The Garden Guide

Book: London Parks and Gardens, 1907
Chapter: Chapter 9 Squares

Lincoln's Inn Fields

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The largest of all the squares is Lincoln's Inn Fields. The garden, which is 7.25 acres in extent, was, after many lengthy negotiations, finally opened to the public in 1895. The fine old houses which survive, show the importance and size of Inigo Jones's original conception. It has been said that the Square is exactly the same size as the base of the Great Pyramid, but this is not the case. The west side, which was completed by Inigo Jones, was begun in 1618, but the centre of the Square was left an open waste till long after that date. The Fields, before the building commenced, were used as a place of execution, and Babington and his associates met a traitor's death, in 1586, on the spot where it was supposed they had planned some of their conspiracy. The surrounding houses had been built, and the ground was no longer an open field when William, Lord Russell, was beheaded there in 1683. The scaffold was erected in what is now the centre of the garden. The Fields for many years bore a bad name, and were the haunt of thieves and ruffians of all sorts. When things reached such a climax, that the Master of the Rolls was knocked down in crossing the Fields, the centre was railed in. This was done about 1735, with a view to improving their condition, and they remained closed, and kept up by the inhabitants, until a few years ago. The chief feature in the pleasant gardens now are the very fine trees. There are some patriarchal planes, with immense branches, under which numbers of people are always to be seen resting. The houses, Old Lindsay House, Newcastle House, the College of Surgeons, Sir John Soane's Museum, with long histories of their own, and all the lesser ones, with a sleepy air of dingy respectability and ancient splendour, now look down on a most peaceful, well-kept garden, and Gay's lines of warning are no longer a necessary caution:- "Where Lincoln's Inn wide space is rail'd around, Cross not with venturous step; there oft is found The lurking thief, who, while the daylight shone, Made the walls echo with his begging tone; That crutch, which late compassion moved, shall wound Thy bleeding head, and fell thee to the ground."