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The first evidence that the Inn was home to a dedicated library room was in 1488, when Edmund Pickering bequeathed six books to be chained there. Like many Inn members at the time, Pickering was a gentleman rather than a lawyer. 

His will, dated November 26, 1488, named William Colet of Gray’s Inn as one of his executors. Probate was granted on February 28, 1489. Interestingly, only one of the books bequeathed, a statute book of Edward III, was of a legal nature, reflecting the fact that in early times, many of those coming to the Inns were sons of the gentry with no intention of practising law. After this, there is no further evidence of the Library until 1555, when Robert Chaloner, who had been Reader in 1522, bequeathed his books and 40 shillings to chain them in the Library at Gray’s Inn. The early law collection was not likely to have been large, for the extent of legal literature in those days was very limited. 

Inn records from 1569 onwards contain a number of references to the Library. In 1588, Francis Bacon and his brother Anthony were given permission to add two stories to the Library building. The first indication of unauthorised borrowing occurs in 1645, when it was ordered that “noe Reader or other members of this Societie may take away any books out of the Library”. If this order solved the problem, it could only have done so temporarily because, by 1729, another order was required. By 1725, there were regular opening hours: 9-1 and 4-7 in the winter and 8-1 and 3-7 in the summer, only excluding Sunday and public holidays. These hours left the Library Keeper plenty of time to fulfil his other role as Butler! In 1750, the Librarian, Fergus Clavering, was granted an increase in salary to £30 p.a., though he sadly died a few days after this was approved. 

The Library continued to grow over the years. The first printed catalogue appeared in 1872, but there are references in the records to earlier manuscript catalogues dating as far back as the seventeenth century. A new chapter in the history of the Library began in 1929, when the Holker Library was opened. This magnificent new building with its barrel vaulted ceiling, Corinthian pilasters, ornately carved mouldings, and crystal chandeliers was made possible by a generous donation of funds from a trust set up by Master Sir John Holker, who had been Treasurer in 1875. Unfortunately, the new building was destroyed in the blitz. The majority of the collection was destroyed along with the building, though a collection of valuable manuscripts that had been removed to safety beforehand survives. 

Within a month of the Blitz, the task of recreating the Library began, and in 1946, the collection was moved to a prefabricated structure in the Walks, opened by Master Winston Churchill. The present building, designed by Sir Edward Maufe, was opened in 1958 by the Prime Minister of the time, Harold Macmillan. 


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Historical information about the Chapel


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