Lincoln's Inn Fields is the largest public square in London, England. It is thought to have been one of the inspirations of Central Park, New York. It was laid out in part by Inigo Jones from the early 17th century and opened to the public after its acquisition by London County Council in 1895. It is today managed by the London Borough of Camden and forms part of the southern boundary of that borough with the City of Westminster.
It takes its name from the adjacent Lincoln's Inn, but should not be confused with the private gardens of Lincoln's Inn itself. Lincoln's Inn is separated from Lincoln's Inn Fields by a perimeter wall and a large gatehouse.
The Lincoln's Inn Fields Theatre was located in the Fields from 1661 to 1848 when it was demolished. Originally called the Duke's Theatre, it was created by converting Lisle's Tennis Court, to become the Lincoln's Inn Fields Theatre in 1695. The theatre presented the first paid public performances of Purcell's Dido and Aeneas in 1700, most importantly John Gay's The Beggar's Opera in January 1728, and Handel's final two operas in1740 and 1741.
Lincoln's Inn Fields was the site, in 1683, of the public beheading of Lord William Russell, son of the First Duke of Bedford, following his implication in the Rye House Plot for the assassination of King Charles II. The executioner was Jack Ketch who made such a poor job of it that four axe blows were required before the head was separated from the body and, after the first stroke, Russell looked up and said to him "You dog, did I give you 10 guineas to use me so inhumanely?".
When originally laid out, Lincoln's Inn Fields was part of fashionable London. The oldest building from this period is Lindsey House, 59-60 Lincoln's Inn Fields, which was built in 1640 and has been attributed to Inigo Jones. The builder of the house was Sir David Cunningham of Auchenharvie, a friend of the mason Nicolas Stone, who supervised the rebuilding of Berkhamsted Place for Charles I. It derives its name from a period of ownership in the 18th century by the Earls of Lindsey.
Another seventeenth century survival is now 66 Lincoln's Inn Fields, which was built for Lord Powis and known as Powis House. The charter of the Bank of England was sealed there on 27 July 1694. It was in 1705 acquired by the Duke of Newcastle (whereupon it became known as Newcastle House) who had it remodelled by Sir John Vanbrugh (following earlier work by Sir Christopher Wren after a fire in 1684). It remains substantially in its circa 1700 form although a remodelling in 1930 by Sir Edwin Lutyens gives it a curiously pastiche appearance.
As London fashion moved west, Lincoln's Inn Fields was left to rich lawyers who were held there by its proximity to the Inns of Court. Thus, the former Newcastle House became in 1790 the premises of the solicitors Farrer & Co who are still there: their clients include much of the landed gentry and also Queen Elizabeth II.
In Charles Dickens' novel Bleak House, the sinister solicitor to the aristocracy Mr Tulkinghorn has his offices in Lincoln's Inn Fields, and one of its most dramatic scenes is set there. The description of his building corresponds most closely to Lindsey House. After a spell as a patent agents, Lindsey House, together with the neighbouring building at 57-58, which includes some features designed by Sir John Soane, including a geometric staircase, has become home to the leading civil liberties barristers' chambers, Garden Court Chambers.
From 1750-1992, the solicitors Frere Cholmeley were in premises on the north side of Lincoln's Inn Fields, after which their buildings were taken over by a leading set of commercial barristers' chambers, known as Essex Court Chambers after their own former premises at 4 Essex Court in the Temple. Essex Court Chambers now occupy five buildings between 24-28 Lincoln's Inn Fields. Other barristers' chambers have since then also set up in Lincoln's Inn Fields, although solicitors' firms still outnumber them there.
Cricket and several other sports are thought to have been played here in the 18th century.
Since 2007, Lincolns Inn Fields is also home to the Centre for Commercial Law Studies, Queen Mary, University of London.