In London there are four Inns of Court which together serve as the headquarters for the branch of the legal profession known as barristers. These wigged and black gowned advocates have had a virtual monopoly on the rights of audience in the English courts since medieval times, and anyone wishing to become a barrister at law must be affiliated to one of the Inns. The four Inns are Inner and Middle Temple, Lincoln’s Inn and Grey’s Inn. Once qualified the student is called to the “bar”, which was originally a railing that enclosed the judge in the courtroom.
The first Inn I’m visiting is Inner Temple, I enter through the Tudor Street Gate. In 1691 Inner Temple tried to brick up the Tudor Gate to stop lawless gangs from entering, however they failed and the gate survived as you see it today.
The origins of Inner Temple are not particularly clear. It has been suggested that the Inns began after an ordinance of Edward I in 1292 placed barristers under the control of the judges rather than the church. During the early 14th century it is likely that lawyers began to leave the schools of law based within the city to congregate around new “inns” that would have originally been lodging houses just west of the city wall.
Each in is an association of students and barristers governed by a central body comprising the Masters of the Bench. The Inn provides certain services including assistance with training for students, providing office space for barristers chambers, a library for research, a chapel for spiritual needs and a central hall that serves as the focal point for the Inn’s social and ceremonial calendar.
The Temple area which covers Inner, Middle and Outer Temple was once owned by the Knights Templar, the religious military order that was founded in Jerusalem in 1119 during the Crusades. The English branch of the order moved into this area in the 12th century from their original headquarters in Holborn, they owned land from what is now Fleet Street right down to the Thames. In 1307 a number of European monarchs supported Pope Clement V and decided that the Templars were becoming too powerful.
In 1312 the Order’s London properties were taken over by the crown and given to another military order the Knights Hospitallers. The Hospitallers leased their new land to the lawyers. After the Hospitallers were then themselves suppressed during Henry VIII’s Dissolution, the land once again reverted to the crown. In 1609 James I granted the land to the two Inns in perpetuity on condition they maintain the church and Master’s House.
Inner Temple Gardens covers three acres and is one of the city’s most attractive open spaces, it’s even mentioned by Dickens in Barnaby Rudge. The gates date from 1730 and are adorned with the figures of a griffin and pegasus taken from the coats of arms of Grey’s Inn and Inner Temple which have close ties.
King’s Bench Walk sits on the eastern side with buildings designed by Sir Christopher Wren dating largely from the 1670’s. Look at the entrances to each building and you’ll see the list of barristers who form a set of chambers. Number 11 King’s Bench Walk was founded by Alexander Irvine in 1981, and counted Tony and Cherie among its early barristers. Another famous name who worked here was Mohandas Gandhi (1869-1948). The great Indian nationalist was called to the bar in 1891.
Opposite is the Paper Buildings, originally constructed in 1610, although the current buildings date from 1838. In Dickens’s Barnaby Rudge the character Sir John Chester lived here. Famous members who worked include John Mortimer (creator of Rumpole of the Bailey, Bram Stoker and possibly the poet Geoffrey Chaucer.
Looking to the right are the Inner Temple Hall and the Library. The hall is where examinations are held as well as the ceremonies in which students are called to the bar, the hall is normally closed to the public. The hall like much of the Inner Temple is a neo Georgian reconstruction from the 1950’s as much of it was destroyed during the Blitz.
The Temple Church is the only substantial remnant of the Knight’s Templars occupation of the area, and was built by them to resemble the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. The church is shared by both Inner and Middle Temple. It was consecrated in 1135 by Heraclius Patriarch of Jerusalem during the reign of Henry II.
The 13th century effigies of Templar Knights are its most striking feature. There is also a stairwell which contains a former cell where disobedient knights were held, and sometimes starved to death.
Outside of the church is a column marking where the Great Fire of 1666 finally stopped on the western side of the city. The statue of the two knights riding a single horse commemorates the Templar’s frugality.
On the west side of Elm Court is a plaque on the wall indicating that this was once part of the original Templar Buttery (food store). I continue on to Middle Temple Lane where I find most of the Inn of Middle Temple. Just across the lane in Fountain Court is the Middle Temple Hall. It dates from 1573, and is one of the best examples of an Elizabethan hall in the country. With its fine double hammer beam ceiling, it has served as the heart of activities in Middle Temple for more than 400 yearsSome features to note are the 29 foot long Bench Table, thought to have been a gift from Elizabeth I and cut from a single oak tree from her estate at Windsor. The Benchers who run the Middle Temple still dine here.
Sir Francis Drake (1540-1595) was a regular visitor, and the Cupboard – a small table in front of the Bench Table where newly clad barristers stand to sign the register – is thought to have been carved from the hatch cover of Drake’s Golden Hinde. Shakespeare’s play Twelfth Night was premiered in the hall in 1602. It was very fashionable for the offspring of the wealthy to study here during that period even if they never intended to pursue a career in law.
Robert Louis Stevenson another Middle Templar may have taken the names for his main characters in his novel The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886) from shields that feature in a stained glass window in the hall.
During the British Empire lawyers often came from the colonies to train here before returning home. Five Middle Templars were among the original signatories of the American Declaration of Independence, while seven more helped draft the Constitution of the United States. Americans often received their legal training at the Inns even after independence. The tradition only stopped when England went to war with America in 1812.
Leaving the hall I head down the lane to Middle Temple Gardens. The gardens, with their red and white rose border, were portrayed by Shakespeare in Henry VI Part I as the place where the red rose of Lancaster and white rose of York were first plucked, marking the beginning of the English War of the Roses (1455-1485).
The gardens were also home to the Royal Horticultural Society Great Spring Show during the 19th century before moving west and becoming today’s Chelsea Flower Show.
Heading north up Middle Temple Lane I eventually come out on to the Strand. Opposite on the other side of the road are The Royal Courts of Justice, which were opened in 1882 by Queen Victoria and house the Supreme Court. Before the courts were built London’s main courts were dotted around the capital , including at Westminster Hall and the Old Hall of Lincoln’s Inn. Over 35 million bricks were used in the construction of the Royal Courts, each faced with Portland Stone. The courts are open to the public but they are vast and it’s easy to get lost in the maze of rooms.
Just outside the courts is a statue of a dragon, symbol of the city, which marks the former site of Temple Bar. This was a gateway on the western side of the city, its name derived from a chain or bar between posts that marked the entrance in medieval times. The gateway was rebuilt in 1672 by Sir Christopher Wren. Temple Bar survived until 1878 when it was dismantled in order to reduce traffic congestion. It has recently returned to the capital and now stands beside St Paul’s Cathedral. Look carefully and you can still see the spikes where the heads of executed traitors were place, heavily salted beforehand to prevent birds pecking at them.
This concludes Part I of The Inns Of Court Walk, Part II will be coming soon.