Site Unseen: Inner and Middle Temple

Every month CabbieBlog hopes to show you a little gem of a building that you might have passed without noticing, in the past, they have ranged from a modernist car park; a penguin pool; to a Hanoverian gatehouse.

Open to the public during daylight hours the Inner and Middle Temples have a rather private appearance which probably put off many curious visitors.

[F]ROM THE ROYAL COURTS OF JUSTICE cross to the south side of the Strand – the George public house is here. Continue in an easterly direction and the gateway [featured image] to Middle Temple Lane is about 130 yards on the right (opposite Bell Yard).

Most people – even those with only a vague knowledge of London – have heard of the Temple; many, at some point, have taken a bus past its great Fleet Street gateways, but few have ventured beyond its outer bounds, and even less have an elementary insight into its history.

For the absolute beginnings which led to the creation of the Temple here in London, we must look back in time to the early 12th century and those far-off lands of Israel. Like many of the foundations which have their roots buried in religious convictions, the establishment of the Temple can be traced to the dedication of a single person – in this case, Frenchman, Hugh de Paganis. Charged with determination while on a visit to the Holy Land, he and eight admirers set themselves the ungrudging task of protecting pilgrims who thronged the roads en route to the holy shrine. In 1118 the nine were recognised by the King of Jerusalem for their outstanding services and installed as regular canons of the Temple of Mount Moriah, and took the vows of charity, chastity and obedience. Their distinguishing white habit with a red cross won the approval of the Pope and gave rise to their popular name of the Red Cross Knights.

Middle Temple Lane

In about 1128 Paganis returned to his native France and was received in Paris, amid pomp and ceremony, by Louis VII who presented him with a generous parcel of land for the purpose of building a temple. From Paris, he crossed to England where Henry I endowed him with further widely scattered plots, financial assistance, untold treasures, manor houses and churches.

The establishment of the Knights Templars, as they had come to be known, took place in about 1130 when they settle on a piece of land in Holborn – between Chancery Lane and Southampton Buildings – where they built a church with a round nave, in the style of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. Later in the century when the Templars acquired a site on the northern banks of the Thames, this church subsequently became known as the ‘Old Temple’. By 1185, the Round of the ‘New Temple’ was ready for consecration, and the ceremony was performed in the presence of Henry II by Heraclius, Patriarch of Jerusalem, who was on a visit to England attending to business with the King.

Temple Church

Being holders of great wealth the Templars served as bankers to kings of all lands and anyone of extensive financial means who wished to take advantage of the security offered by their strongholdings. These dealings aroused vicious envy among the authorities and in 1308 Edward II, being filled with jealousy, ordered the City bailiffs to take strong men and seize the Templars treasures, cast out the Knights, and to issue punishment by any means they thought fit. The king of France was so infuriated that he petitioned the Pope to close the Order down – a move which came to fruition in 1312. It was proposed by the Council of Vienne that all the possessions of the Knights Templars should be granted to their opponents – the Order of St John of Jerusalem – but in effect they secured very little; over two thirds of the estate was taken by the King who apportioned it out to those who happened to be in his favour at the time. That portion which lay outside the City was disposed of by granting it to Walter de Stapleton, Bishop of Exeter, and became known as Exeter Inn; later it passed through the hands of Lord Paget, the Duke of Norfolk and the Earl of Lancaster, until it was landed by Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex. The remainder stayed within the control of the Crown and leased off to favourites until the Hospitallers (Order of St John) complained that consecrated ground was being ill-used by various laypersons. This brought about an enquiry which resulted in the Hospitallers being granted the consecrated ground, whilst the unconsecrated was retained by the Crown. In this move, we find the origin of the division between Inner and Middle Temple – Inner, the consecrated; Middle, the unconsecrated. Upon expiry of a property lease in 1343 the Knights Hospitallers gained possession of what they had always thought was their rightful property – the unconsecrated portion.

It seems that the lawyers first obtained a footing in the Temple in 1320 as tenants of the Earl of Lancaster, although it was not until 1346 that a large scale influx was seen when the Knights Hospitallers leased their newly acquired asset to ‘certain lawyers’ in two separate allocations at ten pounds per year. The Hospitallers held control of the Temple, with the lawyers of the two societies – Inner and Middle – as tenants until 1540 when Henry VIII dissolved the Order and seized its property. From this time the lawyers continued as tenants of the Crown, until 1608 when James I reconsidered the unprofitable lease and made plans to sell the Temple. Upon learning this news the lawyers took steps to stop the action by bribing James with priceless treasures so that he had no option but to grant them a new deal which included extra property – all at the same rent as before. Total rights and ownership did not come the lawyer’s way until Charles II decided to rid himself of the responsibility in the mid-17th century.

Middle Temple

With the two societies of Inner and Middle Temple securely established mid-way between the cities of London and Westminster, the lawyers became a prominent element in the life of the citizens of both. The Temple quickly developed into a fashionable place of learning, not only in the study of legal intricacies but as a college of general education. At a time when the students of Oxford and Cambridge were largely made up of sons of the gentry, the Temple offered grooming for these up-and-coming gentlemen, instructing them in charm and graces fitting of a noble society.

As a legal institution, the Temple was modelled in the likeness of the trade fraternities, or livery companies, with the Master at its head. The controlling body, known as Benchers drew their members from the Outer Bar as and when they desired to add to their numbers – which incidentally had no limit. Many of the old customs and ceremonies are still adhered to in modern times; the orders of the Masters of the Bench are the terms under which every member of both societies must abide; by them, members are ‘called to the Bar’. However, before they can be admitted they are required to ‘keep terms’, an ancient custom of dining in the hall for a stipulated number of days in each term, after which they are entitled to plead on behalf of the public in the law courts of England and Wales. Student, of course, is completely at will to follow their legal studies wherever they choose, but all who desire to enter the profession of barristers must succumb to examination and ritual within one of the inns of court. Thereafter they are admitted to the Outer Bar, wearing gowns of ‘stuff’ until such time as they are elected Queen’s Councillors when they ‘take silk’ – don gowns of silk.

Temple Gardens

Through the ages, the Temple has suffered a sequence of setbacks, but none has hit it quite so severely as that curse of old London – fire. Late in the afternoon of Tuesday 4th September 1666, the Great Fire had feasted its flames on Ludgate Hill and was advancing with tremendous vigour along Fleet Street. As dusk fell, St Bride’s church was completely engulfed and in minutes transformed into a burnt out shell. Next, the mighty furnace swallowed Dorset House in Salisbury Square, progressing swiftly westward, reaching Serjeants’ Inn and Mitre Court before the smoke-filled day had passed into night. These were the first of many Temple casualties; the whole of King’s Bench Walk was destroyed, as too was Tanfield Court, most of the buildings around Inner Temple Hall, and the Master’s House. Complete destruction of the entire Temple buildings was only avoided by the liberal use of gunpowder, under the direction of the Duke of York. Within six years of the Great Fire all rebuilding was completed, but in 1677 another fire broke out in King’s Bench Walk and many of the new buildings in the immediate area were again razed to the ground. As the lawyers counted the cost of the endless renovation work, a further setback saw them shaking their heads in despair. One perishing night in the winter of 1678 Mr Thornbury at his chambers in Pump Court was aroused by clouds of smoke pouring through the gap beneath his door; this was the evidence of a fire which was to prove far more fatal than the Great Fire itself. It broke out as the midnight chimes echoed out from the clock of Inner Temple Hall, and burnt for nigh on twelve hours destroying Pump Court, Hare Court, Brick Court, Elm Court, The Cloisters, and part of the Hall. By a stroke of misfortune, the Thames was thickly frozen, preventing the fire-fighters from drawing water so that they had to resort to using ale from a nearby tavern brewery. Total obliteration of the Temple Church was only avoided by blowing up the intervening buildings and thus starving the fire of fuel.

World War II inflicted devastation on the buildings of the Temple when few emerged unscathed. Middle Temple Library and Serjeants’ Inn were among the first casualties, being wrecked by bombs on the 30th December 1940. Middle Temple Hall suffered a hit the next day and less than two weeks later Mitre Court was left as a gaping hole. Some of the most horrendous injuries to the Temple came on the 10th May 1941 with the Church, Pump Court, Tanfield Court, Lamb’s Buildings, and the Master’s House all alight, illuminating the sky, the like of which had not been experienced since 1678. But all is now back in order and the Temple continues in its own tranquil way, as it always has – even if disasters have upset the apple cart from time to time.

Images: Middle Temple Lane by Marathon (CC BY-SA 2.0). The Middle Temple is one of the Inns of Court. There are a number of linked courtyards and gardens. In the 19th century, Charles Dickens wrote of the Inner and Middle Temples “who enters here leaves the noise behind”. This is certainly the case with Middle Temple Lane which runs from Fleet Street down to Victoria Embankment. It is seen here from the Fleet Street end.

Fountain Court, Middle Temple by Marathon (CC BY-SA 2.0). The Middle Temple is one of the Inns of Court. There are a number of linked courtyards and this is Fountain Court.

Temple Church by Graham Horn (CC BY-SA 2.0). The church was founded in the 12th century by the Knights Templar. It is now the church serving the Inner and Middle Temples, two of the four Inns of Court. This is the view east of the main church, looking from the round church.

CabbieBlog-cabMuch of the original source material for Down Your Alley has been derived from Ivor Hoole’s GeoCities website. The site is now defunct and it is believed Ivor is no more. Thankfully much of Ivor’s work has been archived by Ian Visits and Phil Gyford.

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