Gray's Inn, part 1: maps

I love maps. OK, I adore maps. I spend lots of time studying maps when I’m planning my stories. Mainly because I like to know where things really are, or were, but also because a map makes it easier for me to block my scenes consistently. Like any other kind of lying, the more you stick to the truth, the easier it is to keep your story straight.

It’s also good to know how long it takes to get from one place to another. In an early draft of Murder by Misrule, my lads had quite a lengthy conversation while walking to Newgate from Gray’s. I took that walk myself on a trip to England and discovered that it was a matter of minutes, traffic included. Oops.

The Agas Map


First we’ll look at the Agas map of London, which I access through The A to Z of Elizabethan London, compiled by Adrian Prockter and Robert Taylor. (1979. Harry Margary, Lympne Castle, Kent.) Gray’s Inn is starred, in the upper left corner. It’s still there, of course, but there aren’t any sheep grazing nearby.

We can walk down Gray’s Inn Road to Holborn Road. If we turn right, we’re in Holborn. We can walk down the street a little way and find ourselves at my fictional Antelope Inn. Or we can turn down actual Chancery Lane to get to Fleet Street, just east of Temple Bar. We’ve passed Lincoln’s Inn on the way. Now we can dodge through the carts and horses to cross Fleet and go on down Middle Temple Lane to get to Middle Temple, Inner Temple, and on down to Temple Stairs on the Thames, where we can catch our wherry to go to court. Or to the theater, since we are gentlemen of the Inns of Court.


The Google map

The streets are the same today, though most of the buildings have changed and the hay-powered conveyances have been replaced by fossil-fuel burners.

The 1677 map

As fascinating as the Agas map is, it’s useless for walking around inside Gray’s Inn. When everyone comes pouring out of the hall, where are they? I need specific locations for buildings and if it’s anywhere in the historical record, I have to get it right, or someone will call me on it.

This map is shown in the Wikipedia article about Gray’s Inn. It’s from 1677, after the Great Fire of 1666 and a major rebuilding of Gray’s Inn. Bacon’s Building is marked with a yellow star. Wikipedia doesn’t say so, but I’m pretty sure this image was scanned from the inside cover of the Pension Book of Gray’s Inn. The one in my library was rudely covered by a big card catalog sleeve, now obsolete.


You can see that this is essentially the Gray’s Inn of today, with the Holborn, or South, Court fully developed. That wasn’t there in 1586. But I love the legend, which you probably can’t read. I zoomed in and transcribed it.

==Holborn, south, Court==========================================

  1. Downes’                1 single staircase
  2. Goodrick’s,           1 single                                    1579
  3. Cage’s                    1 double
  4. Howland’s            1 single
  5. Fuller’s                  1 single
  6. Purefey’s               1 double                                  1571
  7. Butler’s                  1 double                                  1569: over the pastry house
  8. Davenport’s          1 single
  9. Finch’s                   1 double                                  1629?
  10. Denney’s                1 double
  11. Duchy Office
  12. Osbaldestone’s      2 double, 1 single
  13. Pipe Office, formerly Star Chamber office
  14. Jones’                     1 double
  15. New                        1 double
  16. Higgons’                1 double                                  1633? (hanging building w/gallery)
  17. Lenton’s                1 double
  18. Chisnold’s and Blower’s
  19. Gerrard’s               1 double

==Coney, north, Court==========================================

  1. Ashton’s,                4 double                                  1579
  2. Stanhope’s             4 double                                 1579
  3. Ellis’s                      4 double (? can’t be 4)          1579

==Chapel, middle, Court=========================================

  1. Cooper’s                1 single, 1 double
  2. Seckford’s             1 double
  3. Grimston’s            1 double
  4. Bacon’s                  1 double                                  1588-1592 (upper stories)
  5. Hall
  6. Chapel

K – Duchy Office


(Now you how an obsessive-compulsive person does research. Oh, wait! That’s anyone with a Ph.D. They lock us in little rooms, see, and sneer at us until our minds crumble.)

The 1590 map


Onward! We have another map, an even better map, provided by David Jacques in his 1989 article, “‘The Chief Ornament’ of Gray’s Inn: The Walks from Bacon to Brown.” (Garden History, Vol. 17, No. 1 (Spring, 1989), pp. 41-67.) Can you see the tiny ‘a’ on the left side of Chapel Court? That’s Bacon’s Building. Tom, Ben, and Stephen shared a room in the Gallery, which is the long building separating Chapel Court from Coney Court, which isn’t called by that name on this map. Here we see it full of trees, neatly planted in squares. It can’t still have had rabbits in it at this time; not with a constant traffic of young men passing through.

The open space at the top called ‘Pannierman’s Close’ was orchards and gardens. The area to the left of the Close was an open field with grazing animals. Francis Bacon transformed these fields into a formal garden for barristers to stroll in, which is still there and still used for that purpose. IMG_2188

The Close would have had rabbits, sneaking in to eat the cabbages meant for the lawyers’ table. Those trees in Coney Court must have been full of singing birds. My characters were surrounded by greenery, the sounds of creatures and the smells of growing plants. These old maps are necessary to guide us back to a time when Legal London was a rural area.

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