In the archive there survives a small collection of historic leases, relating to shop premises that were let by the Inn in the 1670s. Included in these leases are several relating to a shop leased to Thomas Smith, who was a Butler at the Inn.
The lease above is dated 9 November 1670 and is for a shop, ‘lately erected by Thomas Smith within the Back Court of Lincolnes Inn lying and being neere unto the Back Gate there conteyning by estimation foureteene foot four inches in length from east westwards and ten foot nine inches in bredth from south northwards and adjoining east upon the Chambers of Lincolns Inne aforesaid and south upon the wall towards Sheare Lane.’
Sheare Lane no longer exists, but it can be seen depicted on Ogilby and Morgan’s ‘Large Scale Map of the City As Rebuilt By 1676’ which was published in 1676. It is shown connecting the Inn to Fleet Street; running north from Temple Bar to Carey Street, approximately in the middle of where the Royal Courts of Justice now stand.
Thomas Smith’s interest in the shop had previously been registered at a Council meeting held on 9 June 1670. It was recorded that ‘Upon the petition of Nicholas Smith, second Butler, and Thomas Smith, third Butler “understanding that the Worshipfull the Bench did intend to have two shopps erected within the Backe Gate, and to let out the ground to be built upon, and praying that they may have the building of them.” This was then ‘Ordered accordingly. The Treasurer shall settle the terms.’
Since the seventeenth century, Lincoln’s Inn has been the landlord of commercial premises, in addition to leasing chambers. This continued throughout the eighteenth century, and saw the Inn supporting a variety of small shops or stalls, and at least one Coffee House. The shops often had a legal focus, such as pamphlet shops and booksellers, but there were also shops selling luxury goods and essential foodstuffs – such as stockings, watches, wigs, fruit, vegetables and meat.
Although a variety of trades were tolerated, the Benchers of Lincoln’s Inn considered certain businesses to be undesirable. As a result measures were introduced to ensure that these were not established in the vicinity of the Inn. When, in 1677, a man by the name of John Sawier wished to build shops at the north-east corner of Lincoln’s Inn Fields, the Inn exercised its rights over this adjacent property by exacting certain conditions. One condition was that the shops were not to be let to ‘any Tallow Chandler Brasier Pewterer Smith or to any suchlike troublesome or offensive trades that use the greate Hammer or Anvile But only unto Mercers Grocers Milliners Drapers Watchmakers Shoemakers Simpstresses or to such like quiet and inoffensive trades as may not disturb the quiet and Studies of the Gentlemen of the Society of Lincolnes Inne’.
The Inn could also choose to promote the business of dedicated tenants. At a Council meeting held 27 October 1670 it was agreed that on hearing the petition of the stationer Mr Robinson, ‘and considering his service done to the Society in conveying the letters to the post-house’, it was granted that, ‘the persons who built the two new shops at the Back Gate shall be restrained from letting any stationer or bookseller.’
However, this gracious gesture to Mr Robinson proved detrimental to the Smith family, who had built the shop in question, as per their petition in June. At a Council meeting held on 22 November 1670, a petition was heard from Thomas Smith, and his mother Hephzibah, regarding their shop at the Back Gate. They raised the issue that they ‘were forbidden to let it to any stationer, which was very disadvantageous to them.’ As a result it was ordered that ‘they may let it to a milliner, stationer of watchmaker.’
Another lease survives in the archive for the Smith family. This is for a ‘Shop lately erected by Hephzibah Smith within Lincoln’s Inn, lying and being near unto the Back Gate there containing eleven foot and half in length from east westward and ten foot eight inches in bredth from south northward and adjoining south upon the wall towards Sheare Lane and west upon the Base Court of Lincoln’s Inn; 9 November 1670, to Hephzibah Smith, widow of Nicholas Smith, late one of the Butlers of Lincoln’s Inn, deceased, for 21 years.’ As Nicholas Smith had made the original petition to build the shops, together with his son Thomas in June of the same year, it seems likely that his death occurred not long after, and was unexpected.
There is one final mention of Hephzibah Smith and this property in the Black Books. At a Council held 26 January 1671 it was recorded: ‘Upon the petition of Hephzibah Smith, widow and relict of Nicholas Smith, late one of the Buttlers, shewing that her husband, Nicholas Smith, held as Buttler a shop under the said Inne in Chancery Lane, which was pulled downe by order of the said Society in the tyme of the late dreadful fire in London; and that her said husband rebuilt the same some tyme after att his owne charge, but dyed before he reimbursed himself the charge by reception of the rents; and the petitioner desired some satisfaccion.’
The Inn was fortunate enough not to have been greatly affected by the Great Fire of 1666, as it did not end up reaching that far. However this entry shows the real concerns the Inn had at the time, as well as the precautions that had been taken to try and prevent the spread of the fire.