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From 15th Century manuscript to 21st Century webpage

The Black Books

The Inn’s Archive extends back to the grant of some of the site of the present-day Lincoln’s Inn to Ralph Neville, Bishop of Chichester in 1228.  The records of the Inn’s business (the ‘Black Books’) run continuously from 1422, although there is a short entry from 1419.

The Black Books were published in print from the 1890s, with further volumes added in more recent times.  The period 1422 – 1965 is covered in these volumes, which are themselves online via

These printed volumes did not, however, transcribe everything in the Black Books.  The Black Books have been microfilmed on a number of occasions, but for various reasons the results were unsatisfactory – to the point of being a major fire risk as far as the first microfilm version was concerned.

This project is effectively the first time that the volumes covering the period 1422 – 1691 have been published in their entirety.

Other Archive material

  • Membership records

For the Inn’s early years, the Black Books are the principal sources of information – including membership information.

From 1574 onwards, the Inn maintained a separate series of Admissions Registers, recording each new member of the Inn.  These were published in print and are also available via   As with the Black Books, the published versions were not complete and omitted information such as the names of the members who were required to guarantee that the new member would pay his dues to the Inn.   As we develop the Inn’s Digital Collections we will be adding digital versions of these registers.

  • Architectural drawings

We are fortunate to possess the architect’s drawings for the Great Hall and Library complex, completed in 1845 to the designs of Philip Hardwick and are mid-way through an exciting project to conserve and digitise these.

The Library’s collection of manuscripts

The Inn has a considerable collection of manuscripts with examples dating back to the 13th century.  The collection is mainly, but not exclusively, made up of legal manuscripts.   Many of these are principally of interest to legal historians, but a number are of wider interest.

The example included for this first release of digital manuscripts is one of the collection of manuscripts donated by Matthew Hale – a cartulary of Battle Abbey in Sussex.  Further manuscripts will be added to the Digital Collections in due course.

What we do

The process of creating a digitised version of a manuscript is more complicated than it seems and is far more that simply photographing the pages and transferring the images to a website in the correct order.

Click here to see how we digitised the Black Books.

Strange to see how a good dinner and feasting reconciles everybody.
Samuel Pepys
'Diary' 9, November 1665

Nemo enim ipsam voluptatem, quia voluptas sit, aspernatur aut odit aut fugit, sed quia consequuntur magni dolores eos, qui ratione voluptatem sequi nesciunt, neque porro quisquam.
Black books, Volume 1
October 1845

The world is apt to judge of everything by the success; and whoever has ill fortune will hardly be allowed a good name.
William Dampier
Date unknown

Further information

More information about Lincoln’s Inn library can be found at