Shardlake – A Step by Step Guide

Shardlake – A Step by Step Guide

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Jill Finch believes C J Sansom’s Shardlake’s books are the ideal books for City of London guides. Find out for yourself on her walks for Literary Footprints.

jill finch shardlake london

A friend started to read the Shardlake series of books by C J Sansom after coming on a tryout for my walk ‘Shardlake’s London’

His comment after the third was ‘Did he write these for City Guides to do walks?’

It sometimes feels like that.

Sansom’s series of novels feature Matthew Shardlake, lawyer and reluctant detective ‘hero’ of the 6 books, and his ‘sidekick’ Jack Barak.

Like many a cop show or detective story, we have the ‘buddies’ who are total opposites. They are ‘outsiders’ – the introverted, intellectual lawyer who has absolutely no luck with women and the swaggering, streetwise young man who attracts women like flies. A third recurring character is Guy of Malton, another outsider, a Spanish Moor. He studied medicine in France and practiced as a doctor but can’t do this when he first comes to London although Matthew manages to get him admitted to the Apothecaries Guild.

Although it’s sometimes difficult to superimpose the 16th Century City over our 21st Century streets it’s surprising how much is still around to illustrate the books as we walk.

shardlake jill2

Staple Inn on Holborn is a beautifully restored Tudor facade, one of very few left in the Square Mile, and once you start walking through Lincoln’s Inn it’s quite easier to imagine black cloaked lawyers moving purposefully from Chambers to Great Hall, from Chapel to Library as they go about their business.

Lawyers moved out to the hamlet of Holborn in the 13th Century after Henry III decided he didn’t want them inside the City walls and the Pope decreed that the clergy could no longer teach common law.

From these two decisions came the Inns of Chancery and the Inns of Court.

The Inns of Chancery were like Prep Schools – training young men for the next step in a legal career. They are gone now as students study law at university but their names live on the streets – Thavies Inn, Barnards Inn, Furnival Inn, Cliffords Inn and of course Staple Inn which has housed the Actuaries since the late 19th Century.

But Sansom didn’t stop there. He moves his characters around the City Streets; Fleet Street, Old Bailey, Smithfield, Cheapside, Walbrook – these are all still here and with a little imagination we can take ourselves back to the teeming City of Henry VIII when you needed to watch your words and watch your back.

If you’d like to follow in Matthew’s and Jack’s footsteps, join my Shardlake’s London walk on 20th October. 11am start outside Staple Inn, nearest tube Chancery Lane on the Central Line.

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