I was stopped the other day by a couple of tourists asking for directions and I outlined the quickest route to their destination, which happened to take them through Lincoln’s Inn. They seemed a bit perplexed and asked if it was “Ok” to walk through the grounds, which it is. As I was headed in the general direction I said that I would walk with them. As soon as we had entered through the archway they were blown away by the place and started asking me if I knew anything about the buildings. I pointed out a few that I know about and as we walked on they told me that they were from Lincoln in Nebraska and added that coincidentally the ladies maiden name was also Lincoln. They wondered if there was any connection between the surname and the Inn as she believed that her ancestors had emigrated from England in the early 1800s.
There are two theories as to the origins of the name Lincoln’s Inn. The first is that the name came from Henry de Lacy, third Earl of Lincoln, who died in 1311. He owned property in the area and may have been a patron of the Inn. However, it is also possible that the name originates from Thomas de Lincoln, one of the serjeants at law during the fourteenth century, who may have founded a small Inn at Castle Yard, an area that no longer exists, located somewhere to the East of Chancery Lane. So I explained that unless she was a descendant of either then it was unlikely there was a connection to the Inn, however, I was not quite correct.
The other derivation of the surname originates from the city of Lincoln, whose name has it’s origins in Old English and translates to “lake/pool colony“. I looked it up later and it’s not a particularly common surname in the UK, so perhaps her ancestors hailed from Lincolnshire.
I walked them past the undercroft beneath the chapel and they were so taken with it that they decided to explore, so I left them to it. It was only that evening while skimming through some information on the Inn and it’s buildings that I found a piece relating to the undercroft which gave another possible connection.
Built in the 1600s, the undercroft was the hub of the Inn. It was a thoroughfare, a meeting place, and for a while a crypt. The Benchers, as the resident lawyers of the inn are known would take a stroll through the undercroft to meet with others, take refreshments and read the large noticeboard at it’s entrance and the location is described as being “as a small community from first light until the setting of the sun“. But as darkness descended and the inn fell silent, policed only by an elderly warden the undercroft took on another role.
The undercroft became a place where desperate Mothers would leave their babies in the hope that they would be given a better life. The process was described in the Inn’s records as the child having been “Dropt” within the Inn’s boundaries. Without fail the Inn took these foundlings into it’s care giving them cloths, food, and a rudimentary education usually until they were old enough in the case of the boys to become apprentices and for the girls to enter service. In every case the child was given a random christian name, but in all cases the child’s surname was the same, “Lincoln”