Lincoln’s Inn Fields: Three Notable Inhabitants

At No. 56 on the west side of Lincoln’s Inn Fields between 1740 and 1756 lived William Murray (1705-1793), later 1st Earl of Mansfield, judge and politician. Born at Scone Palace, Scotland in 1705, Murray came to London in 1719. After studying at Westminster School and Christ Church, Oxford, he went into residence at Lincoln’s Inn in 1727 and was called to the bar in November 1730. He quickly established a reputation as a young barrister and rose through the ranks, being appointed Solicitor General in 1742, a bencher of Lincoln’s Inn in 1743, Attorney General in 1754 and Chief Justice of the Court of King’s Bench in 1756, the year in which he was also created 1st Baron Mansfield.

In 1756, Murray left Lincoln’s Inn Fields for a house in Bloomsbury Square (ransacked in the Gordon Riots of 1780), but returned in 1786 to Nos 57 and 58, which he kept until his death in 1793. He resigned as Lord Chief Justice in 1788. After this he seems to have spent most of his time at Kenwood House, the country home on the northern edge of Hampstead Heath, which he had purchased in 1754 and had expanded and improved to designs by the architects Robert and James Adam.

Lord Mansfield is best known for his judgment in Somersett’s Case, a precursor to the eventual abolition of slavery. A reformer of court procedures, he has been described as ‘the founder of the commercial law of this country’.

He is buried in the north transept of Westminster Abbey, with a monument by John Flaxman.

Nos. 12-14 on the north side of Lincoln’s Inn Fields were all designed and built by Sir John Soane (1753-1837), architect to the Bank of England, Professor of Architecture at the Royal Academy and a great collector of paintings, sculpture and antique fragments. He moved with his family to Lincoln’s Inn Fields in 1794, having purchased No.12 in 1792 and completely rebuilt it. In 1808 he purchased the freehold of No.13 and extended along the back of the site from No.12, building an extension to the office from which he ran his architectural practice and a double-height domed space into which he put plaster casts – the beginnings of his museum. Not long afterward he persuaded his tenant in No.13 to move into No.12 and was able to pull down No.13 and rebuild it. The new house, with its innovative façade was finished in 1813 and he lived there until his death at the age of 83 on 20 January 1837, gradually filling it with his collections, which he arranged and rearranged almost up to the day of his death. In 1833 he obtained an Act of Parliament to come into effect at his death, vesting his house and collections in Trustees to be open to the Nation as a museum, and stipulating that it should be left as nearly as possible as it was at his death. (See the noticeboard outside No.13 for details of the opening hours of Sir John Soane’s Museum).

Soane is buried in a tomb in St Pancras Gardens, the innovative design of which, with its shallow canopy dome, is said to have influenced the architect Sir Giles Gilbert Scott when he was designing the famous red K2 telephone box.

No. 3 on the north side of Lincoln’s Inn Fields was home between 1896 and 1916 to James Ramsay MacDonald (1866-1937), later the first British Labour Prime Minister, and his family. He married in 1896 Margaret Gladstone (1870-1911), a distinguished scientist, an active social and religious worker and one of the founders of the YMCA. She was attracted to Socialism through her social work in Hoxton and elsewhere. Their roomy apartment at No.3 became a centre of Labour activists at home and from abroad.

Margaret died suddenly on 8 September 1911 of blood poisoning and is commemorated by the Margaret MacDonald Memorial on the north side of the gardens. Constructed in 1914, this takes the form of an alcove and seat of grey Scottish granite and ship’s teak surmounted by a bronze group by Richard Goulden showing Margaret MacDonald kneeling and holding out her arms to nine little children, with the inscription ‘She brought joy to those with whom she lived and worked’. The memorial was unveiled on 19 December 1914 by Margaret MacDonald’s youngest daughter after a speech by Sir Laurence Gomme, Clerk of the London County Council, and the statue was dedicated by Professor Gilbert Murray.

Historical information supplied by Friends of Lincoln’s Inn Fields

%d bloggers like this: