Lincoln's Inn Fields is rich in history. The fields have seen grazing cattle, the execution of plotters against the monarch, and stored Londoners’ goods following the Great Fire of London. The buildings have been home to lawyers real and fictional, as well as numerous distinguished surgeons and architects.
What is now the largest public square in London once consisted of agricultural fields used, throughout the Tudor period, as rough pasture ground. In the seventeenth century, there was much ado about building on the fields. In 1639, the lawyers of Lincoln’s Inn attempted to prevent building there. It would cause “offensive and unhealthy savours”, they said. But the planners prevailed. The architect Inigo Jones first drew the plans for the square, laid out in the 1630s. Later, Sir Christopher Wren and Sir Edward Lutyens, among others, remodelled some of the buildings.
Poets, novelists and impresarios have lived and worked here. John Milton lived in a small house backing on to the fields. When theatre was legalised following the Restoration, the man who claimed to be the son of Shakespeare, William Davenant, ran a theatre in what had once been a tennis court. It boasted the first moveable scenery used on the British public stage and presented the first paid public performances of plays and operas by Purcell and Handel. The actress Nell Gwynn lived on the square.
By the eighteenth century, concerns were being aired not about new buildings but about the state of the fields. The preamble to the Lincoln’s Inn Fields Bill of 1735 included allegations that it had become a “Receptacle for Rubbish, Dirt and Nastiness of all Sorts” and worse: “Vagabonds, common Beggars, and other disorderly Persons resort therein, where many Robberies, Assaults, Outrages and Enormities have been and continually are committed." As a result, railings were erected. They remained until World War II, when they were removed and not replaced until 1992, following a similar outcry to the one that had erupted in the eighteenth century.
Lawyers have been here for centuries. Various firms, including Messrs Cowlard and Chowne and Messrs Scott Jarmain and Trass, occupied 11 Lincoln’s Inn Fields in the late Victorian period. Fictional lawyers, too, have been located here. Dickens gave 58 Lincoln’s Inn Fields to the sinister Mr Tulkinghorn in Bleak House. Down the road, at No 66, the novelist consulted his real lawyers, Farrer’s, and it is pleasing to think that were he still alive, 1GC|Family Law would be conveniently close for him to consult family counsel. Dickens’s friend, Wilkie Collins, gave one of his fictional solicitors, John Loscombe, an address on the square.
The building which formerly stood here was once home to the President of the Architectural Association, Henry Martineau Fletcher, over a century ago. The building that stands in its place was most recently the home of a professional body for accountants. Now the building has been refurbished and the lawyers are back.