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I have often walked past Lincoln’s Inn on my way to Chancery Lane and the Maughan Library. Lincoln’s Inn Fields is a beautiful little park to stroll through to avoid the busy roads and it’s amazing how quiet it is once you step away from Kingsway and High Holborn.

There are several interesting places around the square including Sir John Soane’s Museum and the Royal College of Surgeons with its fantastic Hunterian Museum. As you walk east towards Chancery Lane, it becomes clear you are in London’s legal centre. You can see several legal institutions including Essex Court Chambers, New Square Chambers and of course the Royal Courts of Justice looming over to your right.

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Lincoln’s Inn

The reason that this area is the legal hub of the city is because the original four Inns of Court are situated around this area, Lincoln’s Inn, Middle Temple, Gray’s Inn and Inner Temple. The Inns of Court were societies for the lodging, training and practice of barristers, however today the buildings are used primarily by members as offices.

The Inns were founded between the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries and in the early modern period they became, along with Oxford and Cambridge, a necessary part of any high-status professional’s education. For example, famous members of Lincoln’s Inn include Sir Thomas More and John Donne. Inner Temple counts Sir Francis Drake, Mohandas Ghandi and John and Robert Dudley among its alumni. It is also speculated that Geoffrey Chaucer and Oliver Cromwell were also members of the Inns of Court. From the Lincoln’s Inn website:

First, why “Inn”? As well as applying to the houses used by travellers and pilgrims – the usage that usually comes to mind – the term, or its Latin equivalent hospitium, also applied to the large houses of magnates of all kinds, such as statesmen, bishops, civil servants, and lawyers, whose business brought them to town, especially when Parliament and the courts were in session.

Lincoln’s Inn has some of the most imposing and impressive buildings which can’t be missed when walking through the park. The origins of the Inn are not fully known – the extant records of Lincoln’s Inn open in 1422, but it is thought the Inn was in existence before then. It it also thought that it was named after Henry de Lacy, third Earl of Lincoln who may have been patron.

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In the late sixteenth century, Lincoln’s Inn consisted of the Old Hall, some chambers and the chapel. The Old Hall was built “in the fifth year of King Henry VII” and was used as a dining hall and court of justice. The Hall features as a setting for the opening scene of Charles Dickens’ Bleak House.

A new chapel began to be built in 1620 after the original fell into disrepair. John Donne was preacher at the time and not only laid the foundation stone for it, but also led its consecration on Ascension Day in 1623. In the 1880s the chapel was enlarged and the roof rebuilt in the Gothic revival style of the time.

In 1843, the Great Hall was built to relieve the pressure on the smaller Old Hall. Before this new hall was built with a new entrance to the Inn, the main entrance had always been the Gate House on Chancery Lane. The Gate House as built between 1517 and1521 and the present oak doors date from 1564. Since this entrance is no longer in use, it is too easy to walk down Chancery Lane and completely miss this historic site. It was restored in the 1960s and now you can see above the door the arms of Henry de Lacy, Earl of Lincoln; Henry VIII; and Sir Thomas Lovell above a stone recording a 1695 restoration.

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The Gate House, Lincoln’s Inn

Lincoln’s Inn still performs all of the functions of an Inn of court, offering education, training and services for lawyers. Its buildings are also historical attractions and function rooms however, so the society offers room hire for functions and weddings and a variety of guided tours for tourists. I haven’t yet been on a tour inside the Inn but the areas around the buildings are open for pedestrians to stroll around from Monday to Friday, 7am to 7pm. There are also regular services for the public in the chapel as well as special events.

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There is a fabulous exhibition currently running at the PM Gallery, which is part of Pitzhanger Manor House in Walpole park, Ealing. Entitled Out of the Shadows: MacDonald Gill, it displays the work of MacDonald Gill, illustrator, architect and mapmaker, who created some wonderful pictorial maps of London.

Gill has been hugely influential in the field of graphic design and some of his images are well-known. Most famous perhaps is the  ‘Wonderground’ map, made in 1914 for London Underground which shows a fantasy version of the Tube.

1924 Wonderground Map

There are many detailed and humorous maps of the London streets, as well as some interesting educational maps and posters depicting aspects of the British Empire, produced for various companies and government departments.

His professional success was also underpinned by major national commissions including the design of the alphabet for standard military headstones (for the Imperial War Graves Commission); the procession map and title page for the official programme for the Coronation of King George VI; a new logo and posters for the General Post Office.

The exhibition also contains more personal objects from Gill’s life and career as well as architectural drawings, letters and photographs. This is a small but very rewarding exhibition, a little off the beaten track for visitors to London, but should certainly be visited by everyone.

The only thing I wish they had was a gift shop or information about how to buy copies of the maps since I would love to have some of them as posters. Many of the objects on display have been loaned from the London Transport Museum and other archives so I am contacting them to find out. The exhibition lasts until 2 November and the nearest tube station is Ealing Broadway on the Central Line.

By Richard Denning

I am delighted to be a guest on Lovely Old Tree. I am a Young adult sci-fi, historical fiction and historical fantasy writer. This post is part of a blog tour celebrating the release of my historical fantasy novel, The Last Seal. The Last Seal is set during the Great Fire of London in 1666. So it was suggested that I write a post about what a visitor to the capital would see if they went on a tour in that summer of 1666.

London was originally a Roman settlement at a convenient crossing point over the Thames. Indeed London Bridge in its various incarnations has been built on the same spot by Romans, Saxons, Vikings and as far forward as the modern age. The Roman walls were later the sites of medieval city walls that defined the city’s boundaries for centuries. Places like Westminster and Holborn were separate towns and villages. Gradually, however, the population grew and spilled out of the city, merging with these satellite villages until by 1666 it had reached Westminster around the bend of the Thames.

If you had been used to country villages and small market towns then visiting London would have opened your eyes. In today’s terms the city was not large. It population was in the order of 350,000 to 400,000 or so which is only the same as say modern day Coventry but that still made it the largest by a long way in England at that time and the third largest in the world after Paris and Constantinople. Most of these people lived outside the old city of London in the suburbs but around 80,000 resided within the old Roman and mediaeval city walls.

Within those walls there existed something of the order of 14,000 houses, 100 parish churches, 50 Company or Guild Halls, the Royal Exchange, the Custom House, St. Paul’s Cathedral, the Bridewell Palace, Newgate and other City prisons, the General Letter Office, and seven city gates and the great bridge itself of course.

Entering the city via that bridge would have left an impression both wonderful and gruesome such as recorded in 1598 by a German visitor to London:

On the south is a bridge of stone eight hundred feet in length, of wonderful work; it is supported upon twenty piers of square stone, sixty feet high and thirty broad, joined by arches of about twenty feet diameter. The whole is covered on each side with houses so disposed as to have the appearance of a continued street, not at all of a bridge.

Upon this is built a tower, on whose top the heads of such as have been executed for high treason are placed on iron spikes: we counted above thirty…

Fortunately during the reign of Charles II this practice died out. Nevertheless the sight of 200 and more shops perched on the bridge would have been something to see. It is estimated that as many as 4000 would have lived on the bridge alone.

Once in the streets of London however some visitors were less than impressed, with John Evelyn – a contemporary of the famous diarist Samuel Pepys complaining that London was a “wooden, Northern, inartificial congestion of houses’

This description is not that far wrong. For the City was an overcrowded warren of narrow, winding, cobbled alleys lined with towering tenements maybe 7 stories tall, huge warehouses and hundreds of places of work – foundries, butchers shops and chandlers. In some cases the buildings leant so far forward as to meet the houses opposite them. Most houses were wood and thatch and very few were made from stone. Moving around the city would have been difficult enough with the dense population doing battle with the crush of carts and hackney carriages in an age with no traffic control.

London was the largest consumer of goods in the nation as well as the largest producer and was above all a thriving trade hub. There were several markets around the city and dozens of areas of commerce but the focal point for merchants was the great Royal Exchange at Cornhill where traders from around the world would trade goods from as far away as the far east – James I having established trading links with Japan. The population in general would be more interested in the heaving markets along Cheapside with its meat and other goods or the fish markets at Billingsgate or maybe trinkets and sweets from Westminster Hall. The noise from the population and all the traders calling out their wares must have been a din.

Many of the goods on sale were made in hundreds of locations around the city. Right there in the same streets that people lived and walked, animals would be slaughtered and their blood drain down to the river. Their hides would be cured in cauldrons of urine collected from all over the city with the fumes belching out to mix with the smoke from foundries and the stench from vats where carcasses were being rendered into glue and candle wax. The stench must have been incredible.

The people of London would have several concerns other than day to day existence. The nation was at war with the French and Dutch and there was a lot of anxiety about foreign spies. At the same time there was worry about plots by both Catholics wishing to make England “papist” and republicans looking to overthrow the King. Superstition was rife. It had not escaped notice that the year -1666 – contained the number 666 which had biblical significance. Indeed that and such omens as eclipses and comets had more than a few people convinced that they were living in the last years and God’s judgement was at hand.

A visitor to the city would have been aware that it was still suffering from the effects of the great plague of 1665 to 66 which had killed 1 in 4 Londoners. At its height in the summer of 1665 1000 people a day were dying and even in September 1666 the plague had not died out. Indeed it is believed that it took a disaster of epic proportions to finally destroy the thousands of rats that carried the fleas which were the host of the contagion. It took the Great Fire of London.

London was a city which was extremely vulnerable to fire. This was due to the cramped buildings made of wood, warehouses full of combustibles which increased the fire risk and huge stocks of gunpowder, much of which was left over from the English Civil War. It really was only a matter of time before a fire started – and then a disaster would occur.

So there we have it – London in 1666: a heaving congested warren of wooden houses. A thriving metropolis. Loud, smelly and busy and just a little bit paranoid and waiting for the great fire that would rip out its heart. It is this city in which my novel is set – a novel of gunpowder and sorcery in 1666!

To read the first part of The Last Seal visit my website.
Check out the book on Facebook and on Twitter.

If you’re visiting Warwickshire, the two historical attractions that are most eagerly advertised are Warwick Castle and Kenilworth Castle and they are both worth a visit. However do not assume that they are similar as although they both have fascinating histories, the experience of visiting each castle is massively different. I have visited both and although the experience differs at different times of the year, from the perspective of somebody interested in history, I would recommend Kenilworth over Warwick any day, and I’d like to explain why. Firstly a short explanation of the history of each castle:

Warwick Castle

Warwick Castle originally consisted of a burh built in 914 to protect the small settlement of Warwick. A motte and bailey was then built by William the Conqueror in 1068 and the first Earl of Warwick, Henry de Beaumont was appointed and his family held the castle until 1242. During the 13th century the castle was rebuilt in stone and over the course of the following centuries several improvements were made. In 1572 Queen Elizabeth I visited the castle. James I granted Warwick Castle to Fulke Greville who was murdered in 1628 and who’s ghost still apparently haunts the castle tower. During the Civil War, the castle withstood a siege and royalist soldiers were imprisoned there. During the 18th century the castle was developed into a country house with extensive work done on the dining room, conservatory and gardens. Queen Victoria visited the castle in 1858 and in 1978 the Tussaud’s Group bought the castle.

Kenilworth Castle

The Norman keep at Kenilworth was built in the 1120s by Geoffrey de Clinton, Henry I’s treasurer, and it was greatly improved by King John in the early 13th century with the enlargement of the lake surrounding the castle. It began to be transformed into a palace by John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster and was a favourite of Tudor kings and most famously Elizabeth I. Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester had the castle in 1563 and spent time and money radically developing it into an impressive Renaissance ‘prodigy house’ for the Queen to visit on her progresses. At the beginning of the Civil war the Parliamentary army took Kenilworth and in 1649 it was ordered that the castle should be dismantled to avoid its use by other armies. Over the following years the mere was drained, interiors stripped and buildings demolished and the rest fell into decay. In 1665 it was returned to the crown and given to Laurence Hyde, the son of the lord chancellor, the earl of Clarendon, and it remained with the Clarendon until the 20th century. Tourists began to visit the castle from the late 18th century and by 1937 it was a full-time tourist attraction.

Now the first thing to point out is that the information I’ve provided here about Kenilworth I found out on my visit, while the Warwick information I’ve had to grab entirely from the internet. My day at Warwick castle taught me next to nothing about its history as there were no information panels, audio guides or leaflets full of fun facts. Kenilworth castle provided me with a fantastically detailed audio guide with so many stops I almost ran out of time. There is also a museum in the old stables next to the cafe which tells you everything you need to know to get the best out of the beautiful ruined castle. I learnt loads at Kenilworth and when it comes down to it, that’s what I’m there for.

Warwick on the other hand is aimed at kids and designed as an ‘experience’ rather than a real historical castle. It has walks through the castle rooms and dungeons with models of medieval people everywhere, it has an 19th century section with amazing rooms and actors paid to pretend we’re all guests at some Victorian party, it has archery, tournaments, birds of prey, and when I was there, an entire marching band! So although I have a big problem with the lack of history, I can’t pretend that Warwick castle doesn’t provide a good day out, especially if you’re with children.

Then again, Kenilworth is a real ruin and when I was there children were playing hide and seek in the many nooks and crannies of the massive castle. To be honest, give a child a wooden sword and a ruin to play in and they can have more fun than they ever would with all the falcons, actors and costumes in the world.

So overall, while on paper Warwick offers far more attractions, if you’re interested in history Kenilworth castle is infinitely superior – you get to see more of the castle up close, you learn more, and you’re not distracted by entertainers. And on top of that, children will have fun there in a far more exciting, natural and cheap way. If that doesn’t clinch it how about this:

  • I visited Warwick castle in beautiful April sunshine; I visited Kenilworth castle in January with temperatures of -2 and I STILL prefer Kenilworth
  • Warwick castle adult ticket price is £29.40; Kenilworth is £8!

Warwick ultimate castle refers to itself as ‘Britain’s ultimate castle’ – a claim I’d definitely question. I reckon this might say something about the difference between Merlin Entertainments Group and English Heritage in how they choose to run a historical attraction.

The Polytechnic Marathon in London was held annually between 1909 and 1996 in and around London and it was the first regular 26 mile marathon. 8 world bests were achieved in these marathons including the first authenticated time under 2 hours, 20 minutes. It began after the 1908 Olympics in London and was organised by the Polytechnic Harriers, the athletics club of the Regent Street Polytechnic. Changes in the city on the marathon’s route as well as competition from other large-scale marathons abroad caused it to decline in the 1970s.

The current marathon held in London was founded by John Disley and the late Chris Brasher, who apparently came up with the idea in a pub in Richmond. Many runners were impressed with the 1978 New York City Marathon and so Brasher and Disley entered the race in 1979 and were then convinced a similar event should be held in London. Brasher wrote an article for The Observer called ‘The World’s Most Human Race’, beginning:

“To believe this story you must believe that the human race can be one joyous family, working together, laughing together, achieving the impossible. Last Sunday, 11,532 men and women from 40 countries in the world, assisted by over a million people, laughed, cheered and suffered during the greatest folk festival the world has seen.”

After a long period of discussion of the pros and cons of holding the event, deciding how to chart the course, persuading the police that closing the roads would not cripple the city and acquiring Gillette as the first sponsor, the first race was held on 29 March 1981.

As the event was given charitable status, it’s aims were stated as:

  • To improve the overall standard and status of British marathon running by providing a fast course and strong international competition.
  • To show mankind that, on occasions, they can be united.
  • To raise money for sporting and recreational facilities in London.
  • To help boost London’s tourism.
  • To prove that ‘Britain is best’ when it comes to organising major events.
  • To have fun, and provide some happiness and sense of achievement in a troubled world.

7,747 people ran the race (out of 20,000 who wanted to). American Dick Beardsley and Norwegian Inge Simonsen won together at Constitution Hill. Thousands watched the race and it was a huge success. It has increased in popularity ever since and in total, 746,635 runners have completed the 1981-2009 London Marathon. An estimated £500 million has been raised by the event since it began. For more information go to the official site here.

Our Shakespeare’s Birthplace ticket covered Nash’s House and Anne Hathaway’s Cottage. The Cottage is a bit of a walk out of the town so we strolled round the town first. There are some beautiful buildings dating from the Tudor period and later, and we sat in the lovely black-and-white timbered Elizabethan pub, The Garrick Inn, for a nice spot of lunch. I also stopped to look at a huge old building with ‘God Save the King’ in large faded letters across it which i discovered was the old Town Hall. It is on the corner of Chapel Street and Sheep Street where, as you might expect, sheep used to be brought to be slaughtered.

We then took the long walk behind the houses out of Stratford to Anne Hathaway’s Cottage, technically in the hamlet of Shottery, which is nice if the weather is ok but it’s quite far to get caught in the rain so I would recommend driving if you can! The cottage was the childhood home of Anne, where she lived with her parents Richard and Joan until she married William Shakespeare in 1582 while pregnant with their first child. The house is a large farmhouse now but when it was built in the late 15th century it was tiny and was increased in size over the years. When Anne lived there it only really consisted of two rooms and she slept together with her brothers and sisters. The house still contains original furniture now, including the Hathaway bed from Anne’s time there.

I remember coming to the cottage when I was a child and being told that one of the wooden benches there was definitely where William Shakespeare had sat with Anne when they were courting. When i returned this time, our tour guide said this was just a myth, spread by one of the later inhabitants of the cottage! The house is large and beautiful with well-kept gardens and a small wooded area with a walking path through it. It also has an incredible roof which had just been re-thatched when I visited. After Anne left the house, it stayed in the Hathaway family until 1746 and was still occupied in 1892, when it was taken over by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.

It’s been years since I went to Stratford upon Avon to see everything Shakespearian and I’ve forgotten almost everything about it. So as I live so near now, I’ve been back to look around and top up my knowledge. It’s a beautiful town with loads of original Elizabethan buildings still standing along with buildings from almost every era since then. Unlike many towns you visit, it has not been badly ruined by war destruction, high rise buildings or road widening. There are still nice pedestrianised areas which reduce the impact of the traffic on the old houses. Of course there have been many recent changes, but compared to other towns, the historical atmosphere of the town has survived admirably.


For £12.50 you can get a ticket which gets you entry into Shakespeare’s birthplace, Anne Hathaway’s Cottage, Hall’s Croft and Nash’s House & New Place. Other houses and gardens are only open in the summer and you can get tickets that include those too. I started with Shakespeare’s Birthplace where you get a little audiovisual tour through Shakespeare’s life, which includes clips of performances of his plays as well as a good list of common English phrases invented by Shakespeare. After this you are let into the house to walk around where he grew up with his parents John and Mary and siblings Gilbert, Joan, Anne and Richard. Using documentary evidence the house has been furnished as it would have been in 1574 when William was ten.

Examples of Shakespeare’s phrases:

  • dog will have his day
  • fancy-free
  • heart of gold
  • naked truth
  • one fell swoop
  • the milk of human kindness
  • too much of a good thing
  • wear one’s heart on one’s sleeve

William was baptised at Holy Trinity Church in Stratford on 26th April 1564 and his birthday is usually celebrated as 23rd April. He was lucky to have lived as infant mortality was high and bubonic plague struck the town soon after his birth, killing 15 percent of the population.

In the tour you learn a little about his father’s business as a glove maker and also his financial issues, having illegally dealt in the wool trade and in money lending. There are also displays about how the house was saved after falling into disrepair in the 19th century. You can see Victorian visitors’ graffiti as well as interesting photographs of the house before it was rescued and restored by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. On entering the gardens you can see actors performing scenes and monologues from his plays and I would certainly recommend visiting in the summer as the gardens of all of the properties will be much more beautiful than they do now in March. I’ll write more about those other properties soon.

Coventry Cathedral is a focal point of the city of Coventry and is also the most powerful reminder of the destruction caused by the bombing of Coventry during the Second World War. A few ruins remain of the first cathedral in Coventry, which was the Priory Church of St Mary built in the 12th century. The second more imposing cathedral, the Parish Church Cathedral of St Michael, was built in the 15th century and lasted until 14 November 1940, when all except some of the walls was destroyed. A modern cathedral next to the ruin was built in the 1950s-60s and the ruin is preserved today for visitors. Below is a photograph of Coventry taken immediately after the bombing and a photograph of the cathedral ruins today.

Many of the old photographs I use in this post are taken from Coventry Old and New by E. B. Newbold. The book also contains many photos of Coventry before the bombing which really shows the extent of the destruction when compared to the appearance of the city today. Around 500 German aircraft were involved in the attack and 4330 homes and one third of all factories were destroyed. The bombing was described by the German Official News Agency as “the most severe in the whole history of the war”. From the BBC website:

The bombing began at 1920 and did not cease until dawn. The all-clear was finally sounded at 0615 GMT.

The city’s tram system was destroyed. Nearly all gas and water pipes were smashed and people have been advised to boil emergency supplies of water.

The cathedral Provost, the Very Reverend Dick Howard and a party of helpers attempted to deal with 12 incendiary bombs by smothering them with sand. But another shower of incendiaries accompanied by high explosives forced them to give up their efforts.

Mr Howard said: “The cathedral will rise again, will be rebuilt, and it will be as great a pride to future generations as it has been to generations of the past.”

Above are photographs of the interior and exterior of the old cathedral before it was destroyed. The first was taken of the congregation attending the memorial service for King Edward VII in May 1910, showing the now lost magnificence of the cathedral, which is interesting when compared to the interior of the new 20th century cathedral (pictured below). The second photograph was taken in the 1930s.

The bombing did lead to a detailed excavation of the cathedral ruins as well as the ruins of the older medieval monastic buildings and I managed to get hold of the archaeological and historical report from 1971. Below is a plan of the both cathedral ruins superimposed on a modern (or 1970s) street plan. The cathedral destroyed in the war is in the bottom right corner and you can see how the new cathedral backs on to it. The ruins of the older Priory Church of St Mary are minimal, but I visited them and you can walk down into the excavated crypt and see the remains of the walls and some columns. Additionally below is an artist’s impression of how the cathedral would have looked in the 15th century from the report and a photograph of the interior of the modern cathedral.


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