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Temple Bar is the point in London where Fleet Street, City of London, becomes the Strand, Westminster, and where the City of London traditionally erected a barrier to regulate trade into the city. Today, the Royal Courts of Justice are located next to it. As the most important entrance to London from Westminster, it has long been the custom that the monarch stop at Temple Bar before entering the City of London, so that the Lord Mayor may offer him or her the City's pearl-encrusted Sword of State as a token of loyalty. The term Temple Bar is also retained for the gateway designed by Christopher Wren which used to occupy the spot from the 17th to the late 19th century. Wren's arch has been preserved and is now located in Paternoster Square next to St Paul's Cathedral.
In the Middle Ages, the authority of the City of London Corporation reached beyond the city's ancient walls in several places (the Liberties of London). To regulate trade into the city, barriers were erected on the major roads wherever the true boundary was a substantial distance from the old gatehouse. Temple Bar was the most famous of these, since traffic between London (England's prime commercial centre) and Westminster (the political centre) passed through it. Its name comes from the Temple Church, which has given its name to a wider area south of Fleet Street, the Temple, once belonging to the Knights Templar but now home to two of the legal profession's Inns of Court.
The historic ceremony of the monarch stopping at Temple Bar and being met by the Lord Mayor has often featured in art and literature. It is also being shown on television when it occurs at special occasions in the present era. The City of London's own website describes the ceremony as:
- "The Temple Bar ceremony, which is still occasionally re-enacted at a monument to the Bar, involves the monarch stopping to request permission to enter the City and the Lord Mayor presenting the Sword of State as a sign of loyalty."
However, the popular view that the monarch requires the Lord Mayor's permission to enter the City is incorrect.
A bar is first mentioned in 1293 and was probably very simple, possibly only a chain between some posts. More substantial structures with arches were soon to follow. One was badly damaged during the Peasants' Revolt in 1381.
By the late Middle Ages a wooden archway (with a prison above) stood on the spot. Although it escaped damage by the Great Fire of London (1666), it was decided as part of the improvements undertaken by the City to rebuild the structure.
Wren's Temple Bar Gate
Commissioned by King Charles II, and designed by Sir Christopher Wren, the fine arch of Portland stone was constructed between 1669 and 1672. Rusticated, it is a two-story structure consisting of one wide central arch for the road traffic, flanked on both sides by narrower arches for pedestrians. On the upper part, four statues celebrate the Stuart monarchy: on the west side Charles II is shown with his father Charles I whose parents James I and Anne of Denmark are depicted on the east side. During the 18th century, the heads of traitors were mounted on pikes and exhibited on the roof. The other seven principal gateways to London (Ludgate, Newgate, Aldersgate, Cripplegate, Moorgate, Bishopsgate and Aldgate) had all been demolished by 1800, but Temple Bar remained despite its impediment to the ever-growing traffic. The upper story room was leased to the neighbouring banking house of Child & Co for records storage. It was discovered that the keystones had dropped in 1874. In 1878 the City of London Corporation, eager to widen the road but unwilling to destroy so historic a monument, dismantled it piece-by-piece over an 11-day period and stored its 2,700 stones carefully. In 1880, at the instigation of his wife, Valerie Susan Meux, the brewer Henry Meux bought the stones and re-erected the arch as a gateway at his house, Theobalds Park, between Enfield and Cheshunt in Hertfordshire. There it remained, incongruously sitting in a clearing in a wood, from 1878–2003.
In 1984, it was purchased by the Temple Bar Trust from the Meux Trust for £1. It was carefully dismantled and returned on 500 pallets to the City of London, where it was painstakingly re-erected as an entrance to the Paternoster Square redevelopment just north of St Paul's Cathedral. It opened to the public on 10 November 2004.
The top of one of the gates appeared at auction by Dreweatts London sale of surplus stock from LASSCO on 15 June 2013.
With the demolition of Wren's gate decided, Horace Jones, Architect and Surveyor to the City of London, designed a memorial to mark Temple Bar which was unveiled in 1880.
The elaborate pedestal in a Neo-Renaissance style serves as the base for Charles Bell Birch's sculpture commonly referred to as Griffin (it is, however, a dragon) as the symbol for the City of London. The pedestal is decorated with statues (by Joseph Boehm) of Queen Victoria and The Prince of Wales, the last royals to enter the City through Wren's gate – an event depicted in one of the reliefs which also decorate the structure.
Charles Dickens mentioned Temple Bar in Book II, Chapter I of A Tale of Two Cities, noting its proximity to Tellson's Bank, also on Fleet Street. This was in fact Child & Co. which used the upper rooms of the Bar as storage space. While critiquing the moral poverty of late-18th century London, Dickens wrote that in matters of crime and punishment, "putting to death was a recipe much in vogue," and illustrated the horror caused by severed heads, "exposed on Temple Bar with an insensate brutality and ferocity..."
In Herman Melville's Paradise of Bachelors and Tartarus of Maids, Melville contrasts the beauty of the Temple Bar gateway with the highest point on the road leading to the hellish paper factory, which he calls a "Dantean Gateway" (in his Inferno, Dante describes the gateway to Hell, over which are written the words, "Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.")
The dragon also features in Virginia Woolf's The Years, in which one of the main characters, Martin, points "at the splayed-out figure at Temple Bar; it looked as ridiculous as usual – something between a serpent and a fowl."
- Temple Bar. cityoflondon.gov.uk
- The Gates of London in the Seventeenth Century (unpublished MA thesis, Courtauld Institute of Art, 2003) David Robinson, Temple Bar: the History, Architecture and Fabric of a Celebrated London Monument (unpublished English Heritage Report)
- Victorian Web
- Details and photos at Victorian Web.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Temple Bar, London.|
- Victorian Web
- The Return of Temple Bar to the City of London website
- City of London website with history of Temple Bar