porter Robert Reeve, a porter was dismissed for being reported drunk while on duty at Holborn Gate and, on two occasions, having a prostitute in his box. After the porter’s dismissal, Reeve was asked for the wages owed to the delinquent. Prior to this, Reeve had asked that the Head Porter be permitted to robe the barristers and students of the Inn during Term; his application was refused by the Bench, who informed Reeve that arrangements were already in place for such robing.

Robert Reeve died in 1868, and John Andrews was elected Head Porter in his stead. His salary was £75 a year. John Andrews was succeeded by his son, George Alfred Andrews, in 1891. On George’s appointment, a detailed description of the Porter’s lodgings up to that point was made by the House Committee. It is possible that these were the same lodgings granted to the Head Porter John Jones in 1784, situated above the gateway of Holborn Court. A century of use had evidently not been kind to these lodgings. The rooms used as bedrooms were deemed “totally unsuited for the purpose, and cannot fail to be most unhealthy, owing to their want of height, and proper ventilation”. Furthermore, one of the bedrooms (the one lighted from Gray’s Inn Road) could only be accessed by passing through the other at the top of the stairs. The Society’s surveyor recommended that the two bedrooms be turned into one larger, more ventilated room, and that the existing staircase, “which is little if any better than a stepladder”, should be removed and replaced with a more practical alternative. The House Committee then proposed that George Alfred Andrews succeed his father as Head Porter, and that his salary be £100 per annum. This appointment and salary was agreed by the Bench, though whoever wrote up the minutes of pension thought that this salary was significant, twice underlining in red ink the figure £100 (when the salary was repeated later in the entry that too was underlined in red twice); red ink is not used anywhere else in the minutes relating to the Head Porters.

Unlike his father, who served the Inn for over twenty years, George Alfred Andrews retired from his post under a cloud of controversy after less than four years. On 20 February 1895, the Benchers of the Inn read a letter from one J. F. Andrews (possibly a relation) complaining about the Head Porter. Though the complaint went unspecified, it was severe enough that George Alfred wrote to the Benchers requesting permission to resign his appointment. The Bench acquiesced to this request, and allowed Andrews one month’s salary from the date of his resignation (13 March 1895).

Twentieth-Century Head Porters

George Alfred Andrews’ dismissal from the position of Head Porter prompted an evaluation of the duties of the Head Porter. The report of the Special and Finance Committee contains a comprehensive list of the Head Porter’s responsibilities at the Inn at the close of the nineteenth century. These responsibilities were:

To observe – and to cause to be observed by the Warden and Badge-Porters – the Rules and Orders of the Society for the good order and government of the Inn.

To observe the Bye-Laws of the Inn made under the “Public Health (London) Act, 1891” and to report to the Sanitary Authority viz the Steward of the Society any breach thereof by any Resident or other Person in the Inn.

To be in Hall during Term half an hour before Dinner robed and with his Staff of Office and to remain in attendance until Grace is said after Dinner – taking care to report to the Steward (1.) the name of any Gentleman coming into Hall late, (2.) the name of any Student leaving the Hall before Grace is said after dinner, (3.) To collect the dinner tickets from the Barristers and Students dining in Hall.

On Grand Days and on other occasions when Guests dine with the Treasurer and Masters of the Bench the Head Porter with his staff of Office will precede the Guests up the Hall and announce them to the Treasurer by their names and titles.

To attend in the vestibule of the Bencher’s Entrance on all Adjourned, Additional and Special Pensions and other meetings out of Term, such attendance to commence half an hour before the time at which the meeting of the Bench is to be held.

To inspect regularly every week-day morning the entrances to the Inn viz the chief entrance from Holborn into South Square and the Archway into Gray’s Inn Square and the Archway into Gray’s Inn Road and the entrance at Raymond Buildings and also at Verulam Buildings and the archway thereupon into Gray’s Inn Square and see that the same are thoroughly cleansed and made neat and free from accumulations of litter, paper, rubbish, &c.            

To patrol the Inn to see that the Scavengers have properly collected the litter, paper, rubbish, &c., and that the dust tubs have been duly removed by the Contractor by 10am.

To see that the precincts of the Inn (except Field Court) are duly watered by the Contractor twice every weekday from April 15th to September 29th both days inclusive.

To take care that the gutters and gallies in the Inn during the hot weather are duly flushed, and with Carbolic acid when necessary.

To patrol the Gardens and maintain order therein on the Summer Evenings when the children in the neighbourhood are admitted to the Gardens.

To clean and keep clean the Lodge windows inside and out.

To keep bright and in good working order the Hydrants in (1.) The Library (2.) The Steward’s Office (3) Adjoining the Hall; and the Hydrant opposite No. 10 in Gray’s Inn Square and any Hydrants that may hereafter be fixed to the Inn.   

To be in attendance from 11am when the Chapel is open for Divine Service until the conclusion of service.

To tell off in rotation one of the three Senior Night Watchmen to attend the Choir practice in the Chapel at such hours as may from time to time be named in order to blow the organ and to tell off also one of the three Senior Porters to blow the organ at the Sunday and other Divine Services in the Chapel.

To superintend the work of the Staircase Cleaner and of the General Labourer and to see that the Staircase Cleaner cleans and keeps clean not only the Staircases but also the Staircase windows cleaning the latter once in every month both inside and out and washing the staircases once a month and to vouch the accounts for the materials required by the Labourers.

To see that the three Senior Watchmen perform their duties at the Holborn Gate and also that they do clean and wash the outside of the windows of the Pension Chambers, Steward’s Offices, Bench Lavatory, [Aule] Room, Libraries and Common Room once a month.

To see that Junior Watchmen perform their duties at their respective dates.

To record in a book kept for the purpose all disturbances or other occurrences in the Inn and report the same to the Steward every week-day at 11am.

To screen on the chapel door all parliamentary and other notices.

To observe the instructions he may from time to time receive from the Steward for which purpose he will report himself every day at 11am.

To see that the Hall and Chapel Keeper duly tolls the Chapel bell for 5 minutes every evening throughout the year at 9 o’ clock.

To superintend the removal of snow etc. during the winter months. On all occasions to use his utmost endeavours to prevent the Society’s property being damaged either by the bursting of water pipes, soil-pipes or any other cause from Frost or otherwise.

To see that the person who may be nominated as attendant in the Class Rooms thoroughly performs his duties and complies with the instructions he may receive from The Clerk of the Council of Legal Education. The Head Porter is required to certify the Tradesmen’s Accounts for materials required in the Class Rooms.

The he do understand that as Head Porter of the Inn he is to do all that he can for the comfort and convenience of Residents and others in the Inn. That it be a special term of the Head Porter’s engagement that he perform all such further and other duties as the House Committee may from time to time require.

For performing these duties, the Head Porter was to receive £80 per annum, free residence in the Head Porter’s Lodge, including gas and 5 tons of coal per annum. Instead of hiring internally, the Benchers of Gray’s Inn chose to advertise the vacant position of Head Porter in the “Daily Telegraph” and “Daily Chronicle”, the first time a Head Porter did not previously work at the Inn. It is possible that the nature of George Alfred Andrews’ dismissal, and his close relationship to the previous Head Porter, influenced this decision to hire externally.

On 24 April 1895, therefore, the Inn hired William Finn as Head Porter. Unlike previous Head Porters, Finn’s background was in the military; he came to the Inn as a former Regimental Sergeant-Major in the Royal Dragoons. He worked at the Inn well into his 70s, and was one of the longest-serving Head Porters, working from 1895 until his retirement in 1929. He was also a popular Head Porter. Three years into his appointment, in November 1898, the Inn Benchers asked the Finance and Special Committee to consider increasing the Head Porter’s salary. The Committee reported that the Head Porter had “in every way satisfactorily performed the duties of his office since his appointment”, and proposed that they increase Finn’s salary from £80 to £90 per annum from 1 January 1899. Then, if he remained in post, they proposed that his salary increase to £100 per annum from 1 January 1901. Finn appreciated the support, and wrote a letter of thanks to the Benchers for the increase of salary granted to him (he had previously written a letter of thanks after his appointment as Head Porter).

By the time Finn retired, in 1929, his salary had increased to £144 a year with free quarters, light, and fuel. Unlike other Head Porters, and again demonstrating the apparent appreciation for Finn’s work as Head Porter, he was allowed to remain in his present quarters rent and rates free for as long as he desired after his retirement. The Benchers of the Inn, when choosing Finn’s replacement, chose to emulate the manner in which they had hired Finn, by advertising in the local newspapers. The proposed advertisement demonstrates that they were now clearly seeking an ex-military man to replace Finn. The advertisement was issued in the following terms:

Gray’s Inn. Head Porter Required. Man and wife, without family, man’s age about 35 to 42. Salary £120 per annum, with apartments, fire and light. A form of application and particulars of the duties will be sent by post to suitable candidates or can be obtained between 11am and 2pm at the Under Treasurer’s Office, South Square, Gray’s Inn.

The committee also remarked that a minimum age of 42 would enable long-service men to apply on their retirement, and proposed that the vacancy be distributed among the principal associations which sought employment for ex-service men. The Benchers got their wish, and the new Head Porter, Harry Prynne Ivey, previously served as Company-Sergeant Major of the Coldstream Guards before working at the Inn. From Finn’s appointment to the present day, all Head Porters have had a military background. Ivey served as Head Porter for over twenty years and, like Finn before, was well-liked and respected by members of the Inn. During WWII, Ivey distinguished himself at the Inn for fighting the fires that caused so much damage during the war. As a gift to mark his retirement in 1951, a portrait of Ivey in his robes was painted by H. Kennedy McElwee, a member of Hall.

Fred Suter, who replaced Ivey in 1951, also came from the Coldstream Guards. From 1922, he served in Hong Kong, Shanghai, the Sudan, and Egypt, and rose to the rank of full sergeant and acting sergeant-major. Before that, Suter served in the Shropshire Light Infantry. He fought in World War Two in France, and was captured by the Germans in June 1940, and kept prisoner near Calais. Suter joined the Inn in March 1951, first working as a Warden, and was appointed Head Porter four months later. He was particularly admired at the Inn for his “mastery of the ceremonial of Grand Night” [Graya 70/80].

Suter was succeeded by Ian J. R. McIntosh in 1969, a Scotsman who previously served in the Royal Marines, serving in Cyprus, Korea, Malta, Aden, Singapore, Malaysia, and Borneo. His successor, Kenneth Chard, served with the Gunners in North Africa during World War II, which – the editor of Graya quipped on his appointment in 1973 – would “equip him well to deal with the complicated parking problems of the Inn” [Graya 77/139]. Chard served the Inn as Head Porter until 1978, when he was appointed Butler of the Inn. He was noted for his zeal in performing the duties of Head Porter, particularly in his care for the former Under Treasurer Master Terry, to whom he visited daily when the former Under Treasurer was confined to his flat.

Late in the 1970s, the Head Porter’s general duties were much the same as they had been centuries before. In Issue 82 of Graya, it was noted that “the true function of the Porters has always been to keep order in the Inn, deal with intruders, suppress bad behaviour”, and “patrol the Inn to prevent break-ins”. The same author remarked that a key job of the Night Porter was to be visible to any potential intruders, in the historic Holborn lodge where porters past had resided at night.

Kenneth Chard’s successor, Peter Mulcahy, served in the Royal Navy as Chief Gunnery Instructor aboard HMS Raleigh before his appointment as Head Porter in 1978.  He was Head Porter at the Inn for over twenty years, and retired in 2001. During his tenure at the Inn, Mulcahy attended every solemn occasion in the Hall and Chapel, as his predecessors had done in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

The current Head Porter, Nigel Hoadley, previously served as Colonel-Sergeant in the Coldstream Guards before joining the Inn, continuing the tradition of ex-military men working as the Head Porter of Gray’s Inn, a tradition started over a century ago with the appointment of William Finn in 1895. Like his predecessors before him, Hoadley has been responsible for the safety and security of the Inn premises and its members, a duty unchanged since the creation of the Inn porter in 1590.

Dr Daniel F Gosling

August 2017

 

Gray’s Inn Head Porters

Name

Start

End

John Ferbee

1721

1741

John Winter

1741

1743

William Hart

1743

1755

Thomas Sherwood

1755

1769

John Saunders

1769

1784

John Jones

1784

1798

Thomas Philpot

1798

1813

William Parton

1813

1841

Thomas Barnes

1841

1844

Robert Reeve

1844

1868

John Andrews

1868

1891

George Alfred Andrews

1891

1895

William Finn

1895

1929

Harry Prynne Ivey

1930

1951

Fred Suter

1951

1969

Ian J R MacIntosh

1969

1973

Kenneth Chard

1973

1978

Peter Mulcahy

1978

2001

Nigel Hoadley

2002