In this episode, we’re taking you on a journey back in time to discover the rich history of one of London’s most famous landmarks: Temple Bar.
Situated at the heart of the capital, Temple Bar has been a witness to countless events that have played a crucial role in the evolution of London. From its origins as the western entrance to the City of London in the 13th century, Temple Bar has stood as a symbol of power and authority, marking the boundary between the City and Westminster for centuries.
Throughout its storied past, Temple Bar has undergone several transformations – from a simple wooden structure to an elaborate stone gateway designed by the eminent architect Sir Christopher Wren. Its history is filled with the pomp and pageantry of royal processions, the tragedies of public executions, and the ceaseless ebb and flow of everyday life in the bustling metropolis.
In this episode, we’ll delve into the origins of Temple Bar, its architectural evolution, and the various events that have taken place within its shadow. We’ll also hear from experts on how this enigmatic gateway has come to symbolize London’s resilience, as it continues to stand proudly amidst the ever-changing urban landscape.
Temple Bar – The Location
Temple Bar marks the boundary between the City of Westminster and the City of London, the end of the Strand and the beginning of Fleet Street.
In order to share the history of Temple Bar effectively we need to go back to Roman London. Five gates were built at sections of the most important Roman roads in and out of London; Ludgate, Bishopsgate, Aldgate, Cripplegate and Newgate. The London Wall is one of the largest construction projects ever carried out in Roman Britain. It was built c200AD around the City, connecting the gates. Aldersgate (between Newgate and Cripplegate) was added in c. 350AD when the Empire fell. The London wall required 85,000 tons of Kentish ragstone and when built measured 2 miles long (3.22km) and about 6 metres high (18.7ft).
During the later Middle Ages, the wall defined the boundaries of the City of London. London expanded city jurisdiction beyond its walls to gates, called ‘bars’, which were erected across thoroughfares, to separate the London jurisdiction from that of Westminster. We are not quite sure when this happened exactly but it was certainly previous to the year 1222 as a decree had been passed in that year to end a dispute between the Abbey of Westminster and the See of London. Naturally enough the Corporation would take equal interest in such a boundary. A bar usually consisted of wooden posts and chains, examples such as at Holborn (to the north) or Whitechapel (to the east of the City).
Temple Bar was positioned across the road in front of where the Victorian Royal Courts of Justice is now. On the East side was Fleet Street in the City of London and on the West side was The Strand leading to the City of Westminster and the centre of royal government.
Temple Bar – On An Important Processional Route
Fleet Street and the Strand were an important processional route for the medieval monarchs and the Temple Bar gateway played a significant role in coronations, marriage processions and funerals and at times would have been decorated and draped in cloth. Historically the monarch would stop at Temple Bar as part of a ceremony.
It was at the gateway where Queen Elizabeth I stopped on her way to St Paul’s Cathedral to pay thanks for the victory over the Spanish Armada in 1588. The Lord Mayor waited at Temple Bar to present to the Sovereign the keys of the City. Elizabeth I presented a pearl-encrusted sword to the Lord Mayor which is still one of five City swords. This tradition has been preserved for more than 400 years, and the ceremony now is carried out on major state occasions where the Queen halts at Temple Bar to request permission to enter the City of London and is offered the Lord Mayor’s Sword of State as a sign of loyalty. This ceremony still takes place in some form today if the monarch wishes to enter the City of London.
On 8 February 1952, for example, the Accession of Queen Elizabeth II was first proclaimed at St James’s Palace, before moving to the site of the original Charing Cross (just south of Trafalgar Square) before moving on to Temple Bar and finally to the Royal Exchange.
It is commented on in televised coverage of modern-day royal ceremonial processions.
96 years before that, on Tuesday 29 April 1856 the Proclamation of the Peace, relating to the treaty of peace then concluded between the United Kingdom and her allies, and the Russian empire was made at St James’s Palace. “A general thanksgiving for the peace was also declared. A procession of the Officers of Arms on horseback, accompanied by troops of the Life Guards, then made its way to Charing Cross, where the proclamation was read by Norroy King of Arms. The procession then made its traditional journey to the places of the proclamation at Temple Bar, Cheapside and finally to the Royal Exchange in the City of London.”
Temple Bar in Literature
The first mention of Temple Bar is in a grant dated 1301, during the reign of Edward I to Walter le Barbour, in regards to the right to collect pavage, a tax paid for paving and repairing the pavement of streets; the right to collect this tax. ” a void place in the high street in the parish of St. Clement Danes, extra Barram Novi Templi,”
There was no proper gate at that point to check who was entering the City or to be able to extract taxes. So a rudimentary gate or bar was originally erected.
This gate must have fallen prey to the fire which burnt all the buildings between London Bridge and St. Clement Danes in 1135, and if in existence in 1265, it must also have been taken away, and carried with the other bars and chains across the City streets to the Tower by the special desire of Henry III.
We know that from at least 1293 there would have been a chain or bar across the road Fleet Street at Temple. The ‘Temple’ bit in the name came from its proximity to Temple Church, once the English headquarters of the Knights Templar and the general Temple area: now home to two of the legal profession’s Inns of Court.
Why did Holborn and Temple areas become synonyms with Barristers?
The reason why Holborn and Temple became a district of lawyers seems to have been a decree of Henry III, dated 2 December 1234, that nobody providing legal education should be located in the City of London, which had the effect of moving the legal profession to the boundary of the City closest to Westminster and the courts.
In 1315, the inhabitants of Westminster petitioned Edward II, that the way between “ la Barre du Novel Temple de Londres,” and the Palace, was so bad, that in the rainy season, they were greatly interrupted, especially by thickets and bushes, to remedy which a tax was levied on the inhabitants for its repair, I a tax however, too unjust to be enforced, but which in 1353, resulted in a three years levy of a halfpenny upon every pound worth of goods conveyed either by land or water, to the staple at Westminster, 3d. upon a sack of wool, 4d. on every ton of wine and 6d. on every last of leather,
Long before this, however, the Fleet Street houses appear to have been of some importance, for the inhabitants are continually mentioned in the old records. One of them as early as 1321 supplied Edward the Second with “ Six pair of boots with tassels of silk and drops of silver gilt, price of each pair 5s. ,” ‘ | while a document in the Record Office tells us that in 1520, the buckles for the Guard of Queen Catherine, the first wife of Henry the Eighth, was supplied from the sign of ” the Coppe,” in the same street. And we have another document telling us that the houses from the Temple Church northwards to the High Street, were erected by the Templars just previous to 1336.
Over the centuries various wooden structures replaced the original bar. By 1351 a wooden gateway had been constructed with a small prison over it. Before the sixteenth century, we really have nothing to give us any description of the appearance of Temple Bar.
You can actually see the gateway in a view of London which 18th-century historian William Maitland includes in his History of London. Maitland affixes the date to be c. 1560 (the second year of Elizabeth I), so we may perhaps safely put it down as early as Edward VI if not Henry VIII.
18th century clergyman, historian and biographer John Strype tells us, “Anciently, there were only posts, rails, and a chain, such as are now in Holborn, Smithfield, and Whitechapel bars. Afterwards there was a house of timber erected across the street, with a narrow gateway and an entry on the south side of it under the house.” This structure is to be seen in the bird’s-eye view of London, 1601 (Elizabeth), and in Wenceslaus Hollar’s seven-sheet map of London (Charles II.) Temple Bar was considered one of the City gates; it was the eighth gate in the engraved plate that accompanied John Strype’s version of John Stow’s Survey, published in 1720 (Fig. 2).As Edward Hatton states in his A New View of London, printed in 1708) “The old black wooden gateway, once the dreaded Golgotha of English traitors, separated the Strand from Fleet Street, the city from the shire, and the Freedom of the City of London from the Liberty of the City of Westminster…This gate opens not immediately into the City itself, but into the Liberty or Freedom thereof.”
Great Fire of London, a catalyst for change
It was on the third day of the Great Fire of London Pepy’s wrote, “ was running downe to Fleet Streete,” and by five o’clock it had reached the Conduit.
The Great Fire never reached nearer Temple Bar than the Inner Temple, on the southside of Fleet Street, and St. Dunstan’s Church, on the north.
The Great Fire of London had swept away eighty-nine City churches, four out of the seven gates, 460 streets, and 13,200 houses. Fifteen of the twenty-six wards were destroyed and 436 acres of buildings, from the Tower of London (eastward) to the Inner Temple (westward) were laid to waste.After the devastation of the Great Fire of London in 1666 there was a massive rebuilding programme in the City. Although the existing structure had not been damaged in the fire it was thought a more impressive entrance to the City was needed at this point, especially as this was the most important entrance to the City of London from Westminster.
The Temple Bar by Sir Christopher Wren
The new gate is attributed to the King’s Architect Sir Christopher Wren who, it is thought, was commissioned to design it by Charles II. There is no definite historical evidence that it was designed by Wren. Sometimes Wren signed his initials on a plan to sign it off. Even though his son had the original drawings there are no initials. Wood was replaced with the sturdier, grander and, most importantly, fire-resistant Portland stone, a stone of which Wren had the monopoly from the Royal quarries in Dorset.
Arch of Portland stone, it is a two-story structure consisting of one wide central arch for road traffic, flanked on both sides by narrower arches for pedestrians. It formed part of Wren’s vision of a new and grander modern London.
It was built by London-born Joshua Marshall and adorned with statues by John Bushnell, who was also born in London. They both had worked with Wren previously.
Joshua Marshall was thrice Master of the Masons’ Company and a notable sculptor. The Marshalls, a father and son team or perhaps brothers, had had a connection to Fleet Street since the reign of James I for they had a parcel of ground, with buildings and yards:
“to the east of Fetter Lane, on the north to the passage called Bond Stables, on the south adjoining to the buildings of one John Dawling, gent., and on the west butting on the garden of the Master of the Rolls” — Addit. MS. Brit. Mus. 5063 fol. 182.”
Marshall was the main contractor for the rebuilding of St Bride’s church, often known as the wedding cake church, where Joshua was also a parishioner. This was his next job after Temple Bar.
You may have seen Marshall’s other works, including the statue of Charles I on the south island of Trafalgar Square. Marshall was also one of two master masons that worked on the rebuilding of St Paul’s Cathedral from the start of the design in the first phase.
Joshua Marshall had significant responsibility for the construction of the Monument to the Great Fire of London (designed by Christopher Wren) as is indicated by his receiving £11,300 of the total cost of £13,450 11s 9d. for the monument.
One of the assistants working under Joshua Marshall on some of these projects was Nicholas Hawksmoor, well-known for his later architectural works.
One third of the total cost of £1,500 for Temple Bar was spent on sculpturing four regal statues to adorn the four alcoves, two on either side of the new stone gateway. The statues demonstrate the Stuart dynasty; its founders James I and Anne of Denmark, Charles I and Charles II. The two Charles’s are wearing Roman dress. Charles II did seem appreciative of the efforts of the ancient Romans (read about the Roman connection to The Monument in Ian’s blog post here: https://londonguidedwalks.co.uk/the-text-on-the-monument/).
John Bushnell, the sculptor of these four regal sculptures, had a somewhat interesting personal life. That is if Vertue’s accounts of him can be believed:
Mr Bushnall statuary (his Father a Plummer). he born in London. put apprentice to [Thomas] Burman, a good Mason and Carver of that Time. Under him he learnt, or rather his workmen by drawing modelling and Studying, when near the end of his aprentiship (his Mistress being brought to bed) in which Time her nurse that attended her was got with child by ye Master, but he so contriv’d it. that Bushnall was marryd to her, the remaining part of his Time given up. After this Bushnall was by his Master imployd. & sent to put up a Monument in the Country, part of the money [being 15 pounds] he receiv’d & went off with it unknown to any one. Travell’d abroad & there studied & became an Excellent Master. Was at Rome, Venice. &c. & many parts of Italy. After nine or ten years he return’d home, sett up in London in Hatton Garden.’
The statues were described by Victorian writer Walter Thornbury in his book Haunted London “They are all remarkable for their small feeble heads, their affected and crinkled drapery, and the piebald look produced by their projecting hands and feet being washed white by years of rain, while the rest of their bodies remains a sooty black.“ The statues, as with the rest of the bar, have been restored since then, no more shrunken heads.
Before the restoration it was noted that he slab over the eastern side of the arch bore the following inscription, before being smoothed down by time:—
“Erected in the year 1670, Sir Samuel Starling, Mayor; continued in the year 1671, Sir Richard Ford, Lord Mayor; and finished in the year, 1672, Sir George Waterman, Lord Mayor.” All those mentioned were known friends of Pepys.
The ornamental decoration of Temple Bar isn’t limited to the statues. The upper part of the Bar is flanked by scrolls, at the top are cornucopia (goat’s horn overflowing with flowers, fruit) a symbol often used with abundance of good things. The supporters of the royal arms over the posterns are a particular favourite of mine, especially the unicorn.
Above the arch is a semicircular-headed, ecclesiastical-looking window allowing easterly and westerly light into the room above the gate. Messrs. Childs, the bankers rented this room for £50 a year and used it as a muniment room for their old account books. Which makes sense as the original positioning of Wren’s Temple Bar was right next to Child’s bank.
The Gruesome 17th And 18th Centuries
From the 17th century the heads of traitors were displayed on spikes on top of Temple Bar.
The first head to appear on Temple Bar was Sir Thomas Armstrong involved in the 1683 Rye House Plot, a plan to assassinate King Charles II and his brother (and heir to the throne) James, Duke of York.
Next came Sir William Perkins and Sir John Friend who planned to assassinate King William III as he returned from hunting in Richmond – intercepting his coach between Brentford and Turnham Green. They were hanged at Tyburn despite pleading their innocence – and their heads removed for public display on Temple Bar. Their heads were boiled in salt or pitch first to stop the birds eating them thereby allowing the heads to last longer.
In a ghoulish twist, typical of London, there were enterprising people in 1746 who were reportedly hiring out looking glasses at Temple Bar so that passers-by could take a closer look at the severed heads. It cost a halfpenny apparently. In 1766, a man was arrested for firing musket balls at the heads – which he then confessed to have been doing for three nights running.
The last heads to be displayed were those of Colonel Francis Towneley and George Fletcher. They were executed for taking part in the Jacobite rebellion ( Siege of Carlisle ) 1746. For some time after Towneley’s execution his head was displayed on Temple Bar until a faithful family retainer secured possession of it and brought it back to Burnley, where for many years it was kept in a basket covered with a napkin in the drawing room at Towneley Hall.
In 1772, one of the heads blew down during a storm. Incredibly, the blackened object had been on top of Temple Bar since 1723 – nearly fifty years! A chap called John Pearce took it to a local tavern where it was then buried under the floor. Must have been an amusing subject of conversation beforehand! This incident brought the end to the practice.
By the gate also stood a pillory in which Daniel Defoe spent time in 1703 for libel, so you can see how the gate and area in general became a key spot for displaying the power of the authorities and a place of spectacle in the city.
Removal of Temple Bar from Fleet Street
Wren’s Temple Bar stood in Fleet Street for just over 200 years. Alderman William Pickett unsuccessfully petitioned for its removal. One can only assume it interfered with his business which was on Ludgate.
Due to a variety of factors the decision to remove Wren’s gate was made. Firstly, and most importantly, the roadway needed widening to relieve the heavy traffic. The Royal Courts of Justice was also being built at that time. The Corporation of London however, had a strong attachment to the Bar and rather than see it cleared away, it was taken down brick by brick, beam by beam, numbered stone by stone, and stored in a yard off Farringdon Road until a decision for its re-erection could be reached.
That it was a street for traffic is evident from Ford’s ballad of “ The Norfolk Farmer’s Journey to London, 1603,” wherein he describes the people as jostling each other, while, Yonder one doth ride in state, And here’s a beggar at a gate, And there’s a woman that will prate. while in “ The Puisne’s Walk about London , ” a little later in date, we have the writer describing the statue of Queen Elizabeth at Ludgate ; the Lord Mayor on horseback with “ trappings so rich you would admire,” coming up the hill, — But I must consider perforce The saying of ould so true it was “ The Gray Mare is the better horse ,” And “ Alls not gould that shines like brass.” But our pedestrian, hearing a shout, started for the scene of it.
Everybody entering the City had to pass under the Temple Bar. It wasn’t entirely popular with the Victorians as it held up traffic and people were forced to squeeze through when on top of an omnibus. Accounts of the the Duke of Wellington’s funeral in 1852 show that it had long been an obstacle; see Picard 376.
On January 2, 1878, the first stone was removed and just eleven days later the scaffolding was cleared and the dismantling was complete. In its place, the Temple Bar Memorial was erected in 1880.
It was eventually purchased by Lady Meux, a banjo playing ex-barmaid who had married Sir Bruce Meux a member of a very wealthy family of London brewers. Forever trying to convince Victorian high society of her respectability, she decided to rebuild the impressive Temple Bar at Theobalds Park, her Hertfordshire estate. More than 2,500 stones weighing nearly 400 tons were transported from London to Hertfordshire carried on low flat trolleys and pulled along by a team of horses.
Eight months after it had been rebuilt, the Meux’s hosted a magnificent garden party. Special trains brought in large numbers of visitors whose heads would turn as they stood in awe of the majesty of this historic relic forming a grand entrance to the park. While under the ownership of Lady Meux guests were regularly entertained in the upper chamber of Temple Bar which was beautifully decorated with “spy” cartoons from Vanity Fair and it is believed that it was here that Lady Meux dined with Edward VII, who at the time was the Prince of Wales and Winston Churchill. In 1889 a gamekeepers lodge was added.
Over the decades Temple Bar became a ruin.
Video of reconstruction and restoration:
Temple Bar Returned to London
In 1976 the Temple Bar Trust was formed with the aim to return the gateway to London. In 2004, at a cost of just over £3 million, the Temple Bar gateway returned to London. Its new home is adjacent to the north west Tower of St Paul’s Cathedral and forms a pedestrian gateway into the redeveloped Paternoster Square.
The stonework needed a considerable amount of conservation and restoration work which was carried out by a specialist contractor. The arch was post tensioned to avoid relying on heavy buttresses to fit in the space it is in now.
It was originally adorned with four royal statues (Charles I, Charles II, James I and Anne of Denmark) carved by John Bushnell and these have now been restored and returned to the four niches on the main elevations of Temple Bar.
In addition new statues depicting the Royal Beasts, City Supporters and associated Coats of Arms (cartouches) were carved by Tim Crawley, Cambridgeshire. These replace the original statues which were lost after Temple Bar was removed from Fleet Street in the nineteenth century.
The conservation of this monument in the heart of the City of London is as near an original condition as possible. It was possible to retain over 95% of the original stonework.
Temple Bar Address: Paternoster Square, London, EC4M 7DX
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