The charming rustic-sounding name of Lincoln’s Inn Fields is known to everyone – did not Mr. Tulkinghorne live there?-but few people stray into the old square except those who are at odds with their neighbours and come to consult the men of law living there, as they did in Dickens’ day. The habitues come from Kingsway through Great Queen Street or Sardinia Street-the stranger takes the Piccadilly Tube to Holborn Station and, turning to the right along High Holborn, follows the first passage on the south side of the street that almost manages to conceal itself behind a protruding house.
This narrow winding Little Turnstile, and the Great Turnstile, a short distance farther along, are the only entrances from the north to Lincoln’s Inn Fields. An ugly lane, connecting these two passages and parallel with Holborn, is dignified by the disconcerting name of Whetstone Park. Today it is only a row of stables, but Milton once had a lodging in one of the houses, that were always squalid and mal habitees, as Dryden’s plays attest.
Coming out of the tortuous Little Turnstile, you enter the spacious square of Lincoln’s Inn Fields. The very name is alluring enough to make anyone want to go there, but there is nothing about the gardens today to show that they are among the oldest in London. They are as trim and well cared for as if they had been laid out yesterday. ” Well cared for ” means that all the pleasant green lawns and shady plane-trees are jealously railed off from the public, who loll somnolently on the many benches, their back turned to the lovely green oasis. It does not occur to any of the Fields’ frequenters to turn some of the seats round, so that they will have a more refreshing view than the dusty asphalt of the wide paths or the uninspiring sight of the slumbers of the unemployed, some of whom look as if they had slipped out of the frames of the Hogarth pictures in the Soane Museum.
It must be confessed that the interest of Lincoln’s Inn Fields lies not so much in the gardens-modernised out of every semblance of their seventeenth-century appearance-as in the beautiful old houses surrounding themnoble, dignified mansions some of those on the west side, built by Inigo Jones and once owned by Milords of Lindsay, Somers and Erskine. At the South Kensington Museum there is a wonderful panelled staircase, a perfect specimen of its kind, that formerly graced the hall of No. 35. Lindsay House, now Nos. 59 and 60, one of the Inigo Jones houses, was built for the Earl of Lindsay, who died fighting for Charles I. at Edgehill. Peter Cunningham says that it was called Ancaster House when the fourth earl was created Duke of Ancaster, and that he sold it to the proud Duke of Somerset-I do not know why Mr. Cunningham insists on his pride in italics-who married the widow of the Mr. Thomas Thynne whose murder by Count Koenigsmarck is so dramatically portrayed on his tomb in Westminster Abbey.
No. 66, at the corner of Great Queen Street, was once occupied by the Duke of Newcastle, George II’s prime minister.
We have travelled far searching for freedom in the last 25o years and one would like to know how the Wellsian attitude is regarded by the ghost of the creator of this old house-the Marquis of Powis, who built it in 1686, before he was outlawed by William and Mary because of his loyalty to James II. He probably chose the site because it was near the chapel of the Sardinian Ambassador-the oldest Roman Catholic chapel in London-where the Roman Catholics used to go when they were deprived of their churches, and where Fanny Burney was married in 1793. It was removed, unluckily, in 1910.
There have been poets, too, in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, before the men of law took possession.
Milton and Thomas Campbell lived at No. 61 and Lord Tennyson at No. 58, where, you remember, Mr. Tulkinghorne of Bleak House had his rooms.
It is a house also haunted with memories of Nell Gwynne, for she had lodgings here and gave birth to the first Duke of St. Albans, while she was still acting in the nearby theatre in Portugal Row!
This Lincoln’s Inn Fields Theatre stood just at the back of the Royal College of Surgeons, on the south side of the square. Three theatres called the Duke’s Theatre were successively built on the same spot. The first one was a pioneer in its way, for it was here that regular stage scenery was introduced in England and that women’s parts were first played by women. The ubiquitous Pepys was a regular frequenter of the theatre, and duly recorded his meeting with Nell Gwynne and that here he saw Hamlet played for the first time.
Though it is seventy-three years since the last theatre was taken down to enlarge the museum of the Royal College of Surgeons, and there is nothing to be seen of it today, I like to keep its memory green because it was here, on the night of January 29th, 1728, nearly two hundred years ago, that Lavinia Fenton, the first Polly Peachum, sang herself into the heart of the Duke of Bolton, when John Rich produced Mr. Gay’s Beggar’s Opera. It ran for sixty-two nights in one season and made ” Gay rich and Rich gay.”