Researching Past Members
Past members of Lincoln’s Inn, and of the other three Inns of Court – Inner Temple, Middle Temple, and Gray’s Inn, include individuals wishing to become barristers, but also those who joined the Inn but who never went on to be called to the Bar. Before the twentieth century this was very common.
Attending one of the Inns of Court was often used as a way for people to make good social contacts, rather than to necessarily qualify as a barrister.
Solicitors, or attorneys as they were also known before 1875, were originally allowed to join the Inns of Court, but from 1635 admission to the Inn was not allowed. Women were not allowed to join the Inn until the passing of the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919. The first woman to join the Inn was Marjorie Eva Powell on 16 January 1920.
The Inn’s Archive contains the organisational records of the Inn rather than of its members. Therefore it does not contain personal papers of those who were at the Inn, but there will be information relating to their admission in particular.
A member will have an entry in the admission registers, giving the date of admission as a student member. For most historic members the only records are of admission and date of call, if they became a barrister, which is recorded in the Inn’s Black Books.
Lincoln's Inn sources
Registers of Admissions (1420-1973)
These published registers record the names of members admitted to the Inn. From the late sixteenth century a place or county of origin is usually recorded, from the early seventeenth century the father’s name, and from the beginning of the nineteenth century their age on admission is also noted.
The volumes are indexed, but the index for Volume 1 is included in the index for Volume 2. Volume 2 also includes the earliest Chapel Registers: christenings (1716-1806), marriages (1695-1754), and burials (1695-1852), which are also indexed. Volume 4 includes later Chapel registers, however there is no record of christenings between 1806-1905, marriages between 1754-1910, and burials were discontinued after 1852.
- Vol 1: 1420 to 1799
- Vol 2: 1800 to 1893 (includes Chapel registers-for dates see above)
- Vol 3: 1894 to 1956
- Vol. 4: 1957 to 1973
Black Books (1422-1965)
These published volumes record the minutes of Council, the Inn’s governing body of benchers. The Black Books include all calls to the Bar and are indexed. The minutes cover a range of subjects relating to the governance of the Inn, including legal education, accounts, the Inn’s estate, relationship with other institutions, petitions, calls to the bench, and appointment of benchers to key roles within Council (Master of the Walks (now Keeper of the Walks), Keeper of the Black Books, Dean of the Chapel, Master of the Library (now Keeper of the Library), and Treasurer). These positions still exist today, although the roles of Keeper of the Black Books and Dean of the Chapel have been combined.
Each volume also has a descriptive introduction on various aspects of the history of the Inn.
- Gray’s Inn online resources
- Inner Temple online admissions database
- Middle Temple digitised sources
- The National Archives research guides on ‘How to look for records of Lawyers‘
- The Law Society Library has a paid research service and a guide on ‘How to trace past solicitors and law firms‘ on their website.
- Brian Brooks and Mark Herber: My Ancestor was a Lawyer, Society of Genealogists, 2006.
- Guy Holborn, Sources of Biographical Information on Past Lawyers, BIALL, 1999.
- The Law List and its successor publications contain information on judges, counsel and solicitors. These are annual directories of practising lawyers dating back to 1775.
- John Baker (ed), The Men of Court 1440-1550: A Prosopography of the Inns of Court and Chancery and the Courts of Law
- Graham S. Brown, A Lincoln’s Inn Commonplace Book: The Buildings and Grounds of an Inn of Court, Its Dependencies and Neighbourhood Over Eight Centuries: In Art, Literature, Reportage and Music, 2016
- Angela Holdsworth (ed.), A Portrait of Lincoln’s Inn. Third Millennium, 2007.
- Sir Gerald Hurst, A Short History of Lincoln’s Inn. Constable, 1946.