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A brush with the law crawl map - for more detail click on map or press 1 to be taken to









Yorkshire Grey




Cittie of Yorke




Seven Stars 




Knight Templar




Old Bank of England




Columbia Bar









Q. How many lawyers does it take to change a light bulb?

A:  Whereas the party of the first part, also known as "Lawyer", and the party of the second part, also known as "Light Bulb", do hereby and forthwith agree to a transaction wherein the party of the second part (Light Bulb) shall be removed from the current position as a result of failure to perform previously agreed upon duties, i.e., the lighting, elucidation, and otherwise illumination of the area ranging from the front (north) door, through the entryway, terminating at an area just inside the primary living area, demarcated by the beginning of the carpet, any spill over illumination being at the option of the party of the second part (Light Bulb) and not required by the aforementioned agreement between the parties.  The aforementioned removal transaction shall include, but not be limited…

We’re talking law.  It’s another pub crawl!


The Romans had their basilica, the Saxons their Folkmoots, their hustings (it’s a house thing) and their cnihtengilds (calm down spellchecker!).  The Normans swore by their Textus Roffensis and their Magnum Concilium and when Mr Big in the Viking world said “I am the Danelaw” (I’m sure he did) you can bet the people listened. 

In the 12th century Henry Plantagenet’s chief justice, Rannulf Glanvill, supervised the setting out of the first comprehensive record of legal procedure called the assizes; these stated the punishment, if someone was found guilty: 

“Let him go to the ordeal of water.  And if he fail let him lose one foot.  And for the sake of stern justice he shall likewise lose his right hand with his foot and he shall abjure the realm, and within forty days be banished from the kingdom”. Blimey!  We’re talking serious law here.

In 1215 King John signed the Magna Carta at Runnymede.  The King had taken over the treasury to finance his foreign wars and the Barons were not amused.  They coerced him into committing to basic judicial guarantees.  Of the 61 clauses contained therein, number 39 stated “No freeman shall be captured or imprisoned ... except by lawful judgement of his peers or by the law of the land".  It was the first time that a king had ruled that even he was not above the law and that the barons could "distrain and distress him in every possible way" to ensure he observed the law.  The Magna Carta has been called the “blueprint of English Common Law”, “common” because it was a law common to all of England and administered by a central court.

Although the Magna Carta had little immediate impact (the powerful barons tended to attack any of the Royal officers trying to implement it) a structure was now in place and the smack of firm government during Tudor times persuaded the powerful to resolve their disputes in the courts and not on the battlefields.  To resolve these disputes…you need a lawyer, don’t you?

The area of ‘Farringdon Without’ (i.e. outside of the walls of the City) became notable for its communities of lawyers and their students in the 14th Century.  They settled around Chancery and Fetter Lanes, to the Temple and the Thames.  Lawyers, attracted by the growing business of the royal courts in Westminster and in the City courts, found the areas around Chancellor’s Lane (Chancery Lane) within easy reach of both courts and next to where the key governmental department (the Chancery) was situated.   These communities gradually developed their own halls, chapels and living quarters and by 1470 Sir John Fortescue could describe the four major Inns of Court (Gray’s and Lincoln’s Inns and the Inner and Middle Temple) as “the academy of the laws of England”.  The Inns of Court are those bodies of lawyers which have the power to call to the Bar those of their members who have duly qualified for the rank or degree of Barrister-at-Law (I hope that’s clear).

By the early 16th century there were about 2000 students who enrolled in the Inns of Court or (the less prestigious) Chancery.  For sons of landowning or merchant families they offered an education more attractive than the ancient universities of Oxford and Cambridge. 

The common law was upgraded in the 17th Century (‘The English Bill of Rights’, a precursor to the American Bill of Rights).

“We all know here that the law is the most powerful of schools for the imagination.  No poet ever interpreted nature as freely as a lawyer interprets the truth”

Jean Giraudoux

I think it is now time for us to reinterpret the ordeal of water as the ordeal of ale, where failure will result not in the loss of limbs (although the term ‘footless’ may apply by the end of the night) but in the loss of reason.  Success, however, may lead to us all being called to the Bar in the near future.

A 5:30 start is recommended to ensure we make it through the gates of the Inns.

The Yorkshire Grey (Scottish and Newcastle).

elephant OK, it is a S&N pub so you think ‘Courage Best and Directors’ and you are right but there is more, a glance around this dark wood bar will lead you to the upper tables where a glance through the glass table tops reveal a brewery below.  Yes this pub brews its own beers.  Barrister Best (3.8%), QC Best (4.5%) and a delectable Knight Porter (4.5%) are worthy of scrutiny.

A 5-minute walk, now, through Gray’s Inn.  Gray’s Inn records go back to 1569 but the Inn was established well before that and seems to owe its name to the de Grey family who owned a manor here and of whom many of its members were associated with law.  The entertainments here were renowned and Shakespeare’s ‘A Comedy of Errors’ was performed here in 1594.  Charles Dickens worked here as a clerk for some time.  The arms of the Honourable Society of Gray’s Inn are a golden griffin standing on a black field (thought to be borrowed from Richard Aungier, thrice Treasurer of the inn) so look out for this as we walk through Field Court (where, to the left, we see the 18th-century gates that lead to the gardens known as ‘the Walks’ (unfortunately they are closed in the evening)).  The Walks were laid out by Sir Francis Bacon in 1606 and were a popular venue for duelling.  Pepys was a frequent visitor.

Under the arch and to the right now, where we walk across South Square, which contains the 16th-century Hall (although most of it and the other buildings in the square were destroyed by wartime bombing). 

“I do not deal with subtleties; I am only a lawyer”

Keep walking and through another archway and we find:

The Cittie of Yorke (Sam Smith’s)

Gasp!  We made it but it’s only to be a short stop.  This pub is a visual treat and pays repeated visits.  Ok, the beer (Old Brewery) could be better (they do Nescafe Ice as well, if you like – pints are recommended) but it is cheap (Ł1.64) so make sure this pub is your round.  There are 3 bars in this pub, the front, the cellar and (where we will meet) the huge back bar.  Set with towering wine and spirit butts, barrels (500 to 1100 gallons in volume) and cosy cubicles for those special moments, the bar is the longest in London.  There has been a pub on this site since 1430 (the lawyers had to go somewhere after their stressful days) and the present form dates from the 1890’s.  The name ‘Cittie of Yorke’ is named after a 16th century pub that used to exist in the Staple Inn, on the other side of High Holborn.  I know a man who used to work here in the 50’s, when it was called Henekey’s Long Bar.  Apparently there was a much better class of clientele in those days.

‘Ere we go, ‘ere we go - the gates of Lincoln’s Inn close at 7!

"I know not whether Laws be right,

Or whether Laws be wrong;

All that we know who lie in gaol

Is that the wall is strong;

And that each day is like a year,

A year whose days are long"

Oscar Wilde, The Ballad of Reading Gaol

Now across High Holborn and 20 metres down Chancery lane (of course I’ve measured the distance) we espy a little alley on the right, which is an entrance to Lincoln’s Inn.

Lincoln’s Inn‘s records date back to 1422 and the Institution itself is even older.  It’s name probably comes from Henry de Lacy, 3rd Earl of Lincoln, an influential landowner near here during the time of Edward I.  The Old Hall was built in 1490, the large building costs being met in various ways – including a steep rise (from 6s8d to 100s (33p to Ł5)) in the fine if a member was caught “having or enjoying [a woman] in the garden or in Chancery Lane”.  This was such a worry for the Inn (although the money came in handy) that it regulated the age of its laundresses so that they were (it was thought) incapable of leading the educated chaps astray.

Right, through the bottom gate into Carey Street (after Nicholas Carey, a landowner here in the reign of Charles I), turn right and we are at:


The Seven Stars (Scottish & Newcastle)

So, the usual, Best and Directors but with Bombardier and Young’s Ordinary as guest beers.  This is a famous pub, traditionally popular with those in the legal profession.  It dates from 1602 and was originally known as the ‘League of Seven Stars’, the name being used to please local Dutch sailors with the stars representing the United Provinces of the Netherlands and not Cruyff, Gullit, Bergkamp et al.

Back up Carey Street to the junction with Chancery Lane.  Our homework for tonight is:  ‘Watering Holes in the 17th and the 21st Century – contrast and compare’ and I think we will all be able to bring up a complete curry/kebab/dissertation (delete as appropriate) by tomorrow morning.

Oh those crystal chandeliers light up

The paintings on your wall

The marble statuettes are standing stately in the hall

Charley Pride

I knew I’d get to quote those lines one day.  Opulence is the word for the next 2 pubs, both of which are converted banks.

The Knight Templar  (J.D. Wetherspoon)

knights This place has been open for about 18 months, I think.  The Wetherspoons website identifies this pub as being in an area called (using Estate-Agent-speak) ‘Midtown’, “which lies between the City and the West End of London.  The pub, a listed building, began its life as The Union Bank of London and more recently a Nat West Bank”.   Well, ‘midtown’ or not this large pub has a large range of beers and is lavishly decorated with greyscale images and metal statues of knights, with a notable one behind the bar (no, the service is good, really) but, curiously, none of The Saint himself.  Beers?  Well, when I visited, the range was Exmoor Gold, Summer Lightning, Everard Tiger, London Pride and Spitfire – enough for any self-respecting man of honour, methinks.  Another plus point is the ‘Link’ cash point by the door – ye gads, ‘tis your round.

The law is reason free from passion - Aristotle

Next we go down Chancery Lane and right, into Fleet Street where we find:

The Old Bank of England (Fuller’s)

OK, which is the grander, the ‘Knight Templar’ or this place?  Noble columns, high, Italianate windows and a magnificent ceiling with chandeliers that have to be winched down when a bulb goes, complement another plush bar in this Grade-1 listed building.  Sit back and think about it as you sup a pint of Pride, ESB or Red Fox (“a mellow autumn ale, brewed with toasted oats” and very nice it is too (Editor’s note)). 

the saint

In earlier times this was the site of ‘The Cock tavern’, as mentioned in  ‘Pepys Diary’ but this was demolished in 1888 for the construction of the Law Courts Branch of the Bank of England, which was set-up to cater for the administration department of the Royal Court of Justice.  The bank traded here until 1975 when it was sold to a building society before passing to Fuller’s in 1994.  Apparently it was in the vaults below this building that Sweeney Todd prepared his victims before feeding them to John Gummer’s daughter.

Q.  What do you get when you cross the Godfather with a lawyer?

A.  An offer you can’t understand

Not far to the final pub/bar now.  We pass the Royal Courts of Justice first, gloriously lit at night.  These were built in the 19th century to gather together all the superior courts concerned with civil cases.  Before this the courts used to move to various inconvenient locations out of legal term time.  The Courts were built upon a notorious slum area and were opened by Queen Victoria in 1882.  The architect, G.E. Street, died the year before its completion.  The building is faced with Portland stone and contains over 1000 rooms and 3-4 miles of corridors.

The Columbia Bar (Young’s)

A Fuller’s followed by a Young’s pub – surely no finer combination can be found?  This Young’s pub is unlike any other in appearance.  None of your ‘olde worlde’ stuff here, rather chrome and pastel furniture and a bright, modern look.  Happily Young’s beers are very much in evidence with Ordinary, Special, AAA and, who knows, maybe Winter Warmer by the time we visit, on draught although maybe coke is more appropriate in the Columbia bar.

Early indications suggest there may be a DJ performing until 1am so some of us may ‘ave it large’.  For the rest of us it is over once more and now that we are eligible for the Bar perhaps we will fully comprehend King Alfred’s First Law as we wend our merry ways home: 

Of đissum anum dome mon mćg geđencean, ţćt he ćghwelcne on ryht gedemeđ ne đearf he nanra domboca oţerra. Geđence he, ţćt he nanum men ne deme ţćt he nolde đćt he him demde, gif he đone dom ofer hine sohte.

 Siđđan đćt ţa gelamp, ţćt monega đeoda Cristes geleafan onfengon, ţa wurdon monega seonođas geond ealne middangeard gegaderode, 7 eac swa geond Angelcyn, siđđan hie Cristes geleafan onfengon, halegra biscepa 7 eac ođerra geđungenra witena.  

That’s the end of the spell checker.

Aidan Laverty

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