This is only a name today. There is a building standing on the original site of Clifford’s Inn – on the north side of Fleet Street and on the west side of Fetter Lane – but it has no connection with the original purpose. The building is on the site of a small inn which stood to the north of St Dunstan in the West, in Farringdon Ward Without.
One of the Inns of Chancery, Clifford’s Inn was one of three such inns attached to Inner Temple. Inns of Chancery were once used to teach the rudiments of law, serving as a preparatory college to one of the four Inns of Court. Inns of Chancery no longer exist but from the 1300s through to the 1800s there were no less than 12 such Inns. If a law student wishes to become a barrister today, he or she has to become a member of one of the four Inns of Court – Middle Temple, Inner Temple, Gray’s Inn or Lincolnls Inn..
Many of the Inns of Chancery have been swept away to the extent that there is barely a name plate bearing its name. Clifford’s Inn is a short alleyway running off the north side of Fleet Street with an archway giving the impression that it could still be in existence. There are even offices on the site of the old inn. It is great that there is a reminder of this ancient institution but that is where the connection ends.
In passing it should be pointed out that the English word ‘inn’ has several meanings. We have already mentioned ‘Inns of Chancery’ and ‘Inns of Court’. The large houses that bishops owned in London – where they lived while staying in London – were often called ‘inns’. Examples of these were Exeter Inn, Bath and Wells Inn and Chichester Inn which were near Fleet Street. Another use of the word ‘inn’ is to describe a hostelry. Many such London locations had that name. In Borough High Street are still to be found King’s Head Inn and the George Inn which were once both large establishments.
We now turn to the history of Clifford’s Inn. It was leased in 1345 by the widow of the Sixth Baron de Clifford to certain lawyers, Edward II having granted Clifford the title. It was an Inn of Chancery, entirely independent and with a constitution of its own. It was governed by a Principal and twelve ‘Rules’. The inn continued until 1877 when no new member was admitted. In 1903 it was decided to wind up the affairs which were completed in 1918. In 1935 the old building was demolished and some of the fine carved wood-work was removed to the Victoria and Albert Museum.
Although just offices now stand on the site, the quaint alleyway with its old lamp on the wall and remaining gateway still bearing the name, are remarkable reminders of an institution which had its origins in the 14th century. Its a ‘little piece of history’ just off Fleet Street.