In Focus – Lincoln’s Inn Fields
Holborn underground station, London (main exit, debouches onto Kingsway)
Guided by Peter G.
|Day||Walk Type||Start Time||End Time|
|9 August 2020|| Tour du Jour||10.45 am||12.45 pm|| Summer|
“infamous for outrages of every kind”
Streets Ahead More trailblazing by the best urban walking tour guides on the planet. In Focus walks are an extremely detailed look – “what I love about London Walks is the degree of granularity you get” (as that American visitor memorably put it) – at the most famous streets and squares of London. And their tributaries. This In Focus walk explores Lincoln’s Inn Fields, past and present.
Lincoln’s Inn Fields. London’s second-oldest square, the first to approach the classic form. All of London is here. It’s simultaneously a core sample of London, a crystallisation of London and a kaleidoscope of London. There’s art, literature, theatre, museums, architecture, the law, popular culture, class, wealth, poverty, crime & punishment, sport, sex, war, market, education, noisome trades, royalty, religious strife, verdancy, and no end of strife, struggle, trouble and cauldron bubble.
To get a feel for Lincoln’s Inn Fields – to see the skull beneath the skin – is to understand London. Turn the kaleidoscope which way you will these 13 acres gobsmack you. Maybe begin with the dimensions: by a curious coincidence, it’s almost exactly the size of the base of the Great Pyramid. Move on to the names of its parts: Newman’s Row, Portugal Row, Arch Row, Cup Field, Purse Field. There are (or were) its “amenities”: a pillory, a rubbish tip (a useful lurking-place for footpads), a royal mistress named Nell Gwynne (heard of her?); the Queen’s solicitor (this is here and now); a nearby growing and noisome slum; a famous theatre (it opened The Way of the World, The Beggar’s Opera, The Provoked Wife); rabbit warrens; grazing for sheep; wooden houses and “shedds”; a gravel “pitt”; air-raid shelter trenches; a “Colditz-like fence”; “the occasional congregation of prostitutes in the Fields”; architectural masterpieces on three sides; bonfires, rope dancing, puppet plays; a reservoir for “extinguishing of fires” and “skeeting”‘; putrid odours; watch houses; twenty “globular lamps”; entrant streets and alleys, including a secret passage; goats; tennis and netball courts (today); London’s most magical small museum; London’s second most magical small museum.
Above all, there’s the garden. London’s largest public garden. A place for Londoners to recreate (ahem); a place – “a dignified setting” – for “a select few to pursue cultivated discourse, entertainment and leisure as well as sport, including archery and bowling;” a place of “great mischiefs”, of “gaming, idleness, robberies, assaults, outrages and enormities…a place where mountebanks and multitudes of loose disorderlie people are daylie drawn together.” Yes, above all, the garden, “the biggest and one of the best in London.”
Last but not least the line-up, the people. In addition to the aforementioned Nell Gwynne and her “Charles the 1st” (the nobleman who beat Charles II to the, er, punch) and Queen Elizabeth II and her solicitor with his stable of HNWIs, there’s the Earl of Rochester (the most brilliant and filthiest of Restoration poets – it’s beyond perfect that he was in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, “devoting himself to plays, prologues and affairs with actresses”), there’s William Blackstone and Lord Mansfield (and no end of other legal luminaries), there’s the only prime minister to have been assassinated, there are the poets Tennyson and Thomas Campbell, there are another three prime ministers (William Pitt the Younger, William Gladstone and Ramsey Macdonald), there are architects Inigo Jones and John Soane (of course), there’s the artist Zoffany, there’s Roget of Thesaurus fame, Dickens of course, and Surtees, there’s the Beadle (in his “blew great Coat faced with red and brass gilt Buttons with a red Cape laced with Gold and a Hat with broad Gold Lace and a Staff with a Silver head”), there’s Cromwell’s soldiers and the Army of the Dispossessed; there are office girls playing netball and those 17th and 18th-century horizontales, there are jugglers and quacks and mountebanks, there are executioners, there are slaughter-men, tripe boilers, tallowing-melters and other offensive tradesmen. Well, you get the idea.
The great Dr Johnson once opined that London was, in his estimation, above all the concentration of what is true everywhere, and is therefore the appropriate stage for the complete articulation of human nature. “A great city,” he said, ‘is the school for studying life.”
Lincoln’s Inn Fields is the concentration of the concentration.
LINCOLN’S INN FIELDS – THE PRACTICALS
Lincoln’s Inn Fields – The In-Focus Walk takes place at 10.45 am on Sunday, August 9. The meeting point is just outside the main exit of Holborn Tube Stop. The walk is guided by Peter.
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