Temple Church, The Knights Templar and the Da Vinci Code
Temple Church attracts visitors from all over the world, many of whom have read Dan Brown’s “Da Vinci Code”, hoping to add another piece of the jigsaw to the quest for their own Holy Grail.
For those who haven’t read the book it does a good job of blurring the lines between fact and fiction, especially for anyone who is not familiar with the subjects of religion and the crusades. For those who are familiar with these subjects it’s been controversial to say the least, especially to Roman Catholics.
The inclusion of the Knights Templar into the storyline has only added to the mystery of what some people already regarded as a secret society, and Temple Church is the church of the Knights Templar in London – and that’s one fact nobody can dispute.
To talk about Temple Church requires going back to the days of the crusades and the role of the Knights Templar, and as I’m no expert on this subject, I’d like you to bear with me while I try to unravel truth from fiction in just a few paragraphs.
I’m going to have to tread carefully writing this article because Temple is at the heart of the UK’s legal system, and as I know next to nothing about how it works, I don’t want to end up with a solicitor’s letter on the doormat.
I think I’m on safe ground though by saying that the area gets its name from the 12th century Temple Church built by the Knights Templar as their English headquarters.
Temple, or The Temple, as it’s sometimes called, covers an area roughly between the Strand/Fleet Street to the Victoria Embankment, and Surrey Street to Blackfriars. This means that some of the area lies within the City of Westminster and some of it within the City of London.
The Strand meets Fleet Street near to the Royal Courts of Justice and the Westminster/City of London boundary. This boundary was traditionally marked by Temple Bar, an invisible barrier to begin with, but then a ceremonial gateway where the monarch halted before being welcomed into the City by the Lord Mayor of London. The gateway, designed by Sir Christopher Wren, was removed in 1878 and currently stands at Paternoster Square near St Paul’s Cathedral; The boundary is now marked by a large plinth with a dragon – a symbol of the City of London.
If you’ve read my article about how the Victoria Embankment came about, you may like to know a bit more about some of the points of interest that can be seen along here.
The Embankment runs for about a mile and a half between Westminster Bridge and Blackfriars Bridge on the north side of the river and I’m going to describe the route starting from the Westminster end.
If you start out underneath the statue of Boudicca and stay on the same side of the road, then the river and Westminster Pier will be on your right. Boats depart regularly from Westminster Pier to Greenwich, but unless you intend doing the boat trip, your eyes will be more focused on what’s on the other side of the river. It’s impossible to miss the London Eye or even the former County Hall, but don’t forget to look out for what’s on the Westminster side as well.
New Scotland Yard is across the road, as is Whitehall Gardens, the first of a series of gardens that stretch along the embankment and collectively known as the Victoria Embankment Gardens.
Back on the riverside, there’s a unique memorial to the Battle of Britain, with another memorial to the RAF a bit further along. It should be remembered that Whitehall, including the Ministry of Defence opposite, backs on to the embankment, which is why the area has so many statues of past military figures and memorials to different parts of the armed forces.
It’s strange isn’t it, that although London’s practice of discharging raw sewage into the Thames caused cholera epidemics which cost thousands of lives, it was only when MPs kicked up a stink about the smell that something was actually done about it.
The job of sorting the whole problem out was given to a Victorian engineer by the name of Joseph Bazalgette.
His scheme involved an extensive network of underground sewage pipes that took the effluent from Central London out into the Thames Estuary.
The project involved several locations including the mile and a half section of riverside between Westminster and Blackfriars Bridges, the most challenging of them all.
After buying up and demolishing many expensive riverside properties, work started on the Victoria Embankment project in 1865.
Not only did Joseph Bazalgette deal with the sewage problem, he also narrowed the river to make it more controllable, built a new road to ease congestion along the Strand (which linked Westminster to the City of London), and even allowed for the construction of a line for the Metropolitan and District Railway beneath the road.
I’m sure somebody out there may well tell me that I’m wrong, but I reckon there are thirteen stations in London that can be regarded as a main line terminus.
London’s railway network has evolved over many years and is more complicated than you might think – but I’m sticking to thirteen.
Four of those appear on the original Monopoly board, and Liverpool St is one of them. (If you can’t remember the other three, they were King’s Cross, Marylebone and Fenchurch St).
It’s the terminus for train companies that operate mainly to the north-east of the capital to counties such as Essex, Suffolk, Norfolk and Cambridgeshire, and is the third busiest in the UK after Waterloo and Victoria.
The statistics for 2015/16 show that sixty six and a half million entries/exits were recorded, and that doesn’t include the underground which has four lines converging underneath the main line station (The Circle, Hammersmith & City, Central and Metropolitan Lines).
It was originally built in 1875 as the terminus for the Great Eastern Railway and extended in 1895.
During an air raid on 13th June 1917 the station was hit by three bombs, two of which exploded, killing 162 people and injuring more than 400. It was the deadliest single raid in Britain during the First World War.
To most people these days, the name Blackfriars probably means the railway and underground station, but the history of this small area in the south-west corner of the City of London has a history that goes back much further.
As far as I’m aware, there are no official boundaries to define the area that we know as Blackfriars today, but I have seen a map that suggests it stretches from Fleet Street/Ludgate Hill to the River Thames, and from the Mansion House/Garrick Hill to Temple Avenue/Bouverie Street. That may be the modern interpretation of Blackfriars, but it would have been different when the Dominican Friars founded their priory here back in 1278.
For the uninitiated, and that includes me, the word ‘Friar’ is an anglicized version of the French word Frère meaning brother, and it shouldn’t come as any great surprise to learn that these Dominican Blackfriars were distinguished from the Carmelite Whitefriars and Franciscan Greyfriars by the colour of the cloaks that they wore.
The Blackfriars are a Catholic order founded by St Dominic in Toulouse in 1215, and in 1223 they established a priory in Holborn before moving to their new site between the Thames and Ludgate Hill.
Edward I gave them permission to build this new priory near to where the River Fleet entered the Thames. He also allowed them to re-build the city wall around it, and from a humble house and church it expanded to include a refectory, cloisters, a hall, library, stables and garden: In fact, it didn’t only become an ecclesiastical home for the friars, but also an important centre for state affairs with Parliament meetings and state visits from foreign dignitaries.
I would hazard a guess that the majority of first time visitors to the City of London want to see St Paul’s Cathedral more than anything else, and it’s not hard to see why.
This magnificent structure built by Sir Christopher Wren, is more than just another church. It’s an architectural delight with a host of famous people buried within its walls – but more than that, for British people at least, it’s a landmark that is remembered for defying the might of the Luftwaffe during the blitz.
Before making your way over there it would be useful to know what to expect as it’s very different from Westminster Abbey.
Whereas Westminster Abbey is medieval in origin with gothic additions, St Paul’s is 17th century and has been described as English Baroque which seems a fair description to me even though I’m no expert on architectural terms.
Many people will know that Sir Christopher Wren was hired to re-build St Paul’s after the Great Fire of London, but perhaps not so many people will know that the Norman church that stood here until 1666 was one of the biggest in Europe, if not the world, with a spire that reached close to 150m high. It wasn’t just the height of the church that made it impressive but also its length.
Metaphorically speaking, Leadenhall Market links Roman London with the Modern City of London, and the reason, is that its location on the site of the old Roman Forum and Basilica is slap bang in the middle of the modern Financial District.
It’s also appropriate that there’s a market here because in Roman times the Forum was their marketplace, and the one in Londinium was the largest north of the Alps, but we know very little of what happened after the Romans left.
What we do know though is that by the 14th century there was a manor house at Leadenhall, and the area around it became known as the place to come to buy poultry. That trade was still in evidence when Dick Whittington, the former mayor of London, came to own the lease of the manor house in 1408, and when he bought the land around it three years later, it was the best place to come, not just to buy poultry, but also meat, game, and fish.
The City of London may be steeped in history, but that doesn’t mean to say that it’s set in aspic. The city’s Financial District is leaving its stuffy image behind and charging into the 21st century without, it seems, pausing for breath.
Nearly all the financial institutions (The Bank of Englandbeing a notable exception) have moved into more modern premises in either Canary Wharf or here in the Square Mile.
Many of these new offices are in skyscrapers, which even though they may not rank amongst the world’s tallest, have captured the public’s imagination with their design. Not all of them are iconic, but below is a selection of some of the buildings that have made their mark already, but as each year passes, so it seems that yet more major landmarks pierce the skies over the City of London.
There are many powerful institutions in the City of London’s Financial District, but none more so than the Bank of England. Now before you skip this article thinking that it’s going to be another one of those boring Easymalc ramblings, I promise I won’t go on about Fiscal Policies or Quantitative Easing. For a start if I understood any of it I would be sipping a Pina Colada in the Cayman Islands or somewhere instead of struggling to see which lasts the longest – my meagre savings, or me. Anyway, back to the Bank of England.
I don’t imagine too many people know, or even care, about what the Bank of England actually does, but the museum, which is free to go in by the way, will explain its beginnings, the role it plays, and even how Quantitative Easing works (sorry, I couldn’t resist it). To be honest it’s not only educational, but interesting as well – or at least I thought so.