Old buildings are my favourite. Forget the souless glass sheathes of modern day architecture, gleaming constructions punctuated with steel and plastics that can think. I ♥ creaky wooden floors with patinas of long since gone families living their lives over drunken levels, I ♥ the beauty of wattle and daub walls keeping the weather away, I ♥ the stories of love, loss and challenge conquered by people of yesteryear.
At our wedding, the vicar asked us to stop for a moment and consider the wealth of emotion contained within the 11th Century Saxon tower we were standing under. It’s probably ridiculously fanciful, but it was one of the most memorable phrases that have stayed with me over the years.
But, with an endless addiction to hedonistic tales of mischief, a rampant imagination cloaked in crinolines and armed with an oyster card to transport me from one side of London to the other, every time that I discover a new curiosity, I can’t help but want to visit the buildings that normally keep their secrets behind carefully closed doors.
Last year we finally managed to crack a nut I have been peeking through the iron gates of for the entire time I have lived in London – the ancient heart of English Law: the Middle and Inner Temple Inns. A complex of buildings spanning from the Thames to the Strand/Fleet Street, traditionally the only way to visit the intriguing warren of beautiful buildings and barristers chambers is by specific appointment or invitation to private events. (Of course you could always train and qualify as a barrister, but that’s a little extreme to gain entrance to a historic building – even for me.)
I’ve also learned that the garden of Inner Temple is normally open to the public from 12.30-3.00 each weekday, with access is via the main gate opposite Crown Office Row or you can book a weekday tour of Inner Temple here.
In the middle of the 12th century, the Military Order of the Knights
Templar built a round church by the Thames, which became known as
the Temple Church (see blog post here). Two centuries later, after the abolition of the Order
in 1312, lawyers came to occupy the Temple site and buildings. They
formed themselves into two societies, the Inner Temple and Middle
Temple, first mentioned by name in a manuscript yearbook of 1388 with the later addition of Lincoln’s Inn and Grey’s Inn .
So, yeah, just 800 or so years of history (and a statue of Peter Pan for good measure).
The Middle Temple buildings are adorned with the Lamb & Flag, whilst Inner Temple buildings are graced with a Pegasus in flight (thought to derive from a misrepresentation of a broken tile of a knight with
shield on horseback in the Temple Church, which was thought to have been
a winged horse; in honour of Lord Robert Dudley, Queen Elizabeth I’s Master of the Horse,
who took part in the Christmas revels at the Temple in 1561or from the Templars’ seal which showed two knights
with shields on horseback, the two shields resembling wings.)
We wandered through the cobbled lanes that thread between the
collection of beautiful buildings wandering into doorways that we
fancied. Visiting a library overseen by ancient globes and marble busts,
an Elizabethan banquet hall lined with heraldic shields and suits of
armour, we admired rooms decorated with ornate plaster representations
of the four countries of Great Britain, dodged through the curious
crowds and turned our gazes skyward to spot gilded weather vanes.
It was amazing (and one of the joys of being a ‘permatourist’) and the ironic location of England’s Tea Museum so close to one of the first office professions wasn’t lost on me.
September is still sort of a long way away but before I know it though, the
ninth month of the year – random fact for the day; the word September is
late Old English, originating from Latin, from septem ‘seven’
being originally the seventh month of the Roman year. How it feels now
pushed later in the monthly pecking order, we’ll never know – will be
So in true London style where everything is
organized months in advance or a day before, I’ve already got a date
inked into my calendar. The 17th-18th of September are blocked out
for London Open House, a completely free chance to nosey our way into another set of beautiful buildings not normally open to the public. Over the years we have visited a Pink Floyd album cover (Battersea Power Station), the Gothic marvel of St Pancras Stations Clock Tower, climbed to the best view of London’s skyline (55 Broadway) and so many more that I still haven’t blogged.
Oh the tales this gateway could tell… (One of my favourite stories related to the Inns and by proxy their
church is of Lord Stowell, an eighteenth-century
barrister who, according to Robin Griffith-Jones – Master of the Temple
and head clergyman at the Temple Church, was ‘fantastically good at
organising parties. Every year the Christmas party got wildly out of
hand and he was disbarred as a punishment, but come October they needed
somebody to organise the party so he was invited back again. It took him
15 years to qualify.’)
What is your favourite building?