The Honourable Society of Gray's Inn, commonly known as Gray's Inn, is one of the four Inns of Court in London. Located at the intersection of High Holborn and Gray's Inn Road, Gray's Inn is both a professional body and a provider of office accommodation (chambers) for many barristers. It is ruled by a governing council called "Pension", made up of the Masters of the Bench (or "Benchers"), and led by the Treasurer, who is elected to serve a one-year term.
The records of Gray's Inn do not commence until 1569. Gray's Inn dates from at least 1370, and takes its name from Baron Grey of Wilton, as Gray's Inn was originally Wilton's family home (or inn), the Manor of Portpoole. Outside records from 1437 show that Gray's Inn was occupied by socii, or members of a society at that date.
In 1506 the Inn was sold by the Gray family and in turn ownership of Gray's Inn was passed to the Crown. During the reign of Elizabeth I, Gray's Inn rose in prominence, and that period is considered the "golden age" of the Inn, with Elizabeth serving as the Patron Lady. During this period, the Inn became noted for the masques and William Shakespeare performed at the Inn at least once, as his patron, Lord Southampton, was a member.
During the Second World War, the Inn was badly damaged during the Blitz in 1941, with the Hall, the Chapel, the Library and many other buildings hit and almost destroyed. The rebuilding of much of the Inn took until 1960. In 2008 Gray's Inn became the first Inn to appoint "fellows" - elected businesspeople, legal academics and others - with the intent of giving them a wider perspective and education than the other Inns would offer.
A Bencher, Benchsitter or (formally) Master of the Bench, is a member of Pension, the governing body of the Honourable Society of Gray's Inn. The position of Bencher developed during the 16th century when the Readers, for unknown reasons, decided that some barristers who were not Readers should be afforded the same rights and privileges as those who were, although without a voice in Pension.