Lincoln’s Inn Fields, WC2A

Road in/near Holborn, existing between 1638 and now

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Road · Holborn · WC2A ·

Lincoln’s Inn Fields is the largest public square in London, laid out in the 1630s under the initiative of the speculative builder William Newton.

Lincoln’s Inn Fields takes its name from the adjacent Lincoln’s Inn, from which the private gardens are separated by a perimeter wall and a large gatehouse.

Up to the 17th century, the fields were part of a agricultural land called Pursefield which belonged to St Giles Hospital. Katherine Smyth, the owner of the White Hart Inn on Drury Lane, leased the land from 1520 but then reverted to the Crown.

Its use as pasture meant that turnstiles were placed around the land to enable pedestrians to enter without animals escaping. Shops developed along these footpaths - still called Great Turnstile and Little Turnstile.

Inigo Jones drew out a plan for "laying out and planting" the fields but it was William Newton who was granted permission to erect 32 houses in what became known as Lincoln’s Inn Fields in 1638.

The completion of the houses that surrounded the fields proceeded slowly. The oldest building from the early period is Lindsey House which was built in 1640. Another seventeenth-century survival is now known as Powis House.

Lincoln’s Inn Fields was largely occupied by lawyers attracted by its proximity to the Inns of Court. In Charles Dickens’ novel ’Bleak House’, the solicitor Mr Tulkinghorn, has his offices in Lincoln’s Inn Fields.

The Lincoln’s Inn Fields Theatre was located here from 1661 to 1848 when it was demolished. The theatre presented the first paid public performances of Purcell’s ’Dido and Aeneas’, John Gay’s ’The Beggar’s Opera’ and Handel’s final two operas.

Lincoln’s Inn Fields was the site, in 1683, of the public beheading of Lord William Russell, son of the first Duke of Bedford, following his implication in the Rye House Plot for the attempted assassination of King Charles II.

The London School of Economics and Political Science moved onto the square in 2003, taking the leasehold of 50 Lincoln’s Inn Fields, on the corner of Sardinia Street.

Citations and sources

Gillian Bebbington's 1972 work on street name derivations
The free encyclopedia

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The 1750 Rocque map is bounded by Sudbury (NW), Snaresbrook (NE), Eltham (SE) and Hampton Court (SW).
Outside these bounds, the 1750 map does not display.

The 1800 mapping is bounded by Stanmore (NW), Woodford (NE), Bromley (SE) and Hampton Court (SW).
Outside these bounds, the 1800 map does not display.

The 1830 mapping is bounded by West Hampstead (NW), Hackney (NE), Greenwich (SE) and Chelsea (SW).
Outside these bounds, the 1830 map does not display.

The 1860 mapping is bounded by Brent Cross (NW), Stratford (NE), Greenwich (SE) and Hammermith (SW).
Outside these bounds, the 1860 map does not display.

The 1900 mapping covers all of the London area.



Holborn is both an area and also the name of the area's principal street, known as High Holborn between St. Giles's High Street and Gray's Inn Road and then Holborn Viaduct between Holborn Circus and Newgate Street.

The area's first mention is in a charter of Westminster Abbey, by King Edgar, dated to 959. This mentions 'the old wooden church of St Andrew' (St Andrew, Holborn). The name Holborn may be derived from the Middle English hol for hollow, and bourne, a brook, referring to the River Fleet as it ran through a steep valley to the east.

It was at first outside the City's jurisdiction and a part of Ossulstone Hundred in Middlesex. The original Bars were the boundary of the City of London from 1223, when the City's jurisdiction was extended beyond the Walls, at Newgate, into the suburb here, as far as the point where the Bars where erected, until 1994 when the border moved to the junction of Chancery Lane. In 1394 the Ward of Farringdon Without was created, but only the south side of Holborn was under its jurisdiction with some minor properties, such as parts of Furnival's Inn, on the northern side.

The Holborn District was created in 1855, consisting of the civil parishes and extra-parochial places of Glasshouse Yard, Saffron Hill, Hatton Garden, Ely Rents and Ely Place, St Andrew Holborn Above the Bars with St George the Martyr and St Sepulchre. The Metropolitan Borough of Holborn was created in 1900, consisting of the former area of the Holborn District and the St Giles District, excluding Glasshouse Yard and St Sepulchre, which went to the Metropolitan Borough of Finsbury. The Metropolitan Borough of Holborn was abolished in 1965 and its area now forms part of the London Borough of Camden.

In the 18th century, Holborn was the location of the infamous Mother Clap's molly house but in the modern era High Holborn has become a centre for entertainment venues to suit more general tastes: 22 inns or taverns were recorded in the 1860s and the Holborn Empire, originally Weston's Music Hall, stood between 1857 and 1960, when it was pulled down after structural damage sustained in the Blitz. The theatre premièred the first full-length feature film in 1914, The World, the Flesh and the Devil, a 50-minute melodrama filmed in Kinemacolour.

Charles Dickens took up residence in Furnival's Inn, on the site of the former Prudential building designed by Alfred Waterhouse now named Holborn Bars. Dickens put his character Pip, in Great Expectations, in residence at Barnard's Inn opposite, now occupied by Gresham College. Staple Inn, notable as the promotional image for Old Holborn tobacco, is nearby. The three of these were Inns of Chancery. The most northerly of the Inns of Court, Gray's Inn, is in Holborn, as is Lincoln's Inn: the area has been associated with the legal professions since mediaeval times, and the name of the local militia (now Territorial Army unit, the Inns of Court & City Yeomanry) still reflects that. Subsequently the area diversified and become recognisable as the modern street.

A plaque stands at number 120 commemorating Thomas Earnshaw's invention of the Marine chronometer, which facilitated long-distance travel. At the corner of Hatton Garden was the old family department store of Gamages. Until 1992, the London Weather Centre was located in the street. The Prudential insurance company relocated in 2002. The Daily Mirror offices used to be directly opposite it, but the site is now occupied by Sainsbury's head office.

Hatton Garden, the centre of the diamond trade, was leased to a favourite of Queen Elizabeth I, Sir Christopher Hatton at the insistence of the Queen to provide him with an income. Behind the Prudential Building lies the Anglo-Catholic church of St Alban the Martyr.

In the early 21st century, Holborn has become the site of new offices and hotels: for example, the old neoclassical Pearl Assurance building near the junction with Kingsway was converted into an hotel in 1999.

Holborn station is located at the junction of High Holborn and Kingsway. Situated on the Piccadilly and Central Lines, it is the only station common to the two lines, although the two lines also cross each other three times in West London.

The station was opened by the Great Northern, Piccadilly and Brompton Railway (GNP&BR, now the Piccadilly Line) on 15 December 1906 with the name Holborn (Kingsway). Kingsway was a new road, cutting south from High Holborn through an area of cleared slums to Strand. The suffix was dropped from tube maps in the 1960s.
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