The archives of the Honourable Society of Gray’s Inn form a compact collection relating mostly to the Society’s conduct of its own business.
We are happy to provide information in response to historical and genealogical enquiries about the Inn and its members. Access to the archives, for which there is no charge, is at the discretion of the Inn.
Permission to access the collections may be requested by contacting the Archivist.
Please note that, particularly where the available information is limited, we will often search the archives on behalf of enquirers rather than granting direct access.
Images and copyright
The archivist is responsible for the administration of the Inn’s collections of photographs, topographical and other images and portraits. Contact the archivist to locate a picture or for permission to reproduce any images in the Inn’s possession or copyright as well as items in the archives.
Most of the images on the website of The Honourable Society of Gray’s Inn are in the copyright of the Inn itself. Please refer to the Inn’s Image Copyright Statement.
As with all the Inns of Court, the origins of the Inn are undocumented, lying in the mid-14th century. The earliest records have not survived, although some of the missing information (including the lists of admissions from 1521 to 1580) was preserved in the notes taken from now-lost documents by Inn member Simon Segar, who held the offices of Chief Butler and Library Keeper in the reign of Charles II. Segar’s manuscript is now at the British Library (Harl. 1912) (Note 1).
The oldest and most important connected series of extant records is the Pension Books, which are the records of the meetings of the Inn’s governing body beginning in 1569. They may be consulted on microfiche. A very good summary edition has been published covering the years 1569 to 1800 (Note 2).
Original admission registers survive from 1581 (although the admissions from 1521 to 1580 have survived in the notes of Segar, as above). Up to 1889 these records have also been printed (Note 3). Records of living or recently deceased members are closed.
The bulk of the remaining records from the 18th century onwards relate to the Inn’s internal administration, buildings management and so forth. There are also small but useful collections of photographs and illustrations, ephemera and of the Inn’s publications.
The Inn’s Chapel was a popular venue for marriages until 1754 and the coming into force of Hardwicke’s Marriage Act, and the marriage registers from 1695 to 1754 have been published with the Admissions (Note 3). Baptisms also took place in the Chapel, but were very few, and those mostly of foundlings. No burials took place there, as the Inn did not have its own burial ground: St Andrew’s, Holborn, was the church most commonly used instead: its records are held by the London Metropolitan Archives.
The Inn occasionally accepts deposits of the private papers of former members, and these include papers of Lord Atkin and Sir William Clarke Hall insofar as these relate to their legal careers. (Other parts of these collections are deposited elsewhere). Papers of Sir Leonard Stone, Sir Frederic Sellers and Francis Cowper (the Inn’s historian) are also held by the Inn but have yet to be catalogued. The archives also hold a few non-legal papers of Venetia Stephenson, the first woman to conduct a murder defence in England.
The Inn in the past had a limited function as a local authority, and a small quantity of records survives relating to its activities in that capacity.
The few surviving records of Barnard’s Inn and Staple Inn are also held here.
Please note that the Inn’s archives hold no records of courts or court cases.
- There is no printed edition of this manuscript as such, but its contents are very largely reproduced in the course of W.D. Douthwaite’s “Gray’s Inn: Its History and Associations”, 1886
- “The Pension Book of Gray’s Inn 1569-1669”, ed. R J Fletcher, 1901, and “The Pension Book of Gray’s Inn 1670-1800”, ed. R J Fletcher, 1910
- “The Register of Admissions to Gray’s Inn 1521-1889”, ed. Joseph Foster, 1889