The Streets Of London – Part One Hundred And Eight

Cliffords Inn Passage, EC4A

Between Chancery Lane and Fetter Lane on the northern side of Fleet Street is to be found Clifford’s Inn Passage, boasting an impressive frontage. To the right of the passage is the church of St Dunstan’s which was founded around the 10th century but the present incarnation was built in 1830. The church, dedicated to the principal saint of the English Catholics before Thomas à Beckett came along, originally stood on the main road linking the City of London with Westminster.

London’s legal district is situated outside of the City of London, thanks to Henry III who following a Papal Bull issued in 1218 prohibiting the clergy from practising in secular courts, lawyers in England were trained primarily by priests, banning the teaching of civil law within the City. Lay teachers and practitioners of common law had to set up premises outside of the jurisdiction of the City. Inns of Court, as they were known, provided a mix of office space, classrooms and accommodation for students and qualified lawyers.

Clifford’s Inn, from which the passage takes its name, was the first Inn to be established, in 1344, on land rented from Isabel, Lady de Clifford, for the princely sum of £10 per annum. on March 29, 1618 the Society of Clifford’s Inn, as it was known, bought the freehold to the land from Francis Clifford, the 4th Earl of Cumberland, for £600 but agreed to pay a ground rent of £4 per annum and accommodate any barristers of his choosing.     

The Society took its feasts seriously. The pièce de resistance at the end of the dinner was for the Society’s principal to raise four loaves baked in the form of the cross above his head, dash them on the table three times and then to throw them the length of the table, a ceremony that persisted until well into the 19th century.  

During the 19th century the Inn was rebuilt and the gatehouse which remains to this day was added slightly later on, providing an impressive entrance to the then wide-open spaces of the Inn. The gatehouse, mock-Tudor in style, was designed by a former student of the Inn, Decimus Burton. However, by 1903 the Inn had outlived its use and its members agreed unanimously to dissolve it, the assets were auctioned off and the building sold off for what was described at the time as “a ridiculously low price” of £100,000. The buildings, save for the gatehouse, were demolished in 1934 as the area was redeveloped.     

Clifford’s Inn before demolition in 1934

If you visit the passage, then there are a couple of features to look out for. On one of the walls are three stone tablets bearing initials and dates, presumably salvaged from the original Inn. For those of us who are interested in the peculiarities of London life, the long sturdy length of metal running along the side of the buildings on the right-hand side as you look towards the gate are worthy of note. The urge to relieve oneself is an ancient tradition and in the days before public toilets or telephone boxes, topers, who had imbibed to excess at the nearby taverns and gin houses and feeling the need to answer the call of nature, would relieve themselves against the walls of a building in a convenient darkened passage like Cliffords Inn.

Householders, duly pissed off with this anti-social behaviour and fearful of the consequences of urine interacting with the mortar of their brickwork bolted angled deflector shields to the walls, with the aim of directing the urine into the gutters rather than the grouting. The deflector shield here is the best remaining example of what was a common sight in 19th century London. Best not to sit on it I would imagine.   

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