The Garden Guide

Book: London Parks and Gardens, 1907
Chapter: Chapter 11 Inns of Court

Francis Bacon and Gray's Inn Garden

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Bacon's own ideas of what a garden should be are so delightfully set forth in his essay on gardens, that the whole as it left his hand is not difficult to imagine. The fair alleys, the great hedge, were essentials, and the green, "because nothing is more pleasant to the eye than green grass kept finely shorn." His list of plants which bloom in all the months of the year was compiled of those specially suited "for the Climate of London," so no doubt some would be included in this Garden under his eye, although they do not appear in the records. He wished "also in the very middle a fair mount," and even this desire he carried out in Gray's Inn. In a description of the Garden as late as 1761, a summer-house which Bacon put up in 1609 to the memory of his friend Jeremiah Bettenham is mentioned as only recently destroyed. "Till lately," it says, "there was a summer-house erected by the great Sir Francis Bacon upon a small mount: it was open on all sides, and the roof supported by slender pillars. A few years ago the uninterrupted prospect of the neighbouring fields, as far as the hills of Highgate and Hampstead, was obstructed by a hand- some row of houses on the north; since which the above summer-house has been levelled, and many trees cut down to lay the Garden more open." The view, even then, was fairly open, as Sir Samuel Romilly, in 1780, complains of the cold, as there was "only one row of houses" between him and Hampstead, and "a northwest wind blows full against" his chambers. This "most gallant prospect into the country, and its beautiful walks" were the great attractions of these Gardens. They appear to have been one of the most fashionable walks, especially on Sundays. Pepys was frequently there, and his diary records, several times, that he went to morning church, then had dinner, then to church again, and after went for a walk in Gray's Inn. That he met there "great store of gallants," or "saw many beauties," is the usual comment after a visit. On one occasion, he took his wife there to "observe the fashions of the ladies," because she was "making some clothes." The walks and trees are redolent with associations, and the Gardens, though curtailed, have much the same appearance as of yore. When a portion of the ground was sacrificed to the new buildings, those who loved the Garden deeply bewailed. "Those accursed Verulam Buildings," wrote Charles Lamb, recalling his early walks in Gray's Inn Gardens, "had not encroached upon all the east side of them, cutting out delicate green crankles, and shouldering away one of two stately alcoves of the terrace. The survivor stands gaping and relationless, as if it remembered its brother. They are still the best gardens of any of the Inns of Court-my beloved Temple not forgotten - have the gravest character, their aspect being altogether reserved and law-breathing. Bacon has left the impress of his foot upon their gravel walks."