Walks in Charles Dickens London.
Your London sightseeing continues through Dickens London and enters Lincoln's Inn. It features several of Charles Dickens books including Bleak House.
Go through the gates, which date from the 16th century, and enter Lincoln’s Inn one of London’s four Inns of Court.
Immediately the surroundings change to a delightful combination of dark brick and light stone buildings. The redbrick building on the other side of the lawn is the Old Hall, dating back to 1489, and which - before the construction of the Law Courts on the Strand, was where the Lord Chancellor’s Court met outside of legal terms. It was here in ‘Implacable November weather’ that Bleak House began with it’s vivid images of a London fog.
“Fog everywhere. Fog up the river, where it flows among green aits and meadows; fog down the river, where it rolls defiled among the tiers of shipping, and the waterside pollution of a great (and dirty) city. Fog on the Essex marshes, fog on the Kentish heights. Fog creeping into the cabooses of collier-brigs; fog lying out in the yards, and hovering in the rigging of great ships…Fog in the yes and throats of ancient Greenwich pensioners, wheezing by the firesides of their wards…fog cruelly pinching the toes and fingers of [the] shivering little ‘prentice boy…Chance people on the bridges peeping over the parapets into a nether sky of fog, with fog all around them , as if they were up in a balloon, and hanging in the misty clouds.
Gas looming through the fog in diverse places in the streets, much as the sun may, from the spongy fields , be seen to loom by husbandman and ploughboy. Most of the shops lighted two hours before their time - as the gas seems to know, for it has a haggard and unwilling look.
And…in Lincoln’s Inn Hall, at the very heart of the fog, sits the Lord High Chancellor in His High Court of Chancery.
Never can there come fog too thick, never can there come mud and mire too deep, too assort with the groping and floundering condition which this High Court of Chancery, most pestilent of hoary sinners, holds, this day, in the sight of heaven and earth.
Continue to the right of the hall and pause by its door on the left, which is occasionally open to provide a tantalisingly brief glimpse of its historic interior.
This is where in Bleak House the legal suit of Jarndyce versus Jarndyce droned ever onwards, just as it had been doing for so long that no man alive could remember what it was originally about! Dickens considered the Court of Chancery detestable and in Bleak House proffers the following warning:-
‘This is the Court of Chancery; which has its decaying houses and blighted lands in every shire; which has its warn-out lunatic in every mad-house, and its dead in every churchyard; which has its ruined suitor, with his slipshod heels and threadbare dress, borrowing and begging through the round of every man’s acquaintance; which gives to monied might the means abundantly of wearying out the right; which so exhausts finances, patience, courage, hope; so overthrows the brain and breaks the heart; that there is not an honourable man among its practitioners who would not give - who does not often give - the warning, “Suffer any wrong that can be done you, rather than come here!”
Opposite the door to the hall are the cloisters where the gravestones mentioned by Esther Summerson in Bleak House can still be seen. The stairs in the far left corner of the cloisters lead up to the chapel, which, if open, is well worth a visit.
The chapel is open from noon to 2.30pm.
The chapel's foundation stone was laid in 1620 by the metaphysical poet and divine John Donne (1571/2 - 1631). He was actually the inn’s preacher between 1616 and 1622, and was persuaded to return to preach the first sermon in the chapel in 1623. So crowded was the chapel that ‘two or three [of the congregation] were endangered and taken up for dead for the time, with the extreme press and thronging.’ The chapel interior possesses some fine Jacobean pews and some striking stained glass. Whenever a bencher (a member of the inn’s governing body) dies the chapel bell is rung to mark their passing. The bell itself is trove brought back from the siege of Cadiz in 1596 by the Earl of Essex. It was the mourning knell tolled by this bell that inspired John Donne to write what is probably his most famous prose quotation (made more memorable by Ernest Hemmingway) ‘Never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee.’
Keeping the cloisters to your right walk into New Square, which given it was built in 1685 is anything but.
The Square has changed so little since Dickens day that in the 1980’s it was used as the setting for the TV dramatisation of Bleak House.