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The Worshipful Company of Horners

The Master’s Tour of Middle Temple

By May 30, 2024June 1st, 2024Company News

Back in 2013, Five Livery Companies celebrated their 275th Anniversary, The Horners, Glovers, Distillers. Glaziers and Gun-Makers and a joint banquet was held in Middle Temple Hall.

In 2024, the Master Horner, the Clerk and select Liverymen re-visited the Hall. Above are pictures of now and then. Liveryman Robert Pinchen has kindly written an excellent report of the day.

A Stroll Through English Legal History: The Masters’ Tour of Middle Temple

By Robert Pinchen, Liveryman

On a rain threatening morning on Tuesday May 21st, the Master Horner, Clerk, and select Liverymen embarked on a uniquely exclusive and enlightening historical tour through the venerable precincts of Middle Temple lying within the Ward of Farringdon Without of the City of London. The personal tour, led by the distinguished Ian Mayes KC, former Master of the House and Autumn Reader, offered an exceptional glimpse into the rich tapestry of English legal history, treasures and architectural splendour that this ancient institution embodies. Ian even provided us with some insightful discourses whilst exploring the corridors of legal privilege on a few quirky customs rivalling our own City Livery companies!

 

We met our host at the grand entrance of the Royal Courts of Justice, thankfully, the day after vocal supporters had gathered to celebrate Julian Assange’s appeal. All having fuelled up with caffeine at the local Roasting Plant Coffee café, an experience in itself, with its air thick with addictive aromas of beans roasting on-site, we were excited in anticipation of stepping into the distinguished realms of this King’s Counsel’s world. Ian was the perfect guide, with his extensive knowledge and engaging storytelling; he led our esteemed troop through the storied grounds of one of the four Inns of Court which have produced some of the most influential legal minds over the centuries.

 

Transportation into the Middle Temple world: A Legacy of Law and Tradition

The tour commenced with a Harry Potter-like walk via a tunnel through the Outer Temple buildings from the hustle-and-bustle on the streets of the commoners’ City to the serenity of one of the many tree-filled courtyards in which the very air seems to ooze history and awe. I had imaginations of needing Indiana Jones’ reactions to defence traps leaping out from the walls to disembowel those unworthy to pass, but under Ian’s guardianship we were conducted safely through.

Proceeding onwards for a comprehensive exploration of Temple’s 10-acre grounds, we were all immediately struck for a tantalising passing moment of the imposing Middle Temple Hall, an architectural marvel completed in 1573, but our special access internal tour would come later. Although situated within the boundaries of the City of London, the Inner and Middle Temples are not subject to the jurisdiction of our Lord Mayor or for most purposes to the Common Council of the City of London.

 

The journey continued with a serene stroll past the gates to Inner Temple Gardens. Enlarged by the construction of Bazelgette’s Victoria Embankment which formally opened in July 1870, the ancient orchard retains a variety of fruit trees, including a large-fruiting walnut, quince and a black mulberry. The calming ambiance provided a moment of reflection before venturing on to King’s Bench Walk, a popular urban scene backdrop for period filming with an impressive range of late 17th century Grade I and II-listed residences. The original buildings were deliberately destroyed during the Great Fire of London in 1666 to provide a fire break to protect the Palace of Westminster, despite protestations of being sued by the resident legal minds of their day – I’m sure they later got their ounce of blood for their sufferings!

 

We saw many of the buildings displaying their authoritative emblems of Pegasus, representing the Inner Temple, or Agnus Dei – the Lamb and Flag – representing the Middle Temple; similar to the Livery Companies’ architectural ‘stamping’ seen in the City confines and beyond.

 

The Temple Church: an evolution of power

A particular highlight of the tour was undoubtedly a visit to the impressive Temple Church of St Mary, shared by both Middle and Inner Temple congregations. Built by the Knights Templar in the 12th century, this iconic round church is modelled on that of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem and is now considered a Royal Peculiar. Ian captivated us with stories of the church’s role during the Crusades, its significance during the Magna Carta’s sealing in 1215, its subsequent Papal seizure and later Parliamentary transfer, and then the later competing custodian demands of the Middle and Inner Temple assemblies over the centuries. A distinctive feature is the Parliament-like arrangement of pews with the Masters’ raised chairs opposing each other. The Glaziers’ Company have been prominent in their colourful efforts with the stained-glass windows. Temple Church really is a hidden architectural treasure with stunning masonry, memento mori, and the beautiful effigies of medieval knights. We are today fortunate, thanks to some Victorian plaster-casting foresight, to be able to fully appreciate recreations of the original sculptures damaged by WW2 bombing.

 

Middle Temple Hall: The Grand

With the rain now making a determined impression we escaped indoors into Middle Temple Hall. Anyone who enters will not be disappointed with its hammerbeam roof, impressive stained-glass windows, historical portraits and heraldic shields adorning the walls. It is considered to be the finest Elizabethan building in central London and stands as a testament to the enduring legacy of English law despite also being severely damaged by Luftwaffe bombing. Ian described tales of illustrious figures in this very hall such as William Shakespeare, who had a premiere performance of Twelfth Night here in 1602. The Honourable Society of Middle Temple still perform a variety of shows here. The formidable top dining table is made entirely of one length of old English oak and is deemed to have been installed at the inception of Middle Temple Hall as it is too long to manoeuvre out through the corridors. Having supped on a sumptuous luncheon and further legal discussions in these wonderful surroundings we were ushered into the adjoining luxurious reception rooms for further wonderful discoveries. For those in the know, the Bar Bell was not sounded on this occasion! Beautiful masterpieces adorn the walls but the one that stood out for me personally was an unusually casual, and possibly now my favourite, portrait of the Queen Mother. Ian regaled us with the incisive cross-examination questioning in the dock of Oscar Wilde by Lord Carson. Our penultimate experience was to climb the beautiful staircase overlooking the romantic Middle Temple Gardens that were sparkling in the sunshine and drizzle to enter one of the most formidably extensive specialist legal research libraries in the world, now modernised but housing many treasures including two magnificent old celestial and topographical globes.

 

Our amazing tour ended in the crying rain at Fountain Court with its imposing mature plane and mulberry trees which is described to be the first permanent fountain located in London. This treasured day had been more than just a tour; we left Middle Temple with a deeper understanding of its rich historical and cultural heritage. This special excursion into the heart of London’s legal bowels was not just an exploration of the physical spaces, but an enriching adventure through the annals of English legal history, its enduring personal legacies, and a better appreciation of the continuation of the marvellous traditions of its protagonists. Ian’s expert commentary and tangible personal heritage in one of the Inns of Court was celebrated with a Happy Horners’ cheer at a nearby hostelry once safely back in the streets of the commoners.

 

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