Life of Charles Dickens.
Leave Chancery Lane Underground Station via exit three, which will bring you out onto Holborn. Almost immediately on the right is the black and white timbered façade of Staple Inn.
Staple Inn with its lattice windows set back in all sorts of angled gables, must surely rate as one of the most exquisite relics of old London. It dates from 1576, although it had to be pieced back together following considerable bomb damage in World War 11. It is so named because it once provided London accommodation for wool-staplers or brokers.
‘Behind the most ancient part of Holborn,’ wrote Dickens in his last and unfinished novel The Mystery of Edwin Drood (1870), ’…where certain gabled houses some centuries of age still stand looking on the public way …is a little nook…called Staple Inn. It is one of those nooks, the turning into which, out of the clashing street, imparts to the relieved pedestrian the sensation of having put cotton in his ears and velvet soles on his boots.’
To experience how little this secret niche has changed since Dickens wrote those words, go right through the ancient gateway and enter Staple Inn itself. As you do so, note the warning just inside the wall on the left that warns you in no uncertain terms: “The Porter Has Orders to Prevent Old Clothes Men and Others From Calling “Articles For Sale” Also Rude Children Playing and No Horses Allowed Within This Inn.’ A wonderful reminder of bygone London. Continue into the first courtyard and stop to absorb the wonderful ambience of this truly enchanting place.
Suddenly the rush and noise of modern London all but disappears. Huge Plane trees tower over you, and 18th or 19th century redbrick buildings surround you.
‘It is one of those nooks,’ observed Dickens, ‘where a few smoky sparrows twitter in smoky trees, as though they called to one another, “let’s play at country,” Moreover it is one of those nooks which are legal nooks: and it contains a little Hall, with a little lantern in its roof…”
Despite the changes that have taken place in the area since Dickens’s day his description still holds true today, and as you stand in this little slice of bygone London, you get the genuine sensation that you have literally stepped back in time!
Today the buildings are used as offices by numerous actuaries, so it is a comforting thought that the people you catch glimpses of beavering away behind the ancient facades are working out such intriguing statistics as your chances of ending the walk without getting hit by a bus!
Keep ahead, passing through the arched passageway, and at its other side pause outside the building immediately on the left.
In The Mystery of Edwin Drood, this was the residence of the kindly lawyer Mr Hiram Grewgious, the guardian of Rosa Budd, Edwin Drood’s fiancée. Note the stone above the doorway which is inscribed ‘PJT 1747.’ Dickens comments on this stone that Mr Grewgious had never ‘troubled his head’ as to its meaning, ‘…unless to bethink…that haply it might mean Perhaps John Thomas, or Perhaps Joe Tyler.’