Through a small gap in the line of shops and offices of Holborn can be found a medieval enclave of learning. This is Barnard’s Inn, an eclectic cluster of small courtyards and passages that are a legacy of centuries of the Inn’s legal and educational past.
Barnard’s Inn has been around since at least Tudor times, when it was showing on maps as an Extra-Parochial area for lawyers within the parish of St Andrew Holborn.
The hero of Charles Dickens’s novel Great Expectations, Pip, lodged in Barnard’s Inn with Herbert Pocket for a number of years following his arrival in London, which would have been circa 1820.
The area was badly damaged by the Gordon Riots of 1780 but was rebuilt, and apart from the hall within, most of the buildings that surround the alley have been changed several times, evolving from Georgian houses to Victorian offices and today’s modern buildings.
The building that fronts onto Holborn, Halton House replaced a smaller cluster of Victorian buildings, and the entrance alley was covered over with the tunnel lined with lazed cream and green tiles, rather reminiscent of a tube station.
Down here is Barnard’s Hall, a 15th century building constructed from ragstone with timber framing, although that’s all hidden as it was refronted with stock brick. Do look up though, as the timber roof is unusual as is the octagonal lantern on top. The hall has a number of occupants over the centuries, and is today home to Gresham College, which offers free lectures.
Gresham College was founded in 1597 under the will of Sir Thomas Gresham, and has moved around a bit before settling on its current home. There is a certain aptness to the location, as Barnard’s Hall was for a while occupied by the Mercers’ Boys School, and Sir Thomas was also a member of the Mercers’ Company, one of the City of London livery companies.
A plaque in memory of the school is also down here in the courtyard.
The paved spaces that make up the cluster of courtyards today are the descendants of the Inn’s original courtyards and quadrangle. The southern end of the Barnard’s Inn is modern though, or at least, lined with modern buildings. The tall buildings surrounding the courtyard and the old hall, along with the narrow passage to get into it gives the space a hidden air to it.