Hare Court, part of Inner Temple – one of the four Inns of Court in London. The inns of Court are professional associations for barristers – the Inner Temple, like the Middle Temple, has provided accommodation for lawyers since at least the 14th century.


Following on from our post last week, we take a look at a couple more of London’s buildings that had some sort of association with William Shakespeare…

St-John's-Gate St John’s Gate, Clerkenwell (pictured): This former gatehouse into Clerkenwell Priory was at the time of Shakespeare home to the Master of the Revels and where the playwright would have had to have brought his plays for official government approval. Thirty of the Bard’s plays were licensed here and the Master of Revels during all but the final few years of Shakespeare’s career was Edmund Tilney (or Tylney), who served in the post under both Queen Elizabeth I and King James I. The gatehouse was later used as a coffee house and pub among other things and is associated with everyone from artist William Hogarth (his father Richard ran the coffee house), Dr Samuel Johnson and Charles Dickens. These days, the gatehouse is part of the Museum of the Order of St John (for more on that, see our earlier post here).

Staple Inn, Holborn: OK, there’s no direct link at all between Shakespeare and this building on High Holborn but it was built during his lifetime – in 1585 – and as such is one of very few surviving examples of buildings of his era. Its name comes from the fact the site where it stands was originally a covered market where wool was weighed and taxed (the word ‘staple’ apparently relates to the duty on wool introduced in 1275). It later became an Inn of Chancery – a medieval school for lawyers which fed students through to the Inns of Court (in this case mostly Gray’s Inn), and it was members of the Society of Staple Inn who built the new building here in the 1580s. The building – which still boasts a grand hall – survived the Great Fire of London in 1666 and, albeit with considerable damage, the Blitz. Since the late 1800s, it has been home to what’s now known as the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries. The building, which was restored in the 1990s, is a great example of an Elizabethan-era structure and gives some sense of what Shakespeare’s London was like.

One of the foremost seafarers of the Elizabethan age, Sir Francis Drake became the second sea captain to circumnavigate the globe when he did so in his renamed vessel, The Golden Hind, between 1577 and 1580.

Drake's-CupboardWhile it is not believed he was a member of the Middle Temple – one of the Inns of Court, he certainly had some connections and a visit to Middle Temple Hall is recorded in August, 1586, when he was congratulated having just returned from a voyage to the Spanish Indies.

His ongoing connection to the inn can be found in two objects which remain at the hall today.

The first is a ‘cupboard’, known as Drake’s Cupboard (cup board being an alternative for table), it is reputedly to have been made from a hatch cover off the Golden Hind (there’s a replica of this ship in Southwark). Replacing an earlier table, the cupboard is used in various ceremonial aspects of life at the Inn such as, for example, being the table on which members sign a book when they are called to the Bar.

The second, meanwhile, is a lantern which hangs over the entrance to the hall and was reputedly taken from the poop deck of the ship (this was destroyed during the bombings of World War II and a replica now hangs in its place).

Both items can only be viewed when the hall is opened to the public on rare occasions like the annual Open House London event. For more on Middle Temple Hall, see our earlier entry here and www.middletemple.org.uk.

Last weekend saw thousands of people make their way to rarely opened properties across London as part of Open House London. Among the properties we visited was the Middle Temple Hall, one the finest example of a 15th century hall in London (if not the UK). The hall was built in the 1560s and early 1570s – by which time the Middle Temple, one of the medieval Inns of Court (more of which we’ll be talking about in an upcoming series), had already existed for about 200 years – and the hall which the Temple currently used, that of the former Templar Knights, was starting to fall apart. The new hall was constructed under the direction of law reporter Edmund Plowden, then Treasurer of the Inn, and funded by members of the Middle Temple. In use by about 1570, Queen Elizabeth I is, according to some stories, said to have dined there many times and it was in the hall that the first performance of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night took place. While it suffered some damage in World War II bombings, the hall still looks much as it did in the late 1500s. It remains at the centre of the Middle Temple’s collegiate and social life and it is here that members are called to the Bar. Among the notable objects inside are numerous paintings and stained glass memorials of people associated with the Inn (including Sir Walter Raleigh and numerous monarchs – from King Charles I to King Edward VII) as well as the High Table – a table made of three 29 foot long planks from a single oak, it is said to be a gift from Queen Elizabeth I – and the ‘cupboard’, a smaller table which was apparently made from the hatch cover of Sir Francis Drake’s ship, the Golden Hind. Late note: I should add that the Middle Temple Hall is not normally open to the public.