The Black Books state that in 1613 the duties of the Porter were to “not suffer any wandering or idle persons, rogues, vagabondes, or beggers … that he bee circumspect and diligent in looking to such nusances as shall happen in the House by the sluttishness of launderesses and others, and that hee shall give notice and warning of the same to the gentlemen of such chambers from which such nusances come … hee shall diligently attende aboute the Gate.” The Porters and Wardens who “attende aboute the Gate” to this day may still recognise these duties, albeit with less troublesome launderesses.
Certain duties may remain, but the names have changed. There were a class of officers of the Inn known as Badge Porters, who first appear in the Black Books in 1660 when thirteen individuals were to be “allowed and continued Porters to this Societie ; and that they weare at their brests for badges, the Armes of Lincolne’s Inne.” Later that same year the wonderfully named Abstenius Pardey was admitted to the same position. The Badge Porters continue to appear throughout the Black Books, alongside their Supernumerary Porter colleagues, until the last “survivor of the old class of Badge Porters to the Society”, James Hiley Buckthorpe, retired in 1935.
There are eight of these silver badges, dating from 1855 to 1889, in a display cabinet in the Upper Vestibule. One of these badges belonged to Buckthorpe, which had been re-cut for him from an older badge originally dating from 1846. It is not known why this badge was re-cut, but an 1896 entry in the Black Books includes a communication from one of the Badge Porters which resulted in “one of the old silver badges be[ing] recut and given to him”.
“I take the liberty of informing you of the loss of my Badge, which was presented to me during the month of June 1864. On the 2nd December, while my wife, children and self were attending an entertainment at the Holborn Town Hall, some unknown person obtained access to my rooms, decamping with, among other things, my best overcoat containing the aforesaid badge, trousers, boots, and several articles of apparel of my wife and daughters … After having had the honor of holding the badge for upwards of 30 years, I deeply feel the loss, especially as it was presented to me by the late Lord Selborne (then Sir Roundell Palmer).”
Possession of the badge was clearly an honour, and the Badge Porters seem to have considered themselves a class apart from the Supernumeraries. In 1868 the Badge Porters successfully petitioned to have the number of Supernumeraries reduced from six to three, to accompany the twelve Badge Porters, despite this leaving the staff with insufficient numbers to fulfil their Night Watch duties. The inability to fulfil this duty was “aggravated by occasional instances of drunkenness; and as the only punishment now for neglect of duty, or drunkenness, is Suspension from the duty of the Watch, some alteration seems absolutely necessary to ensure a proper performance of duty in future.” The Committee were caught in something of a Catch-22 situation, and they responded by reducing the duties of the Night Watch, including deciding “to dispense with the man hitherto put on duty for the purpose of twice Searching all the Staircases.”
The crimes and punishments of the members and staff of the Inn are a regular feature of the Black Books, and the Badge Porters are no exception. This class of officer may have existed before 1660, and if so they appear in the records as a victim in 1635. “Mr Nicholas Love is expelled from the Society … lastly, for that he ‘did lately strike and beate the Porter, under the Chappell (within consecrated ground), and together with two others, being Utter Barresters of this House, did by violence draw the said Porter to the Pumpe, and there they did pumpe him.’”
Violence regularly appears in the record, including commendations to the Badge Porters for their assistance in quelling riots such as the Corn Law Riots in 1815 during which houses were attacked in Serle Street and Lincoln’s Inn Fields. In 1807 it was decreed that the watchmen were “to be provided with a staff, cutlass, rattle and lantern” and later that year “12 stout sticks for the porters” appear in the accounts for the Right Hon. Sir John Anstruther, Baronet, the Treasurer for that year.
Under such working conditions it may be no surprise that the Badge Porters relaxed with the odd glass of beer. The display case in the Upper Vestibule contains a large pewter flagon which they used to purchase ale before sharing it out. This flagon was presented to the Inn in 1928 by Buckthorpe having been used by the Badge Porters for more than a century in an unofficial initiation ceremony. The inscription reads “J Newton Ship Britannia Chichester Rents : House of Call for Porters of the Honourable Society of Lincoln’s Inn, 1822.” This pub, the Old Ship Britannia, is now gone but it features in Charles Dickens’ Bleak House as the Sol’s Arms.
Alcohol might have been an impediment to the Badge Porters performing their duties, and in 1775 there was a “complaint being made that the Badge Porters of this Society neglect to watch and do their duty in the Inn … And in case any of them refuse or neglect so to do, that information thereof be given to the Benchers in Council, who will proceed against the offenders with severity.” However, the Black Books also contain numerous occasions of the Badge Porters performing their duties admirably, going beyond their stated remit of clearing “the House from all beggars and other disorderly persons.” They attended to fires, and in 1782 were paid for their assistance at a fire in Serle Court “except Thomas Dinsley, on account of this misbehaviour.” By 1887 “four of the Badge Porters are Firemen and 2 of them are bound to be on duty each night.” They were also are praised for their work “strewing ashes on the ice at the funeral of the late Edward Beachcroft, Esq., and his daughter” in 1796, as noted in the accounts of the Treasurer at the time, the Hon. Thomas Erskine, whose statue stands in the Library.
The Badge Porters also played a key role in preventing neighbouring parishes exercising their customary practice of beating the bounds. As narrated in a previous edition of the Archive of the Month, in the early 19th century tensions developed between the Inn and the parishes whose boundaries fell within the estate. In 1825 the Badge Porters and others were paid £9 5s. for assisting in preventing “the officers, etc., of the parishes of St Clement’s Danes and St Andrew’s from perambulating the bounds, or entering Lincoln’s Inn” on Holy Thursday. In the years following they were paid for the same deed but for a different parish each year, repelling the officers of the parishes of St Andrews, St Giles and St Dunstan’s in turn. A note in the Black Books states that it seems “as though it were the custom that only one of the four parishes concerned should beat their bounds in each year.”
The good service that the Badge Porters rendered to the Inn continued through to the last of them, Buckthorpe, in the more serious dangers posed by the First World War. In 1915, Buckthorpe and three others were each presented “with a piece of silver as a recognition of valuable service rendered on the occasion of a Zeppelin raid on October 13th, 1915.” Buckthorpe retired in 1935 as the Master of the Night Watch, his resignation “accepted with regret” but with “appreciation of his long and faithful service”. The final reference to the Badge Porters is on April 30th, 1946. “Reported the death of J. H. Buckthorpe, the last of the Badge Porters and a pensioner of this Honourable Society.”