Garden Court - the Chambers open for Open House

Open House London has locked up for another year. After a 2012 of suffering bewildering ballots and a wobbly website, the hard-working OH devotees have gone back to basics in 2013 and have queued, or in the case of some at Battersea Power Station have valiantly sought the end of the queue before giving up.

Amongst the gems on display was a building  that combines Grade 1 listed architecture, the home of a British Prime Minister, and the fictional home of one of Charles Dickens’ darkest characters.

57-60 Lincoln’s Inn Fields is on the western side and is the home of barristers Garden Court Chambers. The set moved here from Middle Temple Chambers in 2005.


57-60 comprises two joined buildings. 59-60 (also known as Lindsey House) was completed in 1640, and 57-58 around 1740. At various times they have been joined, separated, and joined again.
 

The last joining was done in 1802 by Sir John Soane. The client was Spencer Perceval, best known for being the only serving Prime Minister to have been assassinated in office, Margaret Thatcher having come close in Brighton in 1984 at the hands of the IRA.

59-60 is often attributed directly to the design of Inigo Jones. There seems a doubt over how far he was personally involved, but it is accepted that the house is in his style, and the property is the only remaining one of its type in the Fields, thus giving a flavour of what was London’s first garden square.


59-60
 

57-58 has not been rated so strongly architecturally, but Samuel Pepys was impressed with it, though found the rent expensive at £250 p.a.


57-58, as can be seen
 

Connections with these historic names spring up as you walk through the house. The reception of 59-60 has a fireplace that dates from Perceval’s occupation from 1791 to 1812.


In the same room there is a deep safe, said to be where Perceval kept his Ministerial Red Boxes.
 

Perhaps the most striking interior feature is the Soane elliptical staircase that runs from the basement of 57-58 to the top of the house. It is apparently only one of three still known to exist, one of the others being in Soane’s house on the northern side of the Fields.
 

A vertiginous view from the top of the elliptical staircase
 

Dickens has a physical connection with 57-58. There is a record that here in December 1844 he read his Christmas story “The Chimes” to a group of friends.

This leaves the fictional side, and that dark character. This is Tulkinghorn, the menacing lawyer from Bleak House, much of the book having been set around the Fields, Lincoln’s Inn and Chancery Lane. Dickens placed Tulkinghorn’s home at 57-58, and as you wander the floors you can recall its description by Dickens as:

“...a large house, formerly a house of state. It is let off in a set of chambers, and in those shrunken fragments of greatness lawyers lie like maggots in nuts.”

We should not associate with that description the good people of Garden Court Chambers, who open the building on OH weekend with warm generosity, and whose barristers deliver tours in a tone of modest amateurishness that belies the keen communication skills and mastery of facts that are usually seen only  in court. And even better, we don’t have to pay m’learned friend’s hourly rate.

This is a terrific location. If you haven’t visited yet and it continues to appear on the Open House list, do mark it down as one to take in.

The author is a City of London and City of Westminster Guide, and former law firm partner, who runs walking tours in the City and in Westminster. See tabs for further details.

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