The Archive of the Honourable Society of Gray’s Inn is a continuous record of its core activities from 1569 to the present day:
- the admission, training and Call to the Bar of its Members;
- the management of the Inn by its Treasurer, and board of senior Members, known as ‘Pension’;
- the day-to-day operation of the Inn by its staff.
The Archive also holds the private papers of some of the Inn’s notable past Members, and of the Gainsford Trust.
Please note that the Inn’s Archive holds no records of courts or court cases.
Enquiries and access
We are happy to provide information in response to historical and genealogical enquiries about the Inn and its Members.
Access to the Archive is by appointment only and at the discretion of the Archivist.
About the Archive
The origins of the Inn are not recorded, but it was probably established in the mid-14th century to provide training and accommodation for lawyers. The earliest records have not survived, although some of the missing information is preserved in other institutions’ records, notably lists of admissions from 1521 to 1580, captured in the notes taken by Simon Segar now at the British Library.
The oldest sequence of records in the Archive is the Pension Books, which are the minutes of the meetings of the Inn’s governing body beginning in 1569. Pension is still the governing body of the Inn, and minutes of its meetings are routinely added to this sequence.
Original admission registers survive from 1581 (although the admissions from 1521 to 1580 have survived in the notes of Segar, as above). Records of living Members are closed to public consultation.
The bulk of the collection dates from the 18th century onwards and relates to the Inn’s internal administration and management of its Estate. There are also small 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 again from 1915, following amendments to the law. The registers recording these marriages are part of the collection. Baptisms also took place in the Chapel, but were very few, and those mostly of foundlings. No burials took place, 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 in the past had a limited function as a local authority. A small quantity of records survive relating to its activities in that capacity between 1814-1901 only.
The Inn occasionally accepts deposits of the private papers of former Members, these include papers of:
- Lord Atkin
- Sir William Clarke Hall
- Sir Leonard Stone
- Sir Frederic Sellers
- Francis Cowper (the Inn’s historian)
- Venetia Stephenson
In addition to its own records, and those of some of its Members, the Inn’s Archive also holds the records of the Gainsford Trust, a charity established in the early 20th century to provide relief and recreation to widows living in the vicinity of the Inns of Court.
The few surviving records of Barnard’s Inn and Staple Inn are also held here.
We have compiled some useful links to online texts relating to the history of Gray’s Inn.
Images and copyright
The Inn has an extensive collection of historic photographs, portraits and other paintings. Contact the Archivist if you have any questions regarding these collections, their reproduction and copyright status.
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 regarding images on the website.