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.
The Royal Courts of Justice (also known as the Law Courts) is a building on the Westminster side of the boundary which houses the High Court of England and Wales. It’s not the highest court in the land – that accolade belongs to the Supreme Court near Parliament Square; The Old Bailey, incidentally, is the Central Criminal Court which deals with major crimes within the capital and is located not far from St Paul’s Cathedral next to the site of the former Newgate prison.
Anyone can visit the Royal Courts of Justice: After the necessary security checks, you are free to go and sit in on any case that you fancy. It might not sound particularly exciting, but it’s worth doing if you’ve not had the experience before. It’s not only fascinating to see the inside of this grand building, but also how the justice system works. A barrister I got talking to was telling me how everybody should visit the courts at least once in their lives, and I can see where he’s coming from.
Technically speaking, we don’t enter the Temple area until we cross the road and wind our way down through the streets, lanes and alleyways that are full of solicitor’s offices, barristers’ chambers and other legal institutions.
The easiest route into Temple is through the ‘Great Gate’ opposite the Old Bank of England pub (which is also worth a visit) into Middle Temple Lane, but a few yards up the road you can also enter via the archway under Prince Henry’s Room, one of the few survivors of the Great Fire of London. It used to be a museum, but is not generally open to the public these days.
Coming this way brings us to Temple Church and is probably the best place to start, but as I’ve discussed this in a separate review, I’ll pass it by for now and continue on down towards Inner Temple and Middle Temple.
There are four Inns of Court – Lincoln’s Inn and Gray’s Inn in the High Holborn area, and Inner Temple and Middle Temple.
These Inns of Court got their name during the Middle Ages when they offered accommodation to the lawyers that came to work and train in the area, which at the time was close to the Royal Courts of Westminster, where justice was administered.
There are plenty of other establishments that can provide food, drink and accommodation these days, but before you ask, being ‘Called to the Bar’ doesn’t mean that there’s a pint waiting for you in ‘The George’ or ‘Ye Olde Cock Tavern’: It’s a term that allows barristers who have achieved all the necessary qualifications to finally represent a client in court – or at least that’s how I see it.
Anyway, from Temple Church you’re best off leaving by way of Pump Court; this leads into Middle Temple Lane.
If you take a look at the Temple map below, you’ll see that the blue areas cover Inner Temple and the pink areas cover the Middle Temple. You can just follow your nose (and the map if you can) and do your own thing, but I think it would be best to visit the Inner Temple first so that you don’t double back on yourself.
You should know what vicinity you’re in because Inner Temple buildings have a Pegasus as their emblem, and the Middle Temple buildings have a Lamb and Flag.
It has to be remembered that the Luftwaffe inflicted serious damage on many of the historical buildings around here, but the history still lives on, as do a few buildings that withstood the onslaught.
There aren’t too many gems left in the Inner Temple that stood out for me, but I did like Hare Court, where Judge Jeffreys occupied chambers during his days as the ‘Hanging Judge’.
Probably the most attractive proposition for the casual sightseer is the splendid Inner Temple Garden which is filled with law students tucking into their Avocado and Falafel Flatbreads, or whatever they eat these days, whilst checking out the latest Law Society magazine.
I wonder if people like Geoffrey Chaucer, Lord Dudley, James Boswell, Bram Stoker, Mahatma Ghandi and others spent an hour or two doing the same sort of thing when they were here.
Middle Temple has a garden of its own. Although not as big, it is overlooked by the wonderful 16th c Middle Temple Hall (See main pic). This is one building that has survived the fires, civil unrest and bombings over the years and should be visited if ever you get the chance. I was able to visit during the Open House London weekend in 2017, and even though there were plenty of other people doing the same thing, it was worth mingling with the throng to see the inside of this fabulous building.
Middle Temple Lane leads us down to the Embankment under an impressive 18th century Portland Stone building, but it’s not quite the end of the journey just yet.
If you turn right towards Temple underground station, you’ll see tucked away in the corner of Temple Place what appears to be a medieval building. In actual fact it’s not, but 2 Temple Place is still worth a visit if they’re open: I say if they’re open, because it only opens for exhibitions – and Open House weekend – which is why I was lucky enough to see inside.
It was built in 1895 for William Waldorf Astor, the owner of the famous Waldorf Astoria in New York, who came to live in England four years earlier.
Built in the Elizabethan style it has wealth of features that wouldn’t look out of place in the medieval Inns of Court. Trust me when I say that, even if you’re not interested in seeing the exhibition that will give you free entry into the building, go and see it anyway!
Temple is an area of London that a lot of visitors overlook, but apart from anything else it’s an oasis of peace and tranquillity between The Strand and The Embankment. As much as I’m tempted to write more about it, I think I’ll call it a day here. After all, I get enough unwanted mail on the doormat as it is!