Victorian London - Legal System - Inns of Court - Gray's Inn

Grays Inn, which extends nearly the whole depth from the back of Holborn to the King's Road, derives its name from the ancient and noble family of Gray, of Wilton, which, in the reign of Edward III., devised it to several students of the law. Here, as in most of the other Inns, the hall, chapel, and gardens are the chief places of interest.

Mogg's New Picture of London and Visitor's Guide to it Sights, 1844

    Indeed, I look upon Gray's Inn generally as one of the most depressing institutions in brick and mortar, known to the children of men. Can anything be more dreary than its arid Square, Sahara Desert of the law, with the ugly old tiled-topped tenements, the dirty windows, the bills To Let, To Let, the door-posts inscribed like gravestones, the crazy gateway giving upon the filthy Lane, the scowling iron-barred prison-like passage into Verulam-buildings, the mouldy red-nosed ticket-porters with little coffin plates, and why with aprons, the dry hard atomy-like appearance of the whole dust-heap? When my uncommercial travels tend to this dismal spot, my comfort is its rickety state. Imagination gloats over the fulness of time when the staircases shall have quite tumbled down - they are daily wearing into an ill-savoured powder, but have not quite tumbled down yet - when the last old prolix bencher all of the olden time, shall have been got out of an upper window by means of a Fire Ladder, and carried off to the Holborn Union; when the last clerk shall have engrossed the last parchment behind the last splash on the last of the mud-stained windows, which, all through the miry year, are pilloried out of recognition in Gray's Inn-lane. Then, shall a squalid little trench, with rank grass and a pump in it, lying between the coffee-house and South-square, be wholly given up to cats and rats, and not, as now, have its empire divided between those animals and a few briefless bipeds - surely called to the Bar by voices of deceiving spirits, seeing that they are wanted there by no mortal - who glance down, with eyes better glazed than their casements, from their dreary and lack-lustre rooms. Then shall the way Nor' Westward, now lying under a short grim colonnade where in summer-time pounce flies from law-stationering windows into the eyes of laymen, be choked with rubbish and happily become impassable. Then shall the gardens where turf, trees, and gravel wear a legal livery of black, run rank, and pilgrims go to Gorhambury to see Bacon's effigy as he sat, and not come here (which in truth they seldom do) to see where he walked. Then, in a word, shall the old-established vendor of periodicals sit alone in his little crib of a shop behind the Holborn Gate, like that lumbering Marius among the ruins of Carthage, who has sat heavy on a thousand million of similes.

Charles Dickens, Chambers (pub. in All the Year Round) 1860

see also Dickens's Dictionary - click here

Victorian London - Publications - History - The Queen's London : a Pictorial and Descriptive Record of the Streets, Buildings, Parks and Scenery of the Great Metropolis, 1896 - Gray's Inn Square

Gray's Inn - photograph


Gray's Inn lies north of Holborn, and, as one of the four great Inns of Court, dates from the time of Edward III. The Lords Gray of Wilton were once the ground landlords hence the name. The Square of Gray's Inn, shown above, is reached from Holborn through South Square or Field Court, and from Gray's Inn Road (which runs from Holborn  to King's Cross, along the back of the east side) either directly, or through Verulam Buildings Gate. In the corner will be seen the old chapel, which, however, was modernised in the last century; and adjoining it on the right is the fine, though small, Elizabethan Hall, which was built about the middle of the sixteenth century. The Inn generally, and this Square in particular, is largely used for residential purposes, by married people as well as by bachelors.