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The Honourable Society of Lincoln's Inn was founded in or before 1422 and is one of the four Inns of Court, along with The Honourable Societies of Gray's Inn, the Inner Temple and the Middle Temple (q.q.v.). The site of Lincoln's Inn was originally that given to the Black Friars by Hubert de Burgh, Earl of Kent, to establish their monastery. By 1276 they had outgrown this site and moved to Blackfriars, whereupon the Earl of Lincoln purchased the land, the word 'inn' then denoting a private house. Lincoln reputedly had a fine garden here that 'in a single year fruit to the value of £135 was gathered there and sold' (Chancellor, p.20). When he died in 1311, the Earl bequeathed the site to the legal fraternity and Lincoln's Inn grew up here with various buildings or chambers used as hostels and workplaces, including a chapel and library, which were set among largely unenclosed spaces and with open fields and woods to north and west. The Old Buildings that remain today date from 1490-1520, and the Gatehouse was built in 1518.
The Inns effectively became England's 'third university' and provided opportunities of education to the ambitious sons of mercantile and professional families, their membership doubling between 1530 and 1600 (See article by Deborah Spring, London Gardener vol 14). Until the mid C16th the layout of Lincoln's Inn buildings and their surroundings was relatively informal (see Agas map of c.1561), but from then on the Society began to build more formal buildings, and also to lay out formal gardens. The garden area adjacent to Chancery Lane was called Cotterel’s or the Long Garden (now the site of Stone Buildings), and a field behind this was referred to as the Coneygarth or the Backside, bounded by a long ditch to the west. This was a rabbit warren and also a source of clay for bricks used for the Inn buildings. Improvements had already begun here c.1555 with walks laid out. In 1577 a 4-man Garden Committee was set up, and 10 years later 1 of the committee members, lawyer and parliamentarian James Dalton, was appointed first Master of the Walks. Dalton supervised works to the garden between 1588-1600, including the creation of an elegant formal garden with a terrace, part of which remains beyond the hall and library. The Chapel was rebuilt in 1619-23.
New Square dates from 1682-97 and began as a private development by Henry Serle, a member of the Inn, who negotiated with the Society in 1682 to build 3 ranges of buildings around a central square on Ficketts Fields or Little Lincoln's Inn Fields. The central area was to 'for ever lie open and unbuilt upon "for the prospect and recreation of the Society and members thereof"' After Serle's death in 1690 Dr Nicholas Barbon completed the buildings. Barbon, an entrepreneur from Holland, was responsible for building a significant number of properties, including Essex Street and Devereux Street east of the Temple, over the gardens of Buckingham House and Mincing Lane and Devonshire Square in the City. In 1696 the Society gave permission to Cavendish Weedon, 1st inhabitant of the square, a barrister and patron of the arts among other things, to erect a 'pillar and clock' in Serle's Court as it was then called. Weedon's column and clock together with a fountain were duly erected in the centre of the square, which from the 1720s was referred to as New Square. The water for the fountain was supplied by the New River Water Company. North of New Square another fountain by Weedon was erected in the 'Great Garden' in 1706. Improvements were carried out to the garden of New Square in the 1730s; the clock was replaced by a sundial in the late C18th and around the same time the water to the fountain ceased to flow, leading to complaints in the early C19th about its basin of stagnant water. In c.1817 the pillar was replaced by a 'handsome gas light', but in 1845 this and the remains of the fountain were taken out and the open space was remodelled. The garden was enclosed by railings, trees and shrubs were planted, with a basin or reservoir on the site of the fountain surrounded by a raised octangular parapet, and walks laid out.
This coincided with the building of Philip Hardwick's New Hall and Library in the 'Great-Garden', which was also re-landscaped at that time, levelled and planted anew by George Temple under Hardwick's supervision. Temple was appointed to maintain the gardens in 1846, overseen by a Garden Committee that was established. Temple's son succeeded him as gardener and was responsible for planting London plane trees in 1860 to replace earlier elms. In 1862 further improvements were made to the gardens at the recommendation of the Master of the Walks, which included lowering the parapet around the reservoir in New Square garden, removing the broad gravel walks, and reconfiguring the flower beds and shrubberies. In 1872 the Brewster Memorial Gates were erected at the south end of New Square: an ornamental entrance gate in the form of a wrought-iron screen with gates either side, the screen having a coat of arms and the name 'Brewster'. Lt. Col. William Bagenall Brewster (d.1864) was first commanding officer of the Inns of Court Rifle Volunteer Corps. The gates were relocated to the north end of New Square in 1908. Either side of this were two round stone water pumps, probably designed by Hardwick, one of which was supplied by a well and provided drinking water to the Hall and the other fed by New River Water and provided for 'culinary purposes'. They were closed for medical reasons in 1866.
By 1921 the New Square garden appears to have become somewhat neglected and was replanted with 'a choice selection of flowering shrubs and trees which have been so arranged as to permit of bays being formed for herbaceous plants' according to a report by the then Master of the Walks. Two trees were felled in the west at that time; between 1956-8 further alterations were made including making 'two oblong rose beds' and a 'small circular bed with petunias where the plane tree was cut down near the south end', a wire fence and chain was placed round the garden. In the 1970s the site of Weedon's pillar became that of a small fountain with bronze nymph; a new fountain designed by artist William Pye was installed here in 2004.
To the north of New Square, the large garden overlooked by the Stone Buildings of 1774-80 and Hardwick's Library of 1842-45 was mainly lawn, with mature and more recent planting of trees, the ground sloping to a raised gravel path, with seating and flower beds along the boundary wall with Lincoln's Inn Fields. To the east of Lincoln's Inn is Old Square with the Chapel on the south side, a paved area with a central tree; the site where a Zeppelin damaged the Chapel in 1915 marked on the roadway.
Lincoln's Inn Gardens have been almost entirely replanted since c.2004 and now comprise 6 separate garden areas, the North Lawn, Benchers' Lawn, New Square, Gatehouse Court, Kitchen Garden and Stone Buildings. The only British Prime Minister to be assassinated, Spencer Percival (1762-1812), lived at Nos. 59-60 Lincoln's Inn Fields, one of 16 Prime Minsters to be a member of Lincoln's Inn.
Information on Lincoln's Inn website: www.lincolnsinn.org.uk. Bridget Cherry & Nikolaus Pevsner, 'The Buildings of England: London 4: North' (Penguin, 1998); E Beresford Chancellor, 'The Romance of Lincoln's Inn Fields' (Richards Press, 1932); Stephen Priestley, 'The Fountain and Gardens in New Square, Lincoln's Inn - A Brief History', The London Gardener, vol.3, 1997-98; Deborah Spring, 'James Dalton and Francis Bacon: Two garden makers of the Inns of Court', The London Gardener, vol.14, 2008/2009