The Inns of Chancery were an important component of legal education from their foundations, most likely sometime in the fourteenth century, to the sale of the last Inn of Chancery (Clifford’s Inn) in 1903.

The first collected mention of these Inns was in Sir John Fortescue’s De Laudibus Legum Anglie, written during Fortescue’s exile in the 1460s. He listed with the four main Inns of Court ten lesser inns (hospicia minora) called Inns of Chancery. According to Fortescue, these Inns were chiefly for young men at the start of their legal education, to learn the basic elements of the law before entering an Inn of Court to study the common law in greater detail.

Of Fortescue’s ten Inns of Chancery, nine survived to the end of the fifteenth century, and no more were subsequently founded. Thus, from 1500, the nine Inns of Chancery were: Barnard’s (or Bernard’s) Inn, Clement’s Inn, Clifford’s Inn, Davies (later Thavies) Inn, Furnival’s Inn, Lyon’s Inn, New Inn, Staple Inn and Strand Inn. In 1549, Strand Inn was torn down so that Edward Seymour, first Duke of Somerset and Lord Protector to Edward VI, could build Somerset House; thereafter eight Inns of Chancery survived through to the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Like the Inns of Court, the precise foundations of these Inns of Chancery are unclear. They were, however, all founded in the century after 1340, putting their foundations at the same time (or just before) the assumed foundations of the four Inns of Court (1) The reason these institutions were called Inns of Chancery (hospicia cancellariae) is similarly uncertain. It is possible that they acquired their name through what they taught; one of the chief roles of the Chancery clerk was the production of original writs, something students of the Inns of Chancery were expected to learn and understand before matriculating to an Inn of Court. An alternative theory is that originally the Inns of Chancery served as inns for Chancery clerks, though this theory does not account for the separate inns for Chancery clerks that existed at this time.

At some point in the seventeenth century, the Inns of Chancery became less focussed on the early training of the Barrister class and instead associated solely with the training of solicitors, the other great branch of the English legal profession. This coincides with the greater separation between these branches of the legal profession, when solicitors were no longer allowed to join an Inn of Court. Before this divide, solicitors had used the Inns of Chancery for their offices and accommodation. Thus, the decline of the Inns of Chancery in the nineteenth century can be attributed to the foundation of organisations such as the Society of Gentleman Practisers (formed in 1739) and the Law Society of England and Wales (formed in 1825), which took over as the foremost professional associations for solicitors. The surviving eight Inns of Chancery were all sold between 1769, the date of sale for Thavie’s Inn, and 1903, when Clifford’s Inn was sold.

Each Inn of Chancery was attached to a particular Inn of Court (see table below). These associations were formed at least as early as the sixteenth century. In 1561, members of the Inner Temple could confidently state that they had “used and enjoyed” readings in Clement’s Inn, Clifford’s Inn and Lyon’s Inn [quoted in Sir John Baker, The Inns of Chancery 1340-1640]. Members of the Inns of Chancery felt a similar attachment to the Inns of Court. In 1622, members of Staple Inn declared that “Staple Inn is a member and parcell of, and belonging unto, the inn of court commonlye called Grayes Inn” [The National Archives, STAC 8/33/9].

A dispute between the Inner and Middle Temples regarding an Inn of Chancery provides the first known mention of Gray’s Inn’s “Ancient Amity” with the former. The loss of Strand Inn to Protector Somerset in 1549 left Middle Temple with only New Inn, when the other Inns of Court had two (or, in the case of Inner Temple, three) Inns of Chancery connected to them. Thus, in the early 1560s Middle Temple petitioned the Lord Keeper and distinguished Gray’s Inn Bencher, Sir Nicholas Bacon, asking that Lyon’s Inn be taken away from Inner Temple. Sir Nicholas, however, sided with the Inner Temple, who praised Sir Nicholas and Gray’s Inn, for their continued “ancient amity” towards them.

Two Inns of Chancery were associated with Gray’s Inn: Staple Inn and Barnard’s (or Bernard’s) Inn. These associations were fixed by the reign of Elizabeth I, and were likely forged earlier. In 1584, members of Gray’s Inn were able to write to Lord Burghley recommending Thomas Cary to be principal of Staple Inn [British Library, Lansdowne MS 40/38]. A year later, in 1585, a membership list for the Society of Gray’s Inn included lists of the members of Barnard’s Inn and Staple Inn, suggesting a kinship between the three [British Library, Lansdowne MS 47/35]. Staple Inn and Barnard’s Inn were also celebrated in Gray’s Inn’s well-known masques from the Elizabethan period. The Lord of Misrule, elected as part of these revelries, was known as the Prince of Purpoole, and the Archduke of Stapulia and Bernardia [GRAYA 108/18].

(1) A serjeants’ call for 1388 named men from Gray’s Inn and the Temple, suggesting that the likely foundation of these Inns of Court was also in the mid- to late-fourteenth century.

Staple Inn

The earliest references to Staple Inn occur in the early fifteenth century (though it may well have been founded earlier). The earliest records describe it as “le Stapilhalle”, though by 1435 it was described as Staple Inn [Baker, Inns of Chancery]. Its name suggests a connection to the wool-staple, and by the early seventeenth century the arms of the inn depicted a woolpack. However, there is no supporting contemporary evidence to suggest an association with merchants of the staple, and the inn could just as likely received its name from the early “Stapilhalle”, referring to its stapled (or pillared) hall. The use of the arms or device of the woolpack may simply have been a play on words, common in late medieval and early modern heraldry.

Staple Inn was the first Inn of Chancery whose freehold was owned by an Inn of Court, when it was sold to Gray’s Inn in November 1528. Despite the close association these inns had to the Inns of Court, they were not necessarily owned by them. The inn was sold in 1884. Staple Inn’s Hall, which was built in 1584, was destroyed by a flying bomb during World War II (not unlike the destruction of Gray’s Inn Hall during the same period). However, its timbered frontage survived the bombing.

The few surviving archives of Staple Inn are listed separately.

Barnard’s Inn

Barnard’s Inn was first mentioned as a discrete Inn of Chancery in 1440, when members of “Bernardis In” were mentioned in a quarrel with the London butchers [London Metropolitan Archives, Journals of the Court of Common Council, iii, ff. 53-54v]. The traditional view was that this inn was named after one of its earliest principals, one Lionel Bernard, though no contemporary fifteenth century record of this man exists, and therefore this view is merely speculative. The same work that cites Lionel Bernard names Dr John Mackworth, a dean of the cathedral church of Lincoln, as the owner of the inn in 1435 [E. Williams, Early Holborn and the Legal Quarter of London]. This statement is more obviously rooted in fact. In 1450 Dr Mackworth bequeathed the inn, under the name of Mackworth’s Inn, to the dean and chapter of Lincoln, and the inn used Mackworth’s arms from at least the early seventeenth century [Baker, Inns of Chancery, pp. 16-17]. The dean and chapter owned Barnard’s Inn from the fifteenth century until the late nineteenth century. Various records of Barnard’s Inn are held in the Archives of Gray’s Inn, to which this Inn of Chancery was associated.

The end of Barnard’s Inn was long-drawn-out. Ownership of the Inn passed in the late 1860s from the dean and chapter of Lincoln Cathedral to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, who after long negotiation about the price agreed in 1877 to sell it to the members, whose intention it was to sell it on and divide the proceeds between them. However, potential sales collapsed in 1878 and again in 1881. The governing body wound up the Society of Barnard’s Inn in 1883, and the movable assets (including the portraits and the silver) were distributed among the membership or disposed of between then and 1885. In 1888, a lawsuit was brought against the Inn’s trustees by a Percy Alexander Vidler, against a background of public concern about the loss of heritage sites, challenging the right of the trustees to sell the premises, which made it still more difficult to find a buyer; the Hall and library were then let to the Art Workers’ Guild as studio space. The trustees successfully countersued (for slander of title) in 1889, and were finally able to dispose of the property in 1892 to the Mercers’ Company.

The few surviving archives of Barnard’s Inn are listed separately.

The Inns of Court and their Associated Inns of Chancery

Gray’s Inn

Lincoln’s Inn

Inner Temple

Middle Temple

Staple Inn

Furnival’s Inn

Clement’s Inn

Strand Inn

Barnard’s Inn

Thavies Inn

Lyon’s Inn

New Inn



Clifford’s Inn



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