Inventory Site Record

Lincoln's Inn Fields * (Camden)

Brief Description

* on The National Heritage List for England, Parks & Gardens

Lincoln's Inn Fields is London's largest garden square, but was once open fields and the site of duelling, jousting and occasional public execution. In the C17th building development began here, and part of the fields were built over, with part laid out with walks. In a bad state by early C18th, Lincoln's Inn Fields was formally laid out as a garden in 1735 and enclosed, ceasing to be publicly accessible. In 1894 the LCC took on responsibility through Act of Parliament and Lincoln's Inn Fields opened to the public, with provision for recreation such as tennis, golf and band concerts. The layout today is largely that of the early C19th with perimeter shrubbery and path, scattered trees, lawns, areas of bedding, and crossed by cruciform paths with an octagonal pavilion in the centre. There are a number of memorials and sculptures in and near the gardens.

Practical Information
Previous / Other name:
Fickett's Field, Pursefield (west) and Cupfield (east)
Site location:
Lincoln's Inn Fields
What 3 Words:
Type of site:
Public Gardens, Garden Square
Open to public?
Opening times:
locked dusk
Special conditions:
Tennis, café, toilets
Public transport:
Tube: Chancery Lane (Central), Holborn (Central, Piccadilly). Bus: 1, 8, 25, 59, 68, 91, 168, 171, 188, 242, 243.
Research updated:
Last minor changes:

Please check with the site owner or manager for latest news. www.camden.gov.uk

Full Site Description

Site on The National Heritage List for England, Parks & Gardens, for Register Entry see https://www.historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list

Lincoln's Inn Fields is London's largest garden square, but were previously open fields called Cup Field, Fickett's Field and Purse Field, which from at least 1376 were a place where Londoners went for walking and sport. The fields were 'a wild-looking place of evil repute' and site of duelling, jousting and occasional public executions, such as that of Anthony Babington and fellow conspiritors in September 1586, and of Lord William Russell in 1683 for his part in the Rye House Plot, his supposed place of execution marked today by brass tablet. At the beginning of the C17th the area was ripe for building development, which was opposed by the adjacent Lincoln's Inn (q.v.) and proposals were put forward to prevent this. A petition was put to the King for conversion of the fields into walks, like those at Moorfields in the City, and as a result in 1618 a Royal Commission was set up. Inigo Jones, one of the commissioners, was invited to draw up a plan for walks and development of houses here, but nothing was realised at that time.

In 1638 William Newton acquired leases on Cup Field and Purse Field and gained a licence to build 32 houses, despite the protests of Lincoln's Inn. In 1657 Cup Field was jointly owned by 3 people, Sir William Cowper, Robert Henley and James Cowper, who reached an agreement with Lincoln's Inn whereby the Inn controlled the manner in which building was carried out. Part of Cup Field was to be laid out with walks and trees, the remainder sold to Lincoln's Inn who then leased it back to the 3 men for 900 years. Lincoln's Inn was separated from the Fields first by a clay embankment, later replaced by a brick wall.

By 1659 the three sides of the square were completed but by the early C18th Lincoln's Inn Fields had become notoriously unsafe and were in a bad state. A Bill in 1707 failed to bring enhancement to the area and in 1734 the inhabitants of the surrounding buildings applied successfly for an Act of Parliament whereby a rate on 'present and future proprietors and inhabitants' could be levied to 'enclose, clean and adorn the said fields' with the election of 21 Trustees to manage this. In 1735 tenders were invited for enclosure the centre of the square, which was then laid out as with grass and walks, with a large basin of wate was in the centre, later filled in, shown on Rocque's plan of 1746. The Fields were enclosed and thereafter closed to the public, accessible to keyholders.

In 1894 the LCC took over the garden following 4 years of attempting to obtain possession and it was opened to the public. The Act enabling its acquisition prohibited band performances before 1pm on Sundays, 6pm on weekdays and 3pm on Saturdays. Tennis was allowed on one enclosure and golf putting on another. The layout today is largely that of the early C19th. This consists of perimeter shrubbery and path, with areas of bedding, and cruciform paths across the garden with an octagonal pavilion in the centre. There are scattered mature trees throughout with sub-tropical planting on the east side. Trees include Catalpa, ginkgo, holly, mountain ash, prunus, laburnum and mature plane trees. In the north-east side of gardens is a memorial to W F D Smith, 2nd Viscount Hambleden, on a pedestal c1929-30. The monument, a Portland stone pedestal in the form of a seat, was designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens, with a bronze bust by Arthur Walker now missing (stolen 1970s). It is inscribed with Viscount Hambleden's biography; at the rear is a carved coat of arms in a central panel. In the north-west corner of the gardens is a stone drinking fountain of 1861, restored c1992, which is inscribed "The Fear of the Lord is a Fountain of Life". The name of the donor is unknown but a letter read out to an 1860 meeting of the District Board of Works states that "A lady residing in the neighbourhood of London is anxious to be permitted to put up a Drinking Fountain at her own expense in this Parish and prefers to place it in Lincoln's Inn Fields". This is an early public drinking fountain erected at the time when the St Giles's parish wells were polluted with sewage and the Board of Works were realising the need to provide pure public water: Lincoln's Inn Fields was being restored and renovated at the time. In the south-east corner is the granite drinking fountain of c.1880 commemorating Philip Twells MP. Also in the garden is a monument in the form of a curved alcove with seat surmounted by a bronze group erected in c.1911 to commemorate Margaret MacDonald, the wife of Ramsey MacDonald, social reformer. Executed by the sculptor R R Goulden, it has a portrait figure of Mrs MacDonald seated with arms outstretched wearing Classical robes flanked by a group of 9 playing children. Inscription carved beneath statue reads: "This seat placed here in memory of Margaret MacDonald who spent her life in helping others".

The C19th cast-iron railings that enclosed the gardens were removed in WWII for the war effort and since replaced. During the war the gardens were used by the Royal Canadian Air Force, which was commemorated in 1998 by Canada Walk and planting of a Canadian Maple. Recent renovations include a new café; an oak tree was planted in 2000 for the bicentenary of the Royal College of Surgeons. Just outside the north corner is a sculpture by Barry Flanagan of 1980, 'Camdonian'.

The Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission for England was established in 1984 and was commonly called English Heritage. In April 2015 it split into 2 separate entities, Historic England (HE), which continues to champion and protect the historic environment, and the English Heritage Trust, whose role is to look after the 400+ historic sites and monuments owned by the state. HE manages the National Heritage List for England (NHLE) that includes over 400,000 items ranging from prehistoric monuments to office blocks, battlefields and parks, which benefit from legal protection.

Sources consulted:

Susan Palmer, 'From Fields to Gardens: The Management of Lincoln’s Inn Fields in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries', London Gardener vol.x, 2004/5 and 'Lincoln’s Inn Fields Part II: The management of the gardens in the twentieth century', London Gardener vol.xii, 2006/7. EH Register: Gardener's Chronicle I, 1895; J J Sexby, The Municipal Parks, Gardens and Open Spaces of London (1898); E B Cecil, 'London Parks and Gardens', 1907; G Taylor, 'Old London Gardens', 1953; N Pevsner and B Cherry 'London I', 1985; LCC Survey of London III, 1, 1912; 'The London County Council and what it does for London: London Parks and Open Spaces' (Hodder & Stoughton, 1924)

Further Information (Planning and Conservation)
Grid ref:
TQ307814 (530779,181390)
Size in hectares:
Site ownership:
LB Camden
Site management:
LB Camden Parks & Open Spaces. Lincoln Inn Fields Association
C17th; C18th; C19th
Listed structures:
LBII: Memorial to WFD Smith, Gothic Drinking Fountain, Twells Memorial drinking fountain, Memorial to Margaret MacDonald. Surrounding buildings listed: LBI: Soane Museum, C17th houses Nos 59-60. LBII*: C18th houses on west side Nos 57-58, 65; No 65 and 66; Lincoln's Inn Hall, Library. LBII: C18th houses to north Nos 1, 2, 5, 6-8, 15, 16, 25-27; C19th houses to north Nos 18, 19, 24; early C19th house No 64.
On National Heritage List for England (NHLE), Parks & Gardens:

NHLE grade:
Grade II
Registered common or village green on Commons Registration Act 1965:

Protected under London Squares Preservation Act 1931:


Local Authority Data

The information below is taken from the relevant Local Authority's planning legislation, which was correct at the time of research but may have been amended in the interim. Please check with the Local Authority for latest planning information.

On Local List:
In Conservation Area:
Conservation Area name:
Tree Preservation Order:
Not known
Nature Conservation Area:
Yes - Local Importance
Green Belt:
Metropolitan Open Land:
Special Policy Area:
Yes Area of Special Character: Central London Area
Other LA designation:
Public Open Space (Local). London Squares Preservation Act of 1931

Lincoln's Inn Fields *

Lincoln's Inn Fields, July 2002. Photo: S Williams

Lincoln's  Inn Fields, Central octagonal pavilion, February 2010. Photo: S Williams
Lincoln's  Inn Fields, South-east corner with Twells Drinking Fountain and gateway to Lincoln's Inn behind, July 2002. Photo: S Williams

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