Legal Row

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I decided to do my walk in a part of London which had encapsulated me the very first time I set foot on this beautiful soil. The part I am talking about is synonymous with wealth and power; it is the part where laws are made, where individuals and whole companies can flourish or fall deep into the ashes of shame. The area I am alluding to is legal street, which starts from the top of Chancery Lane, near the Gray’s Inn, and trails down to the Royal High Courts of Justice. I embarked on an unknown journey through the conglomeration of might, in which I felt myself being enfolded into a tiny spec of insignificance amid the great law firms of this bustling metropolis. Fortunately, I had my friend Helena to join me, which made it a little less daunting; it was this companionship which galvanized me to continue on with this endeavor. It is reasonable to say that I did my walk at this particular place because I felt there was a story to tell. Here is what I saw:

We started on top of Chancery Lane across from the entrance of the famous Gray’s Inn Square, where at that time an unknown young man named Charles Dickens trained to be a clerk.

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Before we entered the narrow alleyway, I noticed the bustling noise of cars behind me, but as soon as we entered this alleyway, it felt as if we were transported back into Victorian London, a surreal and eerie tranquility fell upon us. Interestingly, there was still an old lantern placed in the middle of that alleyway, surrounded by new firms and advertisement agencies, as well as a pub. We walked through another seemingly old entrance into a big open square.

The first thing I noticed was a big gate right ahead of me, with two gargoyles placed on each of the two columns, as if they were shielding the entrance from unwanted visitors. I found it very appropriate, mainly due to the sign which stated that the park is only open to public for a certain amount of time.

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This instantly made me think of the exclusion of certain groups of people that was prominent in British society, whether they were poor or from another socioeconomic background. We made our way back to the main street en route to finally walk on Chancery Lane, the infamous place of legal power.

I noticed how narrow the street was compared to the main street we had just walked across. It immediately indicated the age of this road. Moreover, Chancery Lane was constructed by the Knight Templars in about 1160, in order to have a road that would lead through fields they owned. It was originally called New Street, but when the Bishop of Chichester in 1227 received this land from Henry III in order for him to build a palace on this lane, his successors, who until 1340, usually held offices within administrations of Lord Chancellor, would give this street its current name (Bebbington, 1972, p. 78).

As we were walking through the narrow path, I noticed a small building to my left with the same title of the street, it was called Chancery House.

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Seemingly old, it houses many law firms today. I was mostly astounded by the fusion of old and new. Onto my left was the Quality Court, which was an old Patent Office in the past; but what I found very interesting was the origin of its name, which as quoted by Strype in 1720, ‘for the goodness of the Houses, and the Inhabitants, is by some called Quality Court’ (Bebbington, 1972, p. 266-67).

I felt as if I was trapped in a time bubble, the narrow alleyway reminded me somewhat of the good old black and white films on London I used to watch as a kid. There was an old lantern in the middle of the court (similar to the one in the Grays Inn courtyard). There are wooden benches everywhere, and you are virtually surrounded by an array of Victorian houses. I felt quite aloof as I was walking through these courtyards, because it is not hard to feel above the rest when you are surrounded by so much wealth and power. One of the most startling aspects on Chancery Lane is the lack of homelessness, because I noticed quite a few homeless individuals on High Holborn, but absolutely none on Chancery Lane. As we were heading closer towards Fleet Street, we passed by a very extravagant looking Whetherspoons, it is called the Knights Templar and it made me chuckle a bit, due to the tacky name given of the original builders of this street. Chancery lane was bustling with lawyers striding to make it back home, and I cannot begin to count the amount of times I accidentally stumbled into one of them. We made our way through another narrow section of the street, and we passed a small construction site, I noticed a blue plaque on a building, it read ‘John Thurloe Secretary of State 1652’. This building is now part of the Lincoln’s Inn Society, which dates back to 1422, and was built to house lawyers. The exact origins are unknown, however, it most likely had its full use in the late fourteenth-century. The building resembles the colleges seen in Oxford and Cambridge.

Only a few meters further down the street, we saw this rather exclusive looking building, with a small arch gate entrance which had ‘The Law Society’ written on top.

As we were walking through this awe inspiring place of prosperity, I started to notice that the tranquility of this street was disturbed by rumbling car sounds. We arrived back to modern London, Fleet Street. Only a few more steps and we arrived at the place where the ultimate decisions are made, Royal Courts of Justice. The building was constructed by George Edmund Street, which had originally been 6 Acres in 1873. The building was officially opened by Queen Victoria in 1882. The might of the British judicial system, is certainly being demonstrated with this building.

We ended this walk back towards High Holborn, but this time via Bell Yard, narrowly leading me back to reality.

 

Bibliography

Bebbington, Gillian. London Street Names. London: B. T. Batsfrod Ltd., 1972.
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