Above: The turning off Chancery Lane called Chichester Rents.
In medieval times all the Bishops (including the two Archbishops) in England and Wales acquired land in and around the City of London and kept a London residence so that when they came to London they had somewhere to stay. Some of these properties were very large because when we say ‘the Bishop stayed in his London residence’ we actually mean him, his close advisers and priests and a whole retinue of servants to work in the house while he was staying there. Not only did Bishops have London houses but many of the Abbots and Priors of religious houses throughout the land did the same.
The Bishop of Chichester is the subject of our study today. If you walk up Chancery Lane from Fleet Street you will pass the road junction with Carey Street (on the left). Walking further north is an alleyway (also on your left) called Chichester Rents followed by Bishop’s Court. This is where their London house once stood. The name Chichester Rents is likely to have derived from rents having been charged on the land after the Bishops had left but it was still identified as having once been under their ownership.
The Bishops of Chichester acquired the site in 1226-27 as a London residence. It stood on land now occupied by the two alleyways. Unusually their land was in two parts. The large house was on the west side of Chancery Lane but their large garden was on the east side. Why the two parts of the property were on different sides of the road-way has not been explained but the Bishops were significant landowners just within the boundary of the City of London.
Above: Approximate sites of Chichester Inn and the bishop’s large garden on the east side of Chancery Lane.
From 1422 the house was let to apprentices of Common Law (at Lincoln’s Inn). Over the following years the Bishops of Chichester seem to have used various houses in the City of London and in Westminster, of which six locations are recorded. In 1508 they had a house in Tothill Street, Westminster. In 1553 they had a house in the parish of ‘St Andrew by Paul’s Wharf’ – better known today as the parish of St Andrew by the Wardrobe (a short distance SW of St Paul’s Cathedral).
Once again the street name plate ‘Chichester Rents’ has quite a story behind it. Sadly, nothing remains in the form of masonry – or that large garden – as evidence for those Bishops being in London those early times.