Staple Inn, High Holborn

“Le Stapled Halle” in Holborn is recorded from at least 1292. The name derives from the “Staple”, a duty on wool introduced in 1275, and “Halle”, the French word for a covered market. Its use for trading in a number of commodities, but particularly in wool, flourished in the 13th Century but began to decline from the 1350s, and was at an end by c1375. The subsequent use of the site by the legal profession dates from c1415, when the Society of Staple Inn was established.

By 1586 it was an Inn of Chancery (and would become the largest), closely associated with Gray’s Inn, one of the Inns of Court. Its lawyers and students formed the Grand Company and Fellows of Staple Inn. These partnerships with larger law firms were common among many of the other Inns of Court and minor Inns of Chancery. In 1529, the Benchers of Gray’s Inn had purchased the land where Staple Inn stood, though no rent was charged. (In 1811, the Society of Staple Inn acquired the freehold for £16,000.) Additional land by the old Staple Inn Hall was purchased in 1580 and a new hall built on the site by the wealthy Fellows of the Society.

A well and pump in the courtyard provided the Inn with particularly pure water from underground springs, reportedly having medicinal qualities. The garden south of the hall was at one time rented by the renowned herbalist and barber-surgeon John Gerard (1545-1612). There he grew the rare plants collected from myriad sources which he recorded in his famous “Herball, or General History of Plantes” (1597).

Following the Great Fire of 1666, new building regulations required the timber buildings overlooking Holborn to be faced with fireproof plaster, which remained covering the plaster until 1887. By 1800, the number of students had decreased, and new regulations of the Inns of Court meant that Staple Inn had become essentially a social club for those who occupied chambers.

The Society of Staple Inn was eventually dissolved in 1884 and the site sold to builders. A large part of the site was put up at public auction in November 1886, and the successful bid of £68 000 was made by the Prudential Assurance Company. Since 1887, Staple Inn has been used by the Institute of Actuaries. Alfred Waterhouse was given the task of restoring Staple Inn to good order without losing its essential character.

The buildings dating from the late 16th Century and the 18th Century that remain today include the half timbered Elizabethan buildings onto Holborn that Nikolaus Pevsner described as “the most impressive surviving example in London”.

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