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Thursday, 12 March 2015

Middle Temple

Paschal lamb, agnus Dei, lamb of God, Middle Temple, Knights Templar, Lamb and Flag

Some years ago, I was fortunate to be invited to do some work for the Honourable Society of the Middle Temple in London; the days I spent there were almost like being in a time capsule.  All around were ghostly whispers from our past, of crusader knights, Magna Carta, the Wars of the Roses, the exploration of the New World, Shakespeare, the divisions of Civil War, the founding of the United States of America and the destruction of the Second World War.

Two knights sharing a horse, Knights Templar, milennium 2000, Temple Church

An ancient thoroughfare, Middle Temple Lane, runs between Fleet Street and the Embankment.  The area either side of it is known as Temple, named for the medieval order of soldier monks, the Knights Templar, whose London Headquarters was on this spot.  They built their round church here, which is still very much in use and which was consecrated by Heraclius, the Patriarch of Jerusalem, in 1185.  After the Knights Templar were disgraced, and then officially suppressed by Pope Clement in 1312, the lands passed into the hands of their rivals, the Knights of St John of Jerusalem, or ‘Hospitallers’.  From sometime in the 14th century, at least, the area became popular with the legal profession.  And it still is: this gated community is home to two of the four Inns of Court, which between them have sole responsibility in England and Wales for admitting law students as barristers.

Lincoln’s Inn and Gray’s Inn are located to the north of Fleet Street, beyond the Royal Courts of Justice.  Sharing the Temple site with no visible barrier between them are the Middle and Inner Temples – the latter largely on the east side of Middle Temple Lane and the former along Middle Temple Lane and to the west of it.

Middle Temple, Cloisters, Pump Court, World War Two, bombing

The whole place is an oasis of tranquillity, of elegant squares, barristers’ chambers and neat, fragrant, gardens.  Quoting from my grandfather’s dog-eared Victorian edition of Barnaby Rudge,

“There are, still, worse places than the Temple, on a sultry day, for basking in the sun, or resting idly in the shade.  There is yet a drowsiness in its courts, and a dreamy dullness in its trees and gardens; those who pace its lanes and squares may yet hear the echoes of their footsteps on the sounding stones, and read upon its gates, in passing from the tumult of the Strand or Fleet Street, ‘Who enters here leaves noise behind.’ ”

Interior, Plowden Building, Middle Temple Lane, London

The societies of the Inner and Middle Temples were established by the 14th century, as tenants of the Hospitallers.  The landlord changed in 1540, when the land was seized by Henry VIII at the Reformation, but a grant of letters patent in 1608 by James I gave the security of freehold in perpetuity to both societies, who voluntarily partitioned the land between themselves in 1732.  It was a particular stipulation of the letters patent that the land had to be used for the accommodation and education of lawyers.  A further condition was that the societies shared responsibility for maintaining the Temple Church.  At the same time, James preserved certain privileges that the societies had inherited from the Knights Templar, which exempted them from the control of external authorities, civil or ecclesiastical.  Those privileges more or less continue to this day, which means that the Inner and Middle Temples are their own local authorities and do not come within the jurisdiction of the Corporation of London.  Perhaps that’s one reason why Middle Temple Lane is still lit by gas lamps – though the last lamplighter, Mr Balman, retired some years ago (“he made the night a little brighter” etc).  Anyway, the letters patent were confirmed by Queen Elizabeth II in 2008, in a ceremony to mark their 400th anniversary.

Middle Temple Hall, double hammer beam roof, Tudor, Elizabethan, Plowden

By Tudor times, studying at the Inns of Court had become an alternative to Oxford or Cambridge, offering an excellent general education as well as grounding in the Law, but with the advantages of more freedom than at the universities and the additional lure of proximity to the Royal Court.  In fact, the vast majority of members did not pursue a career in the Law – though many went on to achieve success in other fields.  The focal point of Middle Temple was the Hall, inherited from the old knights, where students and barristers ate together (“kept commons”), took part in debates and legal exercises, and which was also used for – sometimes riotous – entertainment.   However, the growth in numbers and the poor state of the old knights’ hall necessitated a replacement.

Middle Temple Hall, Bench Table, Queen Elizabeth I, Windsor oak

They started building the new Middle Temple Hall in 1562 and finished it in 1573.  It is 100 feet long, 40 feet wide, spanned by a double hammer-beam roof and, quite frankly, one of the best examples of an Elizabethan hall you will ever see.  At the far end from the entrance is the High, or Bench, Table made from three 29 feet long planks of a single oak from Windsor Park, allegedly a gift from Queen Elizabeth I, floated down the Thames and manhandled in through a window before the building was finished.  Above this are portraits of monarchs, including Queen Elizabeth I, Charles I, Charles II and James II.  In the windows are memorials to notable members, including Sir Walter Raleigh.  Adorning the panelled walls are members' coats of arms, which date from 1597.  A table, known as the cupboard, stands by the Bench Table; it is used by members when they are called to the Bar (to become barristers) and is allegedly made from a hatch cover from Francis Drake’s ship, the Golden Hind.  Drake visited the Hall, and dined at the Bench Table – as did, allegedly, Queen Elizabeth herself.  Indeed, the great and the good continue to dine in the Hall to this day; of course, I have had lunch there.  In the entrance to the Hall is a heavily restored poop deck lantern from the Golden Hind – it was virtually destroyed by bombing during the Second World War.  Badly damaged in the same air raid is a beautifully carved screen by the entrance, made in 1574.

Golden Hind, Francis Drake, poop deck lantern, Middle Temple

The first production of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night was performed in Middle Temple Hall in 1602.  Its 400th anniversary was celebrated in the Hall in 2002 with a repeat performance by an all-male cast, in Tudor style, in which a young Eddie Redmayne made his professional debut as Viola and Mark Rylance played the part of Olivia.

Middle Temple Gardens, Wars of the Roses

Shakespeare’s connection with Middle Temple does not end there.  It was in the Temple Garden, in Henry VI Part I, that Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York, plucked a white rose and the Earl of Somerset plucked a red for the Lancastrians.  This marked the start of the terrible English dynastic power struggle, the Wars of the Roses, that were fought for more than 30 years between 1455 and 1487.  We don’t know for sure that the rose plucking event actually took place, but the white and red roses are still the emblems of Yorkshire and Lancashire (though the rivalry is a little better humoured now).  Shakespeare also penned the line, in Henry VI Part II, “The first thing we do let’s kill all the lawyers”.  There are alternative interpretations of what he meant by that.

Prince's Room, bench apartments, Middle Temple, Smoking Room

Sir Walter Raleigh was just one of many Middle Templar explorers and adventurers; others included Sir Martin Frobisher and Sir John Hawkins.  Member Bartholomew Gosnold sailed for New England in 1602 and named Cape Cod and Martha’s Vineyard.  In 1606, he was captain of one of the three ships that sailed from London and founded the first permanent settlement in North America at Jamestown.  This expedition was made by the Virginia Company – supported by several notable members of the Middle Temple.

In the Middle Temple library are the Molyneux Globes, a unique pair of terrestrial and celestial globes made in Lambeth by Emery Molyneux in 1592.  They are the only known pair of such globes in the world and the terrestrial one was the most geographically correct when it was made.  Naturally, some bits are missing – including Australia and New Zealand, which had not been invented (or ‘discovered’) at the time.

Molyneux Globe, Middle Temple

In the 17th century, tensions between Parliament and the King were reflected in the differing views of Middle Templars: John Pym, MP and an early vocal critic of Charles I, Edward Montagu, Earl of Manchester and a commander in the Parliamentary army, and Edward Hyde, Earl of Clarendon, one of the king’s commissioners, were all members of the Inn.  By and large, London was pro-Parliament; it must have been a difficult place for anyone with Royalist sympathies.

The connections with North America continue beyond exploration and settlement.  Several members of Middle Temple were American revolutionaries: five were signatories to the Declaration of Independence - Thomas Heyward, Thomas Lynch, Thomas McKean, Arthur Middleton and Edward Rutledge; seven were signatories to the Constitution of the newly formed United States - John Blair, Charles Cotesworth Pinkney, John Dickinson, Jared Ingersoll, William Livingston, Charles Pinkney and John Rutledge.  The latter was chairman of the drafting committee and John Dickinson apparently coined the phrase, “No taxation without representation.”  Quite right too.

Fountain Court, Middle Temple, mulberry trees, London

I’m concerned that I might send my reader to sleep if I bang on too much more about the Middle Temple’s history and its connection with the story of this small island of ours.  But I should mention the Second World War, when the garden was turned over to the cultivation of vegetables and the Temple area suffered its share of devastation courtesy of Göring’s Luftwaffe.  Particular raids: on 15th October 1940 resulted in extensive damage to Middle Temple Hall, blowing a hole in the east end and shattering the Tudor screen into hundreds of pieces; on 12th December a landmine caused a 40 foot crater next to the library, which subsequently had to be pulled down; on 25th March 1941, the Hall was narrowly saved from destruction by incendiaries; on 10th May, the area east of Middle Temple Lane was pretty much devastated.  Amazingly, Temple Church was saved – though it was badly hit.

There was extensive rebuilding after the war.  So visiting Temple now involves a trip through architecture from medieval to modern.  Many of the buildings are listed.  Stepping through the 17th century Great Gate off Fleet Street into Middle Temple Lane, you’ll immediately see 17th and 18th century buildings, some of which were once shops.  Wander down, dipping into and out of the various courtyards (don’t miss Temple Church), looking at the names on the barristers’ chambers and delightful architectural fripperies as you go.

Temple Gardens, Victorian, Embankment, Middle Temple Lane

I particularly like Fountain Court, just outside the Hall, where there has been “the plash of falling water,” as Dickens puts it, since 1681.  Dickens seems to have known Temple well.  It is claimed that the fountain was the first permanent one in London.  Next to it are two black mulberry trees, planted to commemorate Queen Victoria’s jubilee in 1887; those in the know idly pick the fruits in late summer.  There’s a beautiful wisteria nearby.

At the end of Middle Temple Lane is an archway leading through Temple Gardens, a wedding cake-like Victorian building, onto Embankment.  The Knights Templar had direct access onto the Thames, but this was interrupted when the Embankment was built in the 1860s, simultaneously helping to solve London’s sewage crisis, providing routes for the District and Circle underground lines, relieving traffic along Fleet Street and the Strand, as well as reducing the width of the river and deepening it.  It also enlarged Temple Gardens and the two Inns still have right of access to the Thames via their own private set of granite steps.


It is hardly surprising that Middle Temple is a favourite location for film and TV.  Amongst others, it has featured in the Da Vinci Code, Bridget Jones II, Shakespeare in Love, Elizabeth and Pirates of the Caribbean.

Long after I had completed my work for the Middle Temple, the man I worked for, an unfailingly courteous and erudite gentleman, generously gave my wife and me a guided tour.  I hope my brief essay does justice to his kindness, and the place itself.  Next time I’m there, I’ll take the photographs I should have taken last time!


Laburnum, Middle Temple Gardens, fuchia, London

You should note that there is no public right of way through the Temple, though there is public access and no one will challenge the well-behaved pedestrian.  But, external gates are locked at night, over weekends and on public holidays.  You might get access via Tudor Street at these times.  Bear in mind this is a working area.  You are not allowed into buildings – including Middle Temple Hall - unless you are a member, have been invited or are part of a tour.  See the Middle Temple’s website for information.

48 comments:

  1. That is a place | have heard of and walked past along the Thames. You have opened up another little world for us

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  2. That is an awe inspiring place. I would feel privileged if one day I could walk it's halls, drink in all the history and admire the beautiful craftsmanship.

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  3. I read every word in rapt attention. You didn't have to worry about boring me. Enjoyed this discourse and education very much. Kudos to you for sharing your knowledge. And yes, I hope you get back, with your camera, this time :) Cheers to you

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  4. I always enjoy every last detail you share with us. I learn so much along your journey and I'm taking notes in my thoughts about many of your visits just in case I ever get in the neighborhood. Your photos are also very incredible.

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  5. incredibly grand with much history and lore. glad it survived war damage!

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  6. In all the many times I've been to London, I have never been here and reading your account I want to visit very much. It will be on my list for my next trip yet to be planned. So much history in one small area! I know this may sound silly but, when I'm in London I feel like I belong there or that I have lived there in maybe another life. I love just soaking in the atmosphere and this looks like a wonderful place to do just that.

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  7. Just goes to show how much an average tourist misses in London. So much to see in this amazing city...

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  8. So much rich history here. I have heard of it many times, and I'd love to step inside these halls and courtyards. Beautiful shots!

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  9. In your fifth picture I recognize the large portrait of Charles I by Van Dyke, the same painting that figures so prominently in Downton Abbey. There must be many copies of this painting in Great Britain. I believe the original is in Windsor Castle.

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    1. I think Van Dyke was a great artist, but was better before he tried the atrocious accent in Mary Poppins. As for copies of the great masters, there must be an enormous photocopier somewhere.

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  10. I don't think I've heard of this part of London before. Very interesting and what a history. Thank you for sharing your knowledge of it and your photos.

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  11. Great pictures and a LOT of information - frankly, I quick-scrolled through just now because I have only come in from work 10 minutes ago and can't digest it all before I haven't had something to eat. Will definitely be back to read it properly.

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  12. Wow - thanks for this tour! Love that double hammerbeam ceiling.

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  13. A great post. The only thing I wish you could of added was a link to a map of the area so I also see it geographically as I have never been to England, but love reading about it. It's at the top of my visit list.

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    1. Thank you! Locations are shown wherever possible on A Bit About Britain posts. See 'location' at the end and click the address - it should take you to a Google map.

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  14. What an amazing place - I'd never before considered a look around this bit of British history. By the way, Yorkshire v Lancashire rivalry is not very much more good-humoured than it used to be, over here in Yorkshire at least. I'm glad I'm a civilised Maid of Kent!

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  15. So full of history. America is so young in comparison.

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  16. Places like Middle Temple show a shared heritage, to a point?

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    1. And America has its own history beyond that.

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  17. You did well to get a guided tour and get to go inside. Fascinating place. We once took our lunch & sat in Temple Gardens which was lovely. Had trouble leaving though as we tried to leave via the river. There's only one way in & out. Staying in the area. Have you been to Two Temple Place while it's open to the public?

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    1. I used to walk past 2 Temple Place often, because I did a lot of work with BAT in their nearby HQ. I didn't know it was open to the public - thanks for the tip!!

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  18. A truly fascinating and interesting post! Thank you so much for taking us along Mike. I really learned a lot that I had no idea about! I hope that you have a great weekend!

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  19. wow, how fortunate you are to have visited! what an amazing place!!

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  20. I would looooove to walk through the 17th century Great Gate off Fleet Street into Middle Temple Lane Mike, I really would but I feel so privileged to have taken this pictorial trip with you. What an amazing history, thank goodness the Middle Temple survived, would have been tragic to have lost it altogether. Although the Molyneux Globes are minus Australia they are still totally fascinating, 1592, over 400 yrs old.. we weren't even a glint in 'old blighty's eye' back then :)
    p.s. enjoyed previous post about Fox's Pulpit, but please don't ever refer to yourself as like Jeremy Clarkson again :)

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    1. Well, your ancestors were glinting in someone's eye I'm sure. As for Mr Clarkson - aren't we all related?! :-)

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  21. I greatly admire your scholarship and attention to detail when relaying this fantastic history of ours.
    There is a Court House with a wonderful gatehouse here in the Cotswolds at Quenington which belonged to the preceptory of Knights Hospitaller who owned the site some 600 years ago, along with a dovecote dating back to the same period.
    You have once again reminded me of a place that I must try and visit again.

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    1. Thank you Rosemary - that's very flattering.

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  22. A beautiful and interesting post Mike. It's all new to me. Your words and the photo's of the temple hall, church and library make me want to go to London and see it for myself. I guess it's not open for the public though.....

    Have a good weekend!

    Madelief

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    1. It is open, Madelief - you need to book a tour. See their website.

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  23. Oh my goodness what a place, I would love to be able to visit there, I just have to convince Tim he isn't so keen on such a trip

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  24. Wow, what an amazing place, Mike! Thank you so much for sharing.

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  25. An amazing place : it was very interesting to read all the history linked to it. I liked the rose story, be it true or false!

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  26. I love wandering around Temple and now I know a lot more about the place. Thanks.

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  27. You do find some intriguing places to blog about!!

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  28. awesome history!~ just the facts about the knights has gotten my imagination going

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  29. Having had no sleep for 30 hours, we mostly zombied our way through Middle Temple, taking photos. Now that we've read this post, we can look through our photos and learn better what it is we were looking at. That sounds terrible, but it's the nature of jetlag. Still, it was a fairly warm and sunny day, perfect for enjoying the city and the river. The history and architecture are phenomenal. Thank you for the post!

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  30. An amazing place. Thanks for the tour. I especially like the Molyneux Globes. I collect Globes. I hope to visit England one day. My Ancestors, "Day" came from the Isle of Wight. They were shipbuilders.

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  31. oh wow, thank you for this amazing piece of history Mike, you have inspired me to visit.

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  32. This place was on my list of places to visit when I was in London last year but unfortunately it was closed on the days I was there...

    So thank you for the interesting virtual visit :-)

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  33. That is an excellent historical account, Mike.
    I had heard "bits and pieces" about this Inner Sanctum of the legal eagles.
    Unfortunately my one and only visit to old London Town was rained out.
    One big tour in a red bus - all I saw was the windscreen wipers and listening
    to a excellent commentary but seeing NOTHING! ( I might add it was when Wimbleton was
    on and an Ashes series!!!) - bad luck with the sporting events - thank God, the powers-to-be
    of the All England Club have at last put roofs over the centre court and Court 1.
    However, I did get to see three top plays in the West End - in 10 days I was an expert on
    tube travellling - ha ha.
    As for jet lag - well organise better. Brisbane to Los Angeles - 13 hours 5 minutes! ????
    So if off to New York (JFK) - stopover - costs no more really and refresh at an airport hotel - plenty
    of them to choose from and then onto New York next day.
    Same with flying to Europe from Australia - longer to London or eg: Frankfurt / Paris etc. Stopover
    in Bangkok or now Dubai. Simple really - so this jet lag is now plain figments of imaginations or plain stupidity.
    Interesting to note that you mention the names on the Declaration of US Independence. I wonder how many
    Americans (Yanks) know that??????
    Great documentary on the Middle Temple. Thanks.
    Colin ( Brisbane- Australia)

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  34. I like your blog, I will stay for a while.
    Greetings.

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  35. With all the connections to the US, I must say that I am not related to any of those men but I do have many roots to England and Wales. I enjoy your blog and photos.

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  36. Inspired by your brilliant post I have just booked a trip to Middle Temple :-)

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  37. I like the INns of Court - and also surrounding streets. Lovely to see some interior shots; thank you. I was there the other week at Two Temple Place.

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Hi - thanks for dropping into A Bit About Britain. New material is now being posted to www.bitaboutbritain.com 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.