The Honourable Society of Gray's Inn


Andrew Mussell - Archivist and Records Manager

Andrew Mussell, Archivist and Records Manager at The Honourable Society of Gray's Inn discusses the content of the organisation's historic archive as well as discussion some of the history of this important institution.


The Honourable Society of Gray's Inn:

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Hello and welcome to the Mass Communications 2021 podcast, a series of podcasts where we explore various archives and collections. My name is Faith Williams and I'm joined today by Andrew Mussell, archivist and records manager for Grays Inn. Hi Andrew, would you like to introduce yourself and tell us about Gray's Inn. The Honourable Society of Gray's Inn? And it's one of the Inns of Court oand I'm the archivist and records manager, as you've said, and I also have a responsibility for the picture collection and answer enquiries on stained glass and the architect and the premises generally. I've been there 15 years before I joined Gray's Inn I was the archivist for one of the Oxford colleges and also for one of the learned societies that my archive background although before that, I had also worked in several business archives and all of these things are relevant to the end. The archives are not as old as the Inn itself, the Inns of Court were established around the same time somewhere in the 14th century, but the records only go back to the 16th, and I think of our oldest records start in 1568, and from then on, we've got an unbroken coverage, although obviously as you go back in time, the fewer records there are. So you've been there for 15 years. How did you spend an average day nowadays as compared to when you started? Well, at the moment, what we're trying to do is, although the pandemic hasn't helped, is to set a proper archive space in one of the basements at the north end of the Inn. And once that's done, all the archives can go in the same place and they'll all be accessible and they can all be working. At the moment, we've got them scattered around the buildings and various rooms and cellars and lofts, and a lot of them just aren't accessible. So what I spend a lot of time doing is trying to answer enquiries on about a 10th of the collection, which is quite frustrating. I spend more time... I don't do a lot of cataloguing. We've had a rough catalogue done in the 1990s, which is what we get by on. But what we desperately need in order to find information is indexes. And a lot of my office time indexing and the rest of it answering enquiries. So who uses the collection, who do your enquiries come from? A certain amount of internal enquiries, this is part of what happens when you occupy the same premises for a very long time? Your your 18th century records on building works can still be relevant now. So there's a certain amount of internal work. We got a lot of academic inquiries and an awful lot of genealogical inquiries as well. We do quite a lot of Ph.D. work on the history of the law, although. one of the things we don't have, that people expect us to is actual legal records and we don't. The archive is the archive of the in itself, the Honourable society, and they're mostly administrative records about the chambers and the commons and admissions and that sort of thing. There's not much on the actual history of the law - we don't keep records of trials. We've got very few collections of private papers, although we do now have some. So it's often a question telling people, you know, as kindly as you can, although they think we ought to have something, in fact we don't. So not really many inquiries and lawyers themselves, as you might, might initially think we still get the inquiry as where we just can't answer them. So what kind of material do you have? Is it mainly paper based? Yes, paper and parchment. We've reached the point now where I think, possibly more by accident by design to be honest, but we had a very useful period leading up to now where in effect they had a double system, so no one made a decision to stop the paper records, but everyone has moved gradually over to digital, so we've got for a lot of things, we've got a very useful double set. So it's been a relatively easy transition and we've got the various programs and applications in place now to deal with digital records and digital archiving. But we still have a lot of the paper too. So from now on, it's much more digital than paper, but up to about five years ago, yes, it was paper. And how many people are working with this material? You told me earlier that you've got library and do you kind of liaise with them or are you separate teams? Well, physically, I share a lot of library storage, which has got advantages and disadvantages, but the the archives report into the Treasury and the library is administratively entirely separate, you know? And where is the graves and is based again? It's in central London? It is. It's on its very nature, three lane tube stations on the corner of high hope and and the grazing road. And it's got quite a glamorous history and connections to lots of famous figures. Do you have think this is one of the main sources of the inquiries? In fact, it's what often happens with our records is because of the nature of them, though they tend to be passing mentions of famous people, possibly historically important people in the West. But we don't have much in depth, usually beyond that. This is particularly noticeable with Francis Bacon, All the Inns of Court have broadly similar histories and that they reflect the development of the law and the bar. So up to... up to the Civil War, they were all extremely prominent and thriving and active teachers of the law. Grayson was more prominent in the thriving simply because he had connections with the Court of Elizabeth through people like Lord Burley and Walsingham and all their clients. So it was socially extremely prominent as well as being legally important, and that gave it a lot of profile, a lot of influence it was. It acted not. It was a, you know, a proper in of court and to tort law and a centre for lawyers, but there was also a very active and important and influential social center. And there's a huge amount of interest in it because of that. And then then it sort of tailed off a tiny bit in the earlier 17th century and then the Civil War, really? Damaged Orleans, of course, because Cromwell had different ideas about how the law should work and after the Civil War, when things got going again . For whatever reason, the old system of law, tuition just didn't work anymore, and people started studying privately, and all the rest of it in the end is really all entered a long period of decline and. We're great had been unusually prominent before the Civil War. It had a worse decline afterwards. And through the 18th century and the first part of the 19th. In fact, not just the first, but virtually all of the 19th. It was very, very quiet indeed. Very it's pretty much insignificant. I think they got to about the 1870s and they were calling. one person a year, I think in the worst is nobody at all. And they were very lucky, in fact, not to be wound up along with the ends of Chancery because their business had dried up to that extent. And there were just a very small number of people at the end of the 19th 19th century and most notably Lord Birkenhead, who turned it around and put it back on its feet as a proper end of court. And since then, it's revived again. But you know, there's a lot, a lot of. A lot of change there, although the records don't necessarily always reflect that. As an archive, do you liaise with the other ends as well? Do you work with them? Yeah, to an extent we do. We do sometimes work on joint projects in the archives. But although the INS all do the same thing, we all do it in different ways. So. There's not as much direct comparison as you might expect, but we do, we do keep in touch. What kind of projects do you work on them? Well, we. We were the most recent one was the history of women in the law. Well, women at the bar particularly, you know, we had the the centenary of the actually emancipation of women. And you know, the opening of various professions to certainly had the centenary of that a year or two ago. And we did various joint things on that. And we're looking. We're looking at what could be done for you by Amy. History as well. Let's see if we can come up with some kind of joint endeavor on that to. And what often happens is that, you know, because we're all affected by the same anniversaries in the same reforms, we often end up doing the same things in parallel, and it makes more sense sometimes to do that because we've all got different histories. But occasionally, with a really big subject, we will do something jointly. Do you do exhibitions at all then? We yeah, we all do, we do. We haven't got very much space for exhibitions. I, Premiere says, are quite limited. So we tend to think the other ones are better spaces for them. So they tend to do bigger exhibitions. We've got, you know, we've got we've got a couple of places where we can put on small, very specific ones. So for the history of women at the bar, we didn't do an exhibition on the general history because, you know, the other ends were doing that. But there is there wasn't. There is an important woman called Bertha Cave who is important, not because she joined the bar. She wasn't allowed to, but she actually was the first to properly challenge the restriction on women, and she appealed her rejection by reason in the House of Lords. So she's very significant in that sense, and we did it. We know we were lucky enough to be in touch with a lady called Judith Born, who is an academic with a strong ish, strong interest in this and in connection with her, we were able to pull together a, you know, a very nice, focused display on both occasions. And that's the sort of thing we look at in very small, specific things and is the interest in novels mainly from the legal community itself. Well, there certainly is interest in the legal community. Because of the restrictions on space, we tend not to advertise things too much because we couldn't cope with large crowds. You know, we. And we also don't have many spaces that are open to the public and. So you've mentioned the space is really one of your biggest challenges, whether it's for the other people will be interested to hear about. I'm. Well, certainly for as long as I've been, the space has been one of the main issues and the as I as I said, we're we're hoping soon to move into a nice big basement, which you and I spent a lot of time and resources on properly converting. And once that's done, all the archives can go in together in one space for the first time ever. And I'll be able to actually look at the whole collection and look at the collection as a whole, which I've never been able to do and a lot of the archives. I know only from the catalog entries, I've never actually seen them. So I am looking forward to that very much. And once that's done moment, if people want to look at things, we have to arrange with the library to borrow a table and then, you know, the library staff have to keep an eye on them. And it's quite awkward. Once we've got our new basement, we can actually have people in to due to look at things more easily. So, you know, in other circumstances, that would be happening soon, although in present circumstances, I'm afraid the archives are closed. Well, we get things sorted out. And also because we certainly can accommodate people at the moment. But one of the effects of the limited space is in effect we have to archives. We have the central archive, which is the. You know, the main run at the minute, books from 50 to 60, eight or nine onwards on the account books and admission registers from the same period. And virtually all our inquiries are answered from those. And there's a whole mass of other stuff which is more detailed and more specific, which we only dip in quite rarely because of the difficulties of access. And again, once everything is all together in the same place, I'm hoping we can start using the archive, so to speak, in a much more constructive way and get much more information out of it. And one of the reasons why we're so keen on digitization is actually so that we can. You know, access some of this stuff more easily. And because of the space limitations as well, it's it's been very useful to us to have things digitized, and once we've got things sorted out properly there, we can start making things more easily available online as well. So that's that's what's going to be happening over the next few years. And combined with that and the new premises, I'm hoping the whole thing will move much more quickly and easily and we can make things more accessible than they are at the moment. Is there anything specific that you're hoping for, or is it generally just better access for a wider group of people? Well, one of the thing were the archives that we've got is, I suppose, more than anything, it's a business archive and you know, things have been kept in the past because they were useful to the end, not because they were historically interesting. So what we've got are masses and masses of accounting records and huge quantities of documents to do with leases of chambers and provision of meals in all. What we haven't got very much of at all is correspondence with the members, which of course, is what people want. They want, you know, the papers are fairly and some correspondence with lawyers and with, you know, famous tenants of whom we have a vast number, although most of them are buried in the paperwork. I had lost my thread entirely. So what we really want is to be able to get out that sort of stuff more easily so that we know we can. Work out much better what information we do have, rather than just concentrating on these poor records which give you some information, but not very much so with the admissions, for example, which are one of our main series of records in the admission of people as members of the. And we we have the core records of admission, but there are lots of other papers surrounding the admissions which may well and other bits of information, and we're not bringing those in at all at the moment. So, you know, I hope we can expand that. So what is your favorite item just for yourself? Not necessarily your sort of show stopping thing, but what appeals to you personally? Well, because where, as I say, was because of the way the archive is developed and, you know, we've got very little. Correspondents or. Further information on members, because the basic details provide that mission. What I find most interesting is where you come across something either sort of an unusually detailed entry in the minutes or, you know, sort of a piece of paper. That's been, you know, turns up with the leases where you've actually got more personal details about people, so sometimes the minutes contain transcripts of people's petitions or disciplinary proceedings where you suddenly get a lot more personal background than you normally do. And I think those are my favorite things simply because they're they're quite unusual for us. You know, usually it's just a brief entry of, you know, sort of when when people joins who their father was, what university they went to and what their address is. And that's really all we have. And sometimes with the disciplinary is you get a whole background. And that's fascinating. The other thing I particularly like is not the archives at all. In fact, I say I've got a role in connection with the pictures, which are which. We've got about 120 now and they're very interesting. But more so even that is the stained glass. We've got an amazing collection of stained glass, mostly in the Great Hall. And you'd think the stained glass would be straightforward and the arms supposedly of distinguished members. And to a large extent they are. But I think when you look into it, there are several of them. They're not distinguished at all. And some of them aren't even members, and you do wonder why, why and how they came to be there. So there's an awful lot of work and interest to be done on that. And also, although we've got these 120 portraits, most of them are not particularly old because very few images of any sort at all of the end, nor of the members. But often, if someone is looking for an illustration for a book, we can come up with the arms in a stained glass window, which are not the same at the portrait, but there a great deal better than nothing. So that's why I think they're also the most decorative thing we have, which is so it makes a change from working with and treating the ledger. So I think I think probably the stained glass is my favorite of all of them. Are they still in situ or have you remained in the end was destroyed in the war? I expect, you know, and rebuilt afterwards, but they fortunately in the second war, they learned from the first war where they had some very narrow escapes and did almost lose all the glass and they'd send it all to storage and most of the pictures as well before the end was destroyed. So, you know, although the buildings knew the glass and the pictures are mostly of the originals. So yes, it is, it is still in situ. Oh, wonderful. Thank you, Andrew, for talking to me today about the wealth of material you have from such an old institution, and I wish you all the best for this expansion of space. I'm sure it's a long time coming and I'm sure you'll make the most of it too. I hope that Cooper doesn't set you back too much. But, you know, I'm sure it will still be a success. Well, I certainly hope so. Thank you very much. Thank you, A.J..