The first mention of a Chapel in the records of the Inn is in 1428. This was situated near the present War Memorial. In the early seventeenth century it became too small and required repair. In 1608 is the first mention of building a new Chapel. Between then and 1620 there was much discussion and the raising of funds by donations, taxes etc. At one point it was going to be built with 3 sets of double chambers underneath, but this was abandoned in favour of an open crypt where burials could take place. The practice of burials ceased in the mid nineteenth century. During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries it was not unusual for girls to leave their newborn babies here. When this happened the Inn would "adopt" the baby and care for it until it was grown up. The children were often given the name Lincoln. A model was submitted by Inigo Jones in 1618. This was probably just an outline plan, which was then modified to suit the benchers. Jones played no further part.
John Donne, who was preacher of the Inn at this time, and later became Dean of St. Paul's, laid the foundation stone in 1620. Before the consecration there was an allocation of seats in strict order of precedence, along with a dire warning to anyone who leant on or placed his hat etc. on the communion table! The Chapel was consecrated on Ascension Day 1623 by the Bishop of London, the Right Rev George Montaigne. John Donne preached "a right rare and learned sermon". At the service "two or three were endangered and taken up for dead for the time, with the extreme press and thronging".
The Chapel bell, cast in 1615, also has an association with John Donne. In addition to ringing for curfew at nine o’clock each evening, it is also tolled by ancient custom at midday on the death of a bencher of the Inn, a practice long held to be the inspiration for the quotation from Donne’s poem beginning “No Man is an Island” which concludes “And therefore never seek to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee”.
By 1680 the chapel had become dangerous and major repairs were required. Again donations were raised and in 1685 Sir Christopher Wren (who was a member of the Inn) was consulted and repairs were undertaken, particularly to the roof. The services meanwhile were held in the Hall.
Towards the end of the nineteenth century the roof was in need of repair and the Chapel was considered to be too small. From 1882 to 1883 the Chapel was re-roofed and enlarged. A new Bay was added at the western end of the Chapel, along with the two staircases, vestibule and two vestries. This part is easily recognised as the pews have no doors, unlike the original seventeenth century pews, which were made by "Price the Joyner". In the 1990s further extensive repairs and refurbishment were carried out. The present Gothic revival reconstruction replaced the original barrel vaulted ceiling. At the same time the corbels supporting the beams were decorated with the Arms of former Preachers who went on to become Bishops or Archbishops.
All the pictorial side windows are contemporary with the original building. The southwest window is by Abraham Van Linge and shows buildings of the Inn in the background. The northwest is by his brother, Bernard Van Linge. The two easterly windows are by Richard Butler. In the bottom right of the window nearest the pulpit on the west side is the memorial to John Donne. (It must be the smallest memorial ever put up to anyone)! Unfortunately two windows were lost in 1915 when a bomb from a Zeppelin fell in Old Square. In the second world war all the windows were removed and stored safely.
The east window shows the crests of the 228 Treasurers from 1680 to 1908. (The Treasurer is the head of the Inn and changes annually). Later Treasurers are shown in the northeast and southwest windows. On the corbels of the ceiling and on the walls beneath are the diocesan arms of preachers who were or later became bishops. On the east side of the pulpit there is a small piece of carved stone which is believed to be part of the altar of the original Chapel.
At the west end of the Chapel are the colours of the Inns of Court Regiment, whose headquarters are in the Inn. There is also a Book of Remembrance for the members of the Regiment who died in the two World Wars.
The first priest is mentioned in 1441 and was called the Chaplain. He conducted the morning and evening services and preached the sermon on Sunday afternoons. He was also in charge of the parochial duties in the Inn. An additional clergyman called the Preacher first appeared in the sixteenth century. This arrangement persisted until the First World War, when the Chaplain joined up. In 1917 it was decided to merge the appointment of Chaplain and Preacher. In 1935 a Chaplain was again appointed but at the beginning of the war it was decided that the office was redundant and no further Chaplain has been appointed. Boards listing the Preachers from 1581 and the Organists since 1852 are in the foyer.
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