Above: Part of a Google aerial view of the streets north of Fleet Street showing the modern Rolls Building.
Located off the west side of Fetter Lane in the City of London, the Rolls Building brings under one roof the expertise of the Chancery Division of the High Court (including property business and bankruptcy), the Admiralty and Commercial Court and the Technology and Construction Court.
The state of the art court complex covers more than 16,000 square metres, houses 31 courtrooms, 11 hearing rooms and 55 consultation rooms. It is equipped with the latest IT facilities and three ‘super courts’ able to handle the most complex and multi-party trials. The basement and top floors of the building are available for lease by commercial law firms.
The building was designed by Woods Bagot and built by Carillion for developers Delancey Estates and Scottish Widows and was formally opened by Queen Elizabeth II on 7 December 2011.
The land on which it stands was once where a house for converted Jews, founded by Henry III about 1231. It was situated on the east side of what we now know as Chancery Lane. By 1278 today’s ‘Chancery Lane’ was known as ‘Converslane’. The expulsion of the Jews from England in 1291 and the subsequent decline in the number of Jewish converts resulted in Edward III giving the house to the Keeper of the Rolls of Chancery in 1377. The name of the street subsequently changed to ‘Chaunceler Lane’. By 1496-97 House of Converts became a repository for rolls of Chancery and became the seat of Chancery. The building house later became the site of the Public Records Office.
The original name of ‘Rolls Office’ goes back to at least the 13th century. The Keeper or Master of the Rolls and Records of the Chancery of England, known as the Master of the Rolls, is the second most senior judge in England and Wales after the Lord Chief Justice, and serves as the presiding officer of the Civil Division of the Court of Appeal and Head of Civil Justice. The position dates from at least 1286, although it is believed that the office probably existed earlier than that.
The Master of the Rolls was initially a clerk responsible for keeping the ‘Rolls’ or records of the Court of Chancery, and was known as the Keeper of the Rolls of Chancery. The Keeper was the most senior of the dozen Chancery clerks and, as such, occasionally acted as keeper of the Great Seal of the Realm.
The Maughan Library occupies the site of the Domus Conversorum (House of the Converts or Le Converse Inn in Norman French), later known as the ‘Chapel of the Master of the Rolls’. The House of the Converts was established by Henry III in 1232 to provide a residence and chapel for Jews who had converted to Christianity, and the chapel attached to it began the following year.
The chapel was rebuilt in 1617 by Inigo Jones at a cost of £2,000, where the poet Dr Donne, preached during the consecration. Of particular interest is that of Dr John Yonge (died 1516), Master of the Rolls during the time of Henry VIII, who was entombed in the earlier Chapel. The monument was sculpted by Pietro Torrigiano, known as Michaelangelo’s contemporary, who also sculpted the tomb of Henry VII displayed in Westminster Abbey. The Master’s effigy, clad in red gown and wearing a square cap, with hands crossed. Another monument is that of Edward Bruce, 1st Lord Kinloss (died 1611). He lies, wearing a long-furred robe; before his effigy kneels a man in armour.
The chapel was again rebuilt in 1734 and altered in 1784. The records were moved in 1856 and the chapel was demolished in 1895. The only remains of the chapel is an arch mounted on the garden elevation of the Chancery lane wing, three funerary monuments, stained glass panels and a mosaic floor.
The current Maughan Library building, designed by Sir James Pennethorne, was rebuilt from 1851 to 1890s
Rolls House was the official residence of the Master of the Rolls and remained in the possession of the office until 1837, when it was surrendered to the Crown.