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September 2016 – The Great Fire of London

This September marks the 350 anniversary of the Great Fire of London. The fire started on 2 September and raged until the 5 September 1666, destroying an area from the river in the south to London Wall in the north and the Tower of London in the east to Fetter Lane in the west, shown in this map on the British Library website.

Although the fire stopped just short of Lincoln’s Inn, this did not prevent the Inn taking precautions against the threats posed by the fire. The first reference to the Great Fire of London appears in this entry in the Black Books on 13 November 1666, two months after the fire had been extinguished. Keilway Guidott, the Inn’s Butler and Steward, petitioned Council describing his loss incurred on the property at Newgate Market he leased from the Inn which was destroyed by the fire.

Extract from the Lincoln's Inn Black Books relating to the Great Fire of London, 13 November 1666

This was the only property the Inn owned off the main site and was the subject of the Archive of the Month in April 2015. Of course property was not only destroyed by the fire directly. Many properties were demolished in order to prevent the spread of fire. Instances of this are also evident in the Black Books. At the same Council meeting, a petition was also heard from John and Mary Henthorne, ‘vinteners’ at the St John’s Heade Taverne (also and later known as the Baptist Head Tavern) in Chancery Lane who were awarded £100 by the Inn ‘in consideracion of theire damage losse and hinderance susteined by pulling downe theire house for the preservacion of this Society in case the late dreadfull fyer had approached soe neere unto it’. However, it appears that the Henthornes were a bit keen on rebuilding their new pub as the entry from the Council meeting of 26 June 1667 shown below shows.

Extract from the Lincoln's Inn Black Books relating to a property demolished during the Great Fire of London, 26 June 1667

This entry records that this new building had ‘obstruct[ed] their lights (windows)’ and until this issue was resolved they would not receive the compensation the Inn had promised to them. However, despite making good these changes, an entry in the Black Books dated 11 February 1675, showed that the Inn still had not made this payment and that the second husband of Mrs Henthorne had to petition council for this money ‘on behalf of the children’ of Mr Henthorne. The final £25 of this debt was finally paid to Mrs Henthorne (or Mrs. Cane as she then was) in November 1682.

An entry dated 26 January 1671 notes for the first time a request from Hephzibah Smith, the widow of Nicholas Smith, one of the Inn’s butlers, for compensation for the demolition by the Inn of her husband’s shop on Chancery Lane which he then rebuilt at his own expense but who died before requesting the Inn reimburse him the costs. It is likely these properties were situated to the South East of the Inn site, possibly behind 21 to 24 Old Buildings and roughly where the Hardwicke Building and EAT shop on Chancery Lane are now situated.

Of course the Inn’s strongest connection to the Great Fire has to be those members of Lincoln’s Inn who made up five of the eighteen ‘Fire Judges’: Matthew Hale, Edward Atkyns, Richard Raynsford, Samuel Browne and Wadham Wyndham. Hale, who was the most senior, devised the ‘Fire Court’ which was established in response to the Fire of London Disputes Act 1666 and was designed to settle disputes between landlords and tenants of property destroyed by the fire. This Act was followed by the Rebuilding of London Act 1666 which was designed to regulate the reconstruction of London but also allowed for the construction of the Monument and gave the City of London Corporation the authority to widen thoroughfares. Below is the first page from the Act.

First page of the Fire of London Disputes Act 1666

A further connection the Inn has to the Great Fire of London, or the aftermath at least is through that of Nicholas Barbon. Barbon was employed by the Inn to carry out further building works in Serle’s Court (or New Square as it is now known) following its initial development in the 1680s. He was also instrumental, however, in the reconstruction of the City of London after the Great Fire.

In gratitude for their work, the City of London Corporation then commissioned portraits of all Fire Court judges to be hung in the Guildhall. They remained there until WWII when they were removed and unfortunately put into inappropriate storage, leading to the accidental damage and destruction of many of them. Fortunately, however, those portraits of the judges connected to Lincoln’s Inn survived, and since the 1950s have been on display in the Great Hall.