In memory of Victoria Carter
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There are four Inns of Court. Their purpose is for the study and practice of law. Two of these societies are known as the Temple. The Inner Temple and the Middle Temple share the same location off Fleet Street but are separate entities after splitting during the reign of Henry Vi. The name of the societies is derived from the previous occupants of the site, the Knights Templar. This order was founded in 1118 and moved from the Old Temple at Holborn to the present site around 1162.
As you pass through the gate from Fleet Street, a black arch simply labelled Middle Temple Lane, it is as if you had passed through a portal into another world. Suddenly the hustle and bustle, along with the traffic and noise, are gone. You stand in a small village with rows of neat buildings, with gardens and water feature around the corner. Streets with arches leading into the courtyards (where the parked cars remind you you are still in the City) lead you on a pleasant walk around this calm, quiet oasis.
The entrance to the hall is in a castellated red brick clock tower with an arched doorway guarded by a pair of iron gates. Above the arch, and on each gate there is the emblem of the Middle Temple, the Pascal lamb carrying the flag of innocence on a cross. There is another above the weather vane on the main roof of the building.
The fortress-like castellated wall continues around the building and behind this is a steep pointed roof supported by an oak frame inside. The white stone on the corners of the building and on supports around the walls make the building stand out.
Another special feature are the windows, which at first glance look like ordinary leaded stained glass. On closer inspection you will see that each of the eight panels that go to make up each window, contains two heraldic motifs within circles. These coats of arms belong to former chancellors and members of Middle Temple, mostly from Elizabethan times. The most outstanding of these is known as the Chancellors Window
There are apparently two coats of arms belonging to a Josephus Jekyll and a Robertus Hyde, and legend has it that this is where R. L. Stevenson got the inspiration for his famous story, published in 1886, .”The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde”.
Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother was what is known as a “Royal Bencher” from 1944. She reopened the hall in 1949 after the war damage was repaired, and became a regular visitor right up until just before her death. There are at present (October 2008) no Royal Benchers.
Middle Temple members are required to dine there at least three times in each term. A traditional bell is rung to summon them at 6.30.
Middle Temple Hall stands at the centre of the campus. At the front, a quiet courtyard and to the right and behind lie a fountain and gardens. This grand hall is one of the finest Tudor style halls there is. It took ten years to build using the finest craftsmen available at an enormous, but unrecorded, cost.
Queen Elizabeth I opened it in 1573 and became a regular visitor. This was of benefit to the treasurer of the time, Edmund Plowden, as he meant the hall to act as an attraction for the patronage of social climbers of the day. The idea worked, too, and many famous names frequented the hall. It was built as a common room where debates could be held, a dining room and place of entertainment. Men not associated with the legal profession were allowed to become members, with Sir Frances Drake and Sir Walter Raleigh among the famous names who came for the gaming and entertainment.
Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night was performed here, maybe it’s first public performance, in February 1602 according to a members diary entry. It was performed by a group of actors known as The Chamberlain’s Men and quite possible Shakespeare himself was a member of the cast.
Middle Temple Hall was left unscathed by the great fire of 1666 due to a fortunate change in wind direction. There were two subsequent fires in 1677 and 1678 that destroyed much of the Temple but the hall escaped untouched. Even the blitz of World War II caused only minor damage to the eastern end, although it did cause major damage to a large screen.
Because of this good fortune, coupled with the care given by the members of the Inn, it has stood virtually unchanged for four and a half centuries.