Gray's Inn

The Honourable Society of Gray's Inn known as Gray's Inn, is one of the four Inns of Court in London. To be called to the bar and practise as a barrister in England and Wales, a person must belong to one of these inns. Located at the intersection of High Holborn and Gray's Inn Road in Central London, the inn is both a professional body and a provider of office accommodation for many barristers, it is ruled by a governing council called "pension", made up of the masters of the bench, led by the Treasurer, elected to serve a one-year term. The inn is known for its gardens, or walks, which have existed since at least 1597. Gray's Inn does not claim a specific foundation date. Law clerks and their apprentices have been established on the present site since at least 1370, with records dating from 1381. During the 15th and 16th centuries, the inn grew with great prestige, reaching its pinnacle during the reign of Elizabeth I; the inn was home to many important barristers and politicians, most notably Francis Bacon, counted Queen Elizabeth herself as a patron.

Thanks to the efforts of prominent members such as William Cecil and Gilbert Gerard, Gray's Inn became the largest of the four by number, with over 200 barristers recorded as members. During this period, the inn became noted for the masques and revels that it threw, William Shakespeare is believed to have first performed The Comedy of Errors there; the inn continued to prosper during the reign of James I and the beginning of that of Charles I, when over 100 students per year were recorded as joining. The outbreak of the First English Civil War in 1642 during the reign of Charles I disrupted the systems of legal education and governance at the Inns of Court, shutting down all calls to the bar and new admissions, Gray's Inn never recovered. Fortunes continued to decline after the English Restoration, which saw the end of the traditional method of legal education. Although now more prosperous, Gray's Inn is today the smallest of the Inns of Court. Gray's Inn and the other three Inns of Court remain the only bodies allowed to call a barrister to the Bar, allowing him or her to practise in England and Wales.

Although the Inn was a disciplinary and teaching body, these functions are now shared between the four Inns, with the Bar Standards Board acting as a disciplinary body and the Inns of Court and Bar Educational Trust providing education. The Inn remains a collegiate self-governing, unincorporated association of its members, providing within its precincts library, dining and office accommodation, along with a chapel. Members of the Bar from other Inns may use these facilities to some extent. During the 12th and early 13th centuries, the law was taught in the City of London by the clergy. Two events happened which ended the Church's role in legal education: firstly, a papal bull that prohibited the clergy from teaching the common law, rather than canon law; the common law began to be practiced and taught by laymen instead of clerics, these lawyers migrated to the hamlet of Holborn, just outside the City and near to the law courts at Westminster Hall. The early records of all four Inns of Court have been lost, it is not known when each was founded.

The records of Gray's Inn itself are lost until 1569, the precise date of founding cannot therefore be verified. Lincoln's Inn has the earliest surviving records. Gray's Inn dates from at least 1370, takes its name from Baron Grey of Wilton, as the Inn was Wilton's family townhouse within the Manor of Portpoole. A lease was taken for various parts of the inn by practising lawyers as both residential and working accommodation, their apprentices were housed with them. From this the tradition of dining in "commons" by using the inn's main hall, followed as the most convenient arrangement for the members. Outside records from 1437 show that Gray's Inn was occupied by socii, or members of a society, at that date. In 1456 Reginald de Gray, the owner of the Manor itself, sold the land to a group including Thomas Bryan. A few months the other members signed deeds of release, granting the property to Thomas Bryan. Bryan acted as either a feoffee or an owner representing the governing body of the Inn but in 1493 he transferred the ownership by charter to a group including Sir Robert Brudenell and Thomas Wodeward, reverting the ownership of the Inn back to the Gray family.

In 1506 the Inn was sold by the Gray family to Hugh Denys and a group of his feoffees including Roger Lupton. This was not a purchase on behalf of the society and after a five-year delay, it was transferred under the will of Denys in 1516 to the Carthusian House of Jesus of Bethlehem, which remained the Society's landlord until 1539, when the Second Act of Dissolution led to the Dissolution of the Monasteries and passed ownership of the Inn to the Crown. During the reign of Elizabeth I, Gray's Inn rose in prominence, that period is considered the "golden age" of the Inn, with Elizabeth serving as the Patron Lady; this can be traced to the actions of Nicholas Bacon, William Cecil and Gilbert Gerard, all prominent members of the Inn and confidantes of Elizabeth. Cecil and Bacon in particular took pains to find the most promising young men and get them to join the Inn. In 1574 it was the largest of al

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Dee Heslop

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