Ping! Went the email. Would I like a tour of Middle Temple and lunch? It took about two seconds to hit the reply button saying YES PLEASE. Middle Temple is one of the four Inns of Court in London in which barristers are called to the Bar. It is a building steeped in history in an area of London that has remained unchanged for centuries. I confess that I had thought that Middle Temple was out of bounds to those who are not members. Turns out that visiting Middle Temple is open to anybody, you just need to book.
Visiting Middle Temple
Middle Temple Hall is generally reckoned to be the finest Elizabethan Hall surviving in London. It is massive at 101 feet long and 41 feet wide. The wood-panelled walls and stained-glass windows are awash with the coats of arms of notable lawyers. Walking in is how I imagine walking into the Hogwarts dining room would be. It was here that Twelfth Night had its premiere with Queen Elizabeth I and William Shakespeare both in attendance.
A magnificent double hammerbeam roof tops the hall off. What is a double hammerbeam and how does it differ from a single Hammerbeam? I hear you cry. A hammerbeam is when a roof beam does not go all the way across a roof but just juts out a little bit, supporting the roof’s weight on a far smaller area and enabling a wide roof span. A double hammerbeam is where there are two layers of these short beams. Those who know about these things reckon that the double hammerbeam roof was the most spectacular endeavour of English Medieval carpenter, so pretty special. To see the largest Hammerbeam roof in Europe take a look at my Palace of Westminster post.
When Queen Elizabeth I gave permission for the Hall to be built in 1562, she not only signed the relevant pieces of paper she also gave a gift. A very large oak tree was selected from the forest at Windsor and then floated down the Thames. Not much of a present you might think, but three planks of wood were hewn from the tree and used to make a 29 foot long table that is still in the great hall and still used today.
To enter the main hall you have to pass through a massive ornately carved wooden screen. It looks solid and ancient. The screen was constructed in 1574 but was shattered during the Blitz. All the pieces were collected together and once the war was over work started on putting them all back together. I imagine that it must have been a particularly tricky jigsaw puzzle. To look at it today it is hard to imagine that it was damaged in anyway.
Whilst the other rooms that you see on the tour are not as vast, they are all quite ornate. The Queen’s Room was named for the Queen Mother who was called to the Bar in this room. No, that doesn’t mean that the Queen Mum was a barrister in her spare time, it means that she was a Royal Bencher. The ceilings have ornate plaster work with the Lamb of God, Middle Temple’s symbol, looking down from the ceiling.
The Queen Mother dining in this room most years from 1944, when she was called to the Bar, until 2001 a few months before her death. Her portrait by Sir James Gunn hangs in the room.
Next to the Queen’s Room is the Parliament Chamber. Film buffs may like to know that this is very spot where Mr Darcy proposed to Bridget Jones. I looked very hard for Mr Darcy but he was nowhere to be seen. Big windows over look the gardens but it is not the rose beds that catch your eye but the stained glass memorials to Elizabeth I and other monarchs.
The dining table has a large ship’s bell attached to it. Traditionally members ring the bell to indicate that they are ready for coffee. I’m wondering if we installed such a bell at Cultural Wednesday towers whether anybody would bring me coffee or if I would have to walk to the kitchen myself?
Lunch at Middle Temple
During law term weekdays, the Middle Temple Hall is a very posh works canteen. Members of Middle Temple, who are all barristers and tend to work in the chambers surrounding the hall itself are able to just wander in to eat lunch. Members of the public can join them, but we need to book. You need to be pretty peckish as £25 is way more than I would usually spend on a quick weekday sandwich. If you have time then the three course buffet offers excellent value. Whooshing round on your broomstick and pretending that you are at Hogwarts is not encouraged.
Middle Temple in the Movies
Middle Temple and the narrow cobbled streets that surround it are catnip to film makers. Look carefully and you may recognise the setting for Shakespeare in Love, Pirates of the Caribbean or, of course, Bridget Jones. Sherlock Holmes has also paced around noticing tiny clues invisible to mere mortals.
Visiting Middle Temple: Need to Know
Just turning up and hoping to get into Middle Temple won’t work before you visit you need to:
- Ring 020 7427 4820 to book in advance
- Tours will only go ahead if a minimum of ten people are booked in
- Tour cost £12 per head
- Tours take about an hour
- Lunch is £25 a head for a three course buffet lunch and must be pre-booked
- Lunch is only available during one of the four legal terms; Hilary: mid January – Easter, Easter: Easter – end of May, Trinity: beginning June – end July and Michaelmas: beginning October – Christmas. For exact dates check the Middle Temple website
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Middle Temple invited me for the tour and lunch, all opinions are my own.