Chancery Lane was built sometime around 1160 by the Knights Templar on land they owned. It ran north-south between Fleet Street at the south end to Holborn in the North, and was originally called New Street. The current name dates from the time of Ralph Neville, who was Bishop of Chichester and Lord Chancellor of England (Bebbington 78). The area around the street came into his possession when "in 1227 Henry III gave him land for a palace in this lane: hence Bishop’s Court and Chichester Rents, small turnings out of Chancery Lane" (Bebbington 78). Thus, Chancery Lane is a variation of Chancellor Lane -- Stow calls it Chancelar Lane in several places -- and refers to the Chancellor’s palace, located there.
Chancery Lane was also the location of one of the Inns of Court, Sergeants Inn, which was for Judges and Sergeants only (Stow 1:77). Stow also mentions that there was a house for converted Jews located there: "and then nexte was sometime the house of the converted Jewes, founded by King Henry the third, in place of a Jewes house to him forfeited, in the yeare 1233" (Stow 2:42). In the seventeenth year of his reign Henry III also had built "for them a faire church now used, and called the Chappell for the custodie of Rolles and Records of Chancerie" (Stow 2:42).
According to Stow, the converted Jews and Infidels were baptized, taught the ways of Christ, and then lived in the house - by law it would seem - under the guidance of one ordained to govern them. The duration of their required stay at the house for converts is unclear. In 1290 all Jews were banished from England, and as a result the house had many less converts. In 1377, the house was annexed to the keeper of the Rolls of Chancery, and became the office of the Master of the Rolls, which was created by royal authority (Stow 2:42–43). Once the house became part of the chancery, it was "commonly called the Rolles in Chancery lane" (Stow 2:43).
There was also an inn and brewhouse located on the street, which by Stow’s time had also been "faire builded for the sixe Clearkes of the Rolles" (Stow 2:43). By Elizabeth’s time, the street had become a centre of administrative activity, something that would have likely delighted the monarchy, since the street was outside the walls, closer to Westminster, where it was easier for the queen to keep an eye on government.
Today the chancery buildings and the rolls have been replaced by the Office of Public Records (Weinreb 136–37).
- Bebbington, Gillian. London Street Names. London: B.T. Batsford, 1972. Print.
- Stow, John. A Survey of London. Reprinted from the Text of 1603. Ed. Charles Lethbridge Kingsford. 2 vols. Oxford: Clarendon, 1908. Print. [Also available as a reprint from Elibron Classics (2001). Articles written before 2011 cite from the print edition by volume and page number.]
- Weinreb, Ben, and Christopher Hibbert, eds. The London Encyclopaedia. New York: St. Martin’s, 1983. Print. [You may also wish to consult the 3rd edition, published in 2008.]
Last modification: 2014-10-01 16:23:09 -0700 (Wed, 01 Oct 2014) (mholmes)