Town Guide

Inns of Court

The Inns of Court, located in the district of Holborn, are the very heart of the British legal system. Even today every barrister in Britain and Wales must work from, and eat a number of meals at, one of the four Inns of Court before they can be called to the bar.

Originally though, the Inns of Court weren't intended to be a legal institution. They were founded as a sort of University in order to provide a gentlemen's education for sons of the aristocracy. They were called Inns because the students lodged and ate, as well as studied, at the inns.

A few students studied the law, and over the years the Inns of court became specialised institutions where English barristers were trained. Today there are four surviving Inns of Court (see below), which are collectively known as Temple.

Today's Inns of Court
Gray's Inn
Gray's Inn Road, WC1
Nearest Tube: Holborn

This Inn was founded in 1569, making it the youngest Inn of Court. It takes its name from Reginald le Grey who once owned a manor house on the site.

Although most of the present day Gray's Inn dates from after the Second World War, there is still a great sense of history about the place. For example, this was the first venue for Shakespeare's Comedy of Errors, and the Hall contains a screen which is alleged to be made from wood from a galleon that fought in the Spanish Amarda.

Gray's Inn open Monday to Friday from 10am-4pm. Tours of the Hall are available, but by appointment only.

Inner Temple: Fleet Street, EC4
Middle Temple: Middle Temple Lane, EC4
Nearest Tube: Temple

The name of this Inn of Court comes from the Knights Templar who built their headquarters in this area in the 12th century. The order of the Knights Templar was suppressed in the early 14th century and the land was passed to the Knights Hospitaller.

This order of Knights was then also suppressed in the early 16th century and so the land passed to the crown. Then in 1609 James I (1603-25) gave the land to an Inn of Court, which then took the name Temple.

This Inn of Court was then divided into two in the early 18th century - the Inner Temple and the Middle Temple.

The splendid Middle Temple Hall is the highlight of any visit to middle Temple. It dates from 1573 and contains many historical features including a table supposedly made from the hatch from the original Golden Hinde.

Middle Temple is open daily Monday to Friday although the Hall is often closed in the afternoon. Inner Temple is open Mondays to Friday 10am to 4pm.

Lincoln's Inn
Lincoln's Inn Fields, WC2
Nearest Tube: Holborn

This is the oldest Inn of Court. Dating from 1422 and is named after Thomas de Lyncoln who lived in the area at the time.

Unlike the other Inns of Court, Lincoln's Inn survived the bombs of the Blitz, and as a result it is the most stunning of todays Inns of Court.

The interior of Lincoln's Inn is only open to the public by appointment. But the grounds and chapel are open Mondays to Fridays.

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