Posts Tagged ‘Chancery Lane’

Metropolitan History
30 January 2013
Francis Boorman (IHR)
The stormy latitude of the law: Chancery Lane and spatial politics in late eighteenth-century London




Francis Boorman has discussed Chancery Lane before in a previous podcast on History SPOT called Chancery Lane: politics, space and the built environment, c.1760-1815.  That paper was delivered in 2011 so this gives us an opportunity to catch up on his work.

This paper investigates Chancery Lane as the intersection between the City and Westminster.  It is a local investigation into what Jerry White calls the dynamics of urban renewal in London in terms of a public collective.  For parts of that argument see the podcast City Rivalries and the making of Modern London, 1720-1770 by Jerry White also in 2011.  The paper investigates this model in opposition to that offered by Eric Hobsbawm about the negotiations of individual citizens in the public sphere, but with influence from Peter Clark’s argument concerning the dissociation of parish administrators with the local elite.

The public space of Chancery Lane took a long time to progress and change because of politics between rival local interests, none of which could easily agree on their individual responsibility or ownership.  Francis Boorman examines the models presented by other historians and considers what this might mean for his study of Chancery Lane, which intersected both the City and Westminster.

To listen to this podcast click here.

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British History in the Long 18th Century
Chancery Lane: politics, space and the built environment, c. 1760-1815
Francis Boorman (IHR)
19 October 2011


Chancery Lane

Chancery Lane (Wikipedia)

Sandwiched between the west and east ends of London, Chancery Lane was a focus point in England’s capital city and therefore an ideal place for lawyers to set up shop.  It is hard to imagine what life would have been like there in the eighteenth century.  The roads were tight and dangerous and represented an old, much smaller sized London than what had grown up around it over the last 100 years or so.  According to Francis Boorman the clash of classes was extremely evident here, with robberies common in its narrow streets as the rich fell foul to the poor, and as a place where women regularly prostituted themselves.  There were also many pubs and coffee houses in the district which can only have intensified matters.  With a distinct lack of street lighting this was a seedy place to hang around, but it was also a centre of law and order.

This paper focuses on the politics of public space in London and particularly its importance to radicals and conservatives in the long eighteenth-century.  Francis Boorman argues that Chancery Lane’s geographical and topographical location in London and its specific importance for the legal profession were crucial to its formation as a built environment.  Geographically Chancery Lane is located right in the middle of the west and east sides of London and fell under various jurisdictions.  Topographically Chancery Lane had narrow but busy streets causing congestion problems and encouraging high levels of accidents.

In addition Chancery Lane was viewed as the physical manifestation for the reputation of the lawyers who worked there.  For example building works by lawyers gave manifest significant criticism of the legal profession from the public.  People felt that lawyers were improving their place of work and getting rich off of other people’s money.  In the long eighteenth-century there was a very real perception that lawyers were dishonest, greedy, and untrustworthy.

Boorman explains all these issues in clear detail to show why the expansion and improvement of the road took so long to be achieved.  Even despite the money and workforce available through the Westminster Paving Committee and numerous complaints that the Lane was dangerous (especially near Fleet Street) nothing happened.  The main reasons for this was arguments between the local residents and the lawyers on who should pay as well as the difficulty of convincing the various jurisdictions under which Chancery Lane fell that they should act in unison.

To listen to this podcast click here.    

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