What’s in a name?…Chancery Lane

October 6, 2014

This central London street, which runs between Fleet Street and High Holborn, has long been associated with the law and government, and still is so today with the Royal Courts of Justice standing close to its southern end and Lincoln’s Inn – one of the four Inns of Court – located on the lane’s western side.

Its name is a corruption of the original Chancellor Lane – a moniker which apparently dates back to at least the 14th century – and which referred to the buildings where the official documents of the Lord Chancellor’s Office, known as the Rolls of the Court of Chancellory (Chancery), were stored.

The street was apparently first known as New Street and later as Converts Lane; the latter in reference to the House of Converts (Domus Conversorum) King Henry III founded here in the 1272 for the conversion of Jews to Christianity.

When King Edward I expelled all the Jews from the kingdom in 1290, the ‘house’ continued in use as such for foreign-born Jews, albeit with very small numbers of residents until the early 17th century.

In the meantime, in 1377 King Edward III gave orders that the complex of buildings used by the Domus Conversorum also be given over to the Master of the Rolls for the storage of chancellory documents and it was this move which led to the lane gaining its new name.

The buildings – which included a chapel which had become known as the Chapel of the Master of the Rolls or the simply the Rolls Chapel which had been rebuilt several times including to the designs of 17th century architect Inigo Jones – were finally demolished around the turn of the 20th century and subsumed into the Public Records Office complex on Chancery Lane (this was formerly housed in what is now the Maughan Library of King’s College London).

The lane these days is also home to such august institutions as The Law Society and the London Silver Vaults. It also lends its name to an Underground Station located to the east of the lane entrance in High Holborn.

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One Response to “What’s in a name?…Chancery Lane”

  1. artandarchitecturemainly Says:

    Thank you.

    You note two surprising issues here. 1] Converts Lane was clearly in reference to the House of Converts that King Henry III founded here in the 1272 for the conversion of Jews to Christianity. And 2] after the 1290 expulsion, the house continued in use for foreign-born Jewish residents until the early 17th century.

    I didn’t know that if King Henry III’s conversion programme had succeeded in 1272, perhaps the devastating expulsion edict would not have been issued 18 years later. Unlike Spanish converts in 1492, the English Church might have warmly welcomed in its new congregants and trusted them.

    I also didn’t know that there were foreign born Jews resident in England after the expulsion and before the Reformation. Travellers and people on business yes, but residents I hadn’t heard about.

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