One of the great things about London is that just seconds away from the cacophony, the crowds and the chaotic traffic of the modern city there are so many peaceful havens, survivors from past centuries, untouched and timeless. One of the loveliest of these is the old and tranquil Temple, which runs between bustling Fleet Street and the roaring highway along the Thames. 2058
The Temple, which dates back to the time of Edward I, was named after the Order of the Knights Templar, who lived here during the 12th century. It is made up of Inner Temple and Middle Temple which, along with Gray’s and Lincoln’s, form the four Inns of Court, the traditional hubs of London law.
Inner and Middle Temple are divided by Middle Temple Lane which, until it was cut off by buildings, ran from Fleet Street to the River. The temples consist now of a labyrinth of little courts and alleys hemmed in by magnificent halls and dotted with fountains, memorials, fragments of garden, ancient trees and vast front lawn.
Some of London’s oldest and most historic buildings are here among the lanes and courtyards of the Temple. The Middle Temple Hall, in Middle Temple Lane, at Fountain Court was opened by Queen Elizabeth I in 1576. The Temple Church has served as a Lawyers’ chapel since 1608.
Some of England’s great leaders have been members of the Temple, like Sir Walter Raleigh, who belonged to the Middle Temple. Many of the giants of English literature lived and worked here, including Henry Fielding, Doctor Johnson, William Thackeray, Havelock Ellis, John Buchan and Anthony Hope, who conceived the idea for the Prisoner of Zenda on his way back across Fleet Street after a victorious case in the Courts of Justice. Charles Lamb, son of a law clerk, was born in Inner Temple in 1775 and a fountain, with the inscription “Lawyers were children once”, marks his memory. Oliver Goldsmith died and was buried here, in Temple Church in 1774. The premiere of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night was staged in the middle Temple Hall in 1601 in his Henry VI, Part 1, Plantagenet and the Earls of Suffolk, Somerset and Warwick choose the roses for the counties of Lancashire and York from the Inner Temple garden.
And of course, many great legal minds were shaped and many momentous legal prosecutions and defences were forged in the Temple. They still are. Today, as it has for centuries, Temple houses the offices and apartments of London’s great lawyers. Its church still ministers to them and its ancient libraries and halls are still in use.
Temple is beautiful, sheltered, quiet and uncrowded. It is wonderful place to retreat, ramble and reflect – one passage leads to another, one court opens to one more and every plaque, stone and statue holds another story.