Book review: An Illustrated History of Gray’s Inn


An Illustrated History of Gray’s Inn
Authors: David Barnard and Timothy Shuttleworth
Publisher: The Honourable Society of Gray’s Inn
ISBN: 9781527219076

It is more than 70 years since Francis Cowper’s magisterial A Prospect of Gray’s Inn was published and more than 40 years since it was revised. Small wonder then that the Graya Board thought that the time had come for a fresh history which, by chronicling the Inn’s past and describing its present might assist in guaranteeing its future. Albeit it was only recently that the Inn’s traditional and exclusive role in calling its students to the Bar and conferring upon them in consequence the right to practice as barristers was enshrined in statute, they nonetheless need to be vigilant to fend off critics who question the justification for such mediaeval bodies to survive in modern times.

This handsomely produced volume takes the reader through the centuries at an educated canter. Replete with well-chosen illustrations it has the feel of a classic coffee table book, though it will no doubt be enjoyed by readers enjoying more stimulating liquid after a hard day in court or at the computer. Many of them may well be professional denizens of the Inn itself, which could not have happened before the 1970s, when for the first-time chambers were established in Gray’s outside the confines of the two Temples or Lincolns Inn. Nowadays the Inn can boast leading sets in the fields of commercial, insolvency, defamation, criminal, construction and public law, as well as human rights specialist Matrix, a creation of the new millennium.

Two of the three aptly named ‘pioneers’ whose names are specifically mentioned in this context were Richard Yorke QC and Douglas Frank QC who amalgamated two cohorts of commercial and planning lawyers into a single set at 4/5 Gray’s Inn Square through whose doors passed a diverse number of stars such as Konrad Schiemann (later a judge at the European Court of Justice), Appellate Judges such as David Keene, Alan Moses and Jeremy Sullivan and high profile advocates such as George Carman and Cherie Booth. The set also instigated associations (which continue to this day) with eminent academics such as Sir Wade and Gunter Treitel as well as with prominent lawyers from overseas jurisdictions. In the mid-nineties (when I was joint head) it was runner up three years in succession as Chambers of the Year, and under its present leadership and with scope for expansion is looking to scale the same heights a quarter of a century on.

The smallest of the Inns, Gray’s has always punched above its weight. On one glorious month in 2017 it boasted (though discreet pride is more its style) the first woman President of the Supreme Court, the Lord Chief Justice and the Master of the Rolls, and has just added the President of the Family Division to its number of high office-holders. The Inn of Bacon, Holt, Birkenhead, Atkin and Bingham fully deserves a commemorative work of this distinction.

Reviewer: Michael J Beloff QC, Treasurer of Gray’s Inn 2009

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Michael J Beloff QC

 Treasurer of Gray’s Inn 2009