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Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Temple Bar

Temple Bar Gate, Paternoster Square, visit London
Mention the Temple Bar and my thoughts inevitably turn to a pub.  It was close by East Lane (or East Street) market in London’s Walworth Road, where far too many pints of Bass IPA were sunk after work, often whilst playing endless games of space invaders.  Who said men can’t multi-task?  Sadly, the pub’s closed now, as is Carter Place Police Station, which used to sit conveniently - and reassuringly - next door.  But the market, where it was rumoured you could buy anything if you had the right cash, is still going strong.

None of which is anything whatsoever to do with the Temple Bar that you’ll now find between St Paul’s Cathedral and Paternoster Square.  In fact, this construction is Temple Bar Gate.  Temple Bar is the point where Fleet Street turns into the Strand (or vice versa) and marks the boundary between the City of London and the City of Westminster (and vice versa).  The name comes from the Temple Church, built by the Knights Templar, situated a few feet to the south.  The bar was erected – probably in the form of a chain between posts – in the middle ages to help regulate trade; it was never a defensive barrier, or part of the City walls.  By Tudor times, at least, Temple Bar had become a gated wooden house, possibly used as a prison, and the background to many historical scenes and processions.  Even now, on some state occasions the monarch waits at Temple Bar for permission from the Lord Mayor to enter the City – a piece of ritual that dates back to the celebration of the defeat of the Spanish Armada during the reign of Elizabeth I in 1588.

Temple Bar, dragon, Fleet Street, the Strand, London monuments.
Temple Bar Gate survived the Great Fire of 1666, but Charles II wanted it replaced and a new one, (probably) designed by Sir Christopher Wren and built of Portland stone, was built.  In place by 1672, it cost £1,500.  A grand central arch was flanked by two pedestrian gateways, with statues of Charles II and his executed father, Charles I, set into niches on the eastern entrance and statues of James I and Elizabeth I (some say it is James’ wife, Anne of Denmark) on the west, leaving the City.  As its predecessor had been, the new Temple Bar Gate was a showcase for the heads of traitors, mounted and displayed from the roof; the last such gruesome use was in 1746, following the Stuart rebellion of the previous year.

In 1878, it was decided to widen the road.  But instead of demolishing Temple Bar Gate, the enlightened folk at the Corporation of London had it dismantled, stone by stone (about 2,700 of them); each stone was numbered and carefully stored.  This seems to be a remarkable decision for the time; it must also have been quite unusual.

Where is Temple Bar, City of London boundary
Lady Meux, reputedly one-time banjo-player and barmaid (though definitely not in Walworth Road – I’d have remembered), persuaded her husband, Sir Henry Meux, a wealthy brewer, to purchase the dismantled Temple Bar Gate in 1887 and rebuild it at their pile, Theobalds Park, in Hertfordshire.  Henry died in 1900, but Lady Meux – Valerie – used to entertain in it; allegedly.  She died in 1910, the family sold the estate in 1929 and the once-proud Temple Bar Gate gradually deteriorated.  A report of 1981 in ‘History Today’ talks of its collapsed roof, broken windows and walls daubed in graffiti.  However, there is a happy ending – kind of.  A Trust was set up in the 1970s with the aim of returning the structure to the City of London and, in 2004, the restored and rebuilt Temple Bar Gate was officially opened in its new position, where you can see it, and walk through it, today.  It cost just over £3 million.  I gather you can rent out the room over the top for dinner parties.


  1. Love the history behind this one and will go along soon to have a look at it in the 'flesh'. What a great place to have a dinner party! So glad it has been restored too. London... sigh! Will soon be back there for another visit.

  2. I remember seeing it in the paper back then. I'd say that was money well spent to keep that piece of history.

  3. glad it was saved, rebuilt and now refurbished again. but still not a pint to be found. ;)

  4. What a great story! And a good ending.

  5. I am enjoying exploring your blog. Thanks for finding mine. It does seem that we are doing a similar thing, each in our own idiosyncratic way, I'll put a link on my side panel too as I'm sure my readers - many of whom are based in the USA - would also find much to interest them. Take care, John.

  6. A fascinating read, Mike!
    «Louis» enjoys these bits of history.

  7. By the way, the buildings on the island in the background of the image «Louis» posted were once used to process legal immigrants arriving on the West Coast much as Ellis Island in New York received immigrants on the East Coast. Most of the immigrants arriving on Angel Island were (naturally) from Asia - and most of them from China.

  8. I assumed the Temple Church would figure into it. That arch is lovely!


Hi - thanks for dropping into A Bit About Britain. New material is now being posted to and most of the material here will gradually be updated and moved over to that new site. Please drop in there, click on the blog page, and take a look round. TTFN - Mike.