The neo-Gothic former Public Record Office (now the Maughan Library of King’s College) in Chancery Lane is adorned with statues of several kings and queens including two kings – King Edward III and King Henry III – as well as four queens.
The queens, which can be found at the top of the tower over the main entrance, include three who are represented with more famous statues elsewhere – Queen Elizabeth I (on the facade of St Dunstan-in-the West), Queen Anne (outside of St Paul’s Cathedral) and Queen Victoria (outside Buckingham Palace among others).
But one of those statues – that of the Empress Matilda – is something of an outlier – unlike the others, the Empress Matilda, while she claimed the title of Queen of England, was never actually crowned (her attempt to be crowned at Westminster failed when opposed by the London mob which supported her opponent, King Stephen).
Instead, Matilda (sometimes known as Maud) claimed the title ‘Lady of the English’ and while she was eventually driven out of England to Normandy where she died, her eldest son did take the crown in 1154 as King Henry II.
The statue, which stands on top of the east side of the tower (and is quite difficult to spot), stands 2.4 metres high and was made of Portland stone to adorn the 1850s, now Grade II* listed building (the gatehouse leading to Chancery Lane – which features the two kings – was an extension in the 1890s). It is said to be the work of sculptor Joseph Durham.
What’s a little puzzling is why the Empress was included as one of the four, particularly given other English queens and monarchs – Queen Mary I and II – were not.
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.
The name of this central London thoroughfare – which runs from Fleet Street to a dead-end just shy of Holborn, with New Fetter Lane forking off to continue the journey to Holborn Circus – has nothing to do with fetters, chains or prisoners.
Rather its name – a form of which apparently first starts to appear in the 14th century – is believed to be a derivation of one of a number of possible Anglo-French words – though which one is anyone’s guess.
The options include the word fewtor, which apparently means an idle person or a loafer, faitor, a word which means an imposter or deceiver (both it and fewtor may refer to a colony of beggars that lived here) feuterer, a word which describes a ‘keeper of dogs’, or even feutrier, another term for felt-makers.
Buildings of note in Fetter Lane include the former Public Records Office (now the Maughan Library, part of King’s College, it has a front on Chancery Lane but backs onto the lane), and the former Inns of Chancery, Clifford’s Inn and Barnard’s Inn (current home of Gresham College).
It was also in Fetter Lane, at number 33, that the Moravians, a Protestant denomination of Christianity, established the Fetter Lane Society in 1738 (members included John Wesley). The original chapel was destroyed in bombing in World War II ( a plaque now marks the building where it was)
And there’s a statue of MP, journalist and former Lord Mayor, John Wilkes, at the intersection with New Fetter Lane (pictured).