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Site on English Heritage Register of Historic Parks and Gardens, for Register Entry see http://list.english-heritage.org.uk
The Honourable Society of Gray's Inn is one of the four Inns of Court, along with The Honourable Societies of Lincoln's Inn, the Inner Temple and the Middle Temple (q.q.v.). The collegiate legal institution of Gray's Inn was established some 700 years ago although many of the buildings on the site now date from post-war rebuilding following 1941 bomb damage, designed by Sir Edward Maufe. The gardens are surrounded by barristers' chambers and offices of Gray's Inn. The Gray's Inn Walks, as the gardens are generally known, were first laid out formally in 1606 under the direction of Sir Francis Bacon (1561-1626) when he was Treasurer at Gray's Inn, although the layout has since altered from the C18th onwards. However, at the end of the Walks are two old Indian bean trees (Catalpa bignonioides), which were grown from slips brought back from Virginia in America by Sir Walter Raleigh and planted by Bacon.
In the mid-C16th Gray's Inn consisted of a single court with walled garden to the north, known as Green Court. By 1568 a railed walk had been laid out in an area known as the Field and by the 1580s there were elm trees and a seat here; Green Court, now known as Coney Court, had been levelled and divided into quarters by paths and alleys. In 1587 the Benchers of Gray's Inn set up a committee to decide what to do with the Field and in 1590 it was agreed to enclose part of it with a brick wall. This was completed in 1598, and several distinct areas were then established: Field Court to the south, the Walks in the centre, with a terrace walk along the northern end and the Low Garden in the north.
Francis Bacon was a member of the committee and responsible for directing much of the garden development, including levelling and planting, rails and seats of the Walk, and hedges along the edge of the upper walk. There are records that the planting included cherry, birch, groves of elm, osiers for an arbour, eglantine, privet and quickset for hedges on the edge of the Walks and probably for mazes, standard roses, woodbine, vines, pinks, violets and primroses. In 1608-9 a Mount with a pavilion was made in the centre of the Upper Walks or west terrace, with labyrinths or mazes to north and south. At that time large numbers of roses and trees were planted. A bowling green was laid out in the Low Garden between 1609-12, outside the north wall, and a kitchen garden made north-east of the garden, now the site of Verulam Buildings. In the 1670s a summerhouse was built on the east end of the Terrace in the north to match an earlier one at the west end. By this time the bowling green was no longer in use and the Low Garden was being used for grazing, for digging gravel, which continued until 1720s, and for growing vegetables. Limes were planted in the Walks in the 1690s and Dutch elms were planted around the kitchen garden and along Terrace Walk in 1709. The gates and piers at the southern entrance from Field Court were replaced in 1723 and still stand.
Between 1755-70 the gardens were simplified to the designs of a Mr Brown (probably Lancelot 'Capability' Brown) and this included rebuilding the summerhouses, simplifying the layout by removing the Mount and certain walls, hedges and paths, and incorporating the Low Garden into the Walks, which was planted in 1761. By the late C18th the kitchen garden had gone and the gardens were further simplified. London plane trees replaced the lime trees in c.1800, and the C19th saw further changes to the Walks with construction of the Verulam Buildings in 1803-11 and Raymond Buildings in 1825, which form the north-east and north-west boundaries of the garden.
Field Court is paved with setts, paving stones and gravel into which plane trees are set, with a number of large tubs, and shrubbery on the north side. The Walks have a straight path leading from the gates from Field Court, bordered by an avenue of plane trees, with lawns on either side and scattered trees, many of which are mature and include 2 catalpas. The south and south-west boundaries have shrub and herbaceous borders with another path along the south side of the garden curving up a slope and then running north along the west side. A broad raised terrace runs along the north and west sides of the garden reached by a set of steps on each side, those to the north a remnant of Bacon's C17th layout. The lawn extends to the east in the northern half around the north side of Gray's Inn Square. A gravel walk runs along the edge of the raised terraces, with a line of mature planes opposite the slope and scattered trees on the terrace lawns. The north terrace has a shrubbery along the north boundary and herbaceous borders and shrubs in the north-west corner either side of a path leading onto Theobalds Road. Hedging in the east end of the north terrace masks the nursery and gardeners' sheds. To the east of the Walks are Gray's Inn Square and South Square (q.v.), both essentially C20th in design.
See EH Register listing: Stow, 'Survey of London' (1720); E B Cecil, 'London Parks and Gardens' (1907) pp.283-8; Country Life, 6 November 1937 pp.468-73. 13 November 1937, pp492-8; G Taylor, 'Old London Gardens' (1953), pp.36-41; Garden History 17, no. 1 (1989), pp.41-68; B Cherry & N Pevsner 'The Buildings of England: London 4: North' (1998), pp281-4. Also: Deborah Spring, 'James Dalton and Francis Bacon: Two garden makers of the Inns of Court', The London Gardener, vol.14, 2008-09