This ornate Baroque archway only stands with walking distance from where it originally stood marking the entrance to the City of London. But it came to this position by a somewhat roundabout route.
The gate was originally constructed at the junction where Fleet Street becomes the Strand, it marked the boundary between the City of London and Westminster.
While the first gate on the site dates back to the 14th century (prior to that the boundary was apparently marked with a chain two posts), the gate we see today dates from 1672 when, despite having survived the Great Fire of London, the previous gate – a crumbing wooden structure – was demolished and this upmarket replacement built to the design of none other than Sir Christopher Wren (earlier designs for the gate created by Inigo Jones were never acted upon).
Made of Portland stone, the new structure featured figures of King Charles I and King Charles II on the west side and King James I and Queen Anne of Denmark on the east (it’s said that a third of the total £1,500 cost was spent on the statuary alone).
Shortly after its construction, it became a location for the display of the remains of traitors (usually heads), the first of which were the body parts of Rye House plotter Sir Thomas Armstrong and the last of which was the head of Jacobite Francis Towneley in 1746 (there’s also a story that such was the interest when the heads of the Rye House plotters – who had planned to assassinate King Charles II and crown his brother, the future King James II, in his place – were displayed, telescopes were rented out so people could get a closer look).
Among the luminaries who passed under the central arch were Anne Boleyn (the day before her coronation) and Queen Elizabeth I. The Queen did so most famously on her way to give thanks in St Paul’s Cathedral for the English victory over the Spanish Armada and since then, whenever a Sovereign has wanted to enter the City past Temple Bar, there’s been a short ceremony in which the Sovereign asks permission of the Lord Mayor of London to enter. Granting this, the Mayor then offers the Sword of State as a demonstration of loyalty and this is subsequently carried before the Sovereign as they proceed through the City as a sign of the Lord Mayor’s protection.
The Temple Bar stood in its original location until 1878 when, to help traffic flow, it was carefully removed brick-by-brick over a period of 11 days (the City of London Corporation well aware of its historical significance) . It was initially intended that the gateway would be rebuilt somewhere else in the city, but time passed and no suitable site was found.
Instead, the gate lay in pieces in a yard in Farringdon Road before, in the mid 1880s, Sir Henry Bruce Meux had all 2,500 stones transported via trolleys pulled by horses to his estate at Theobalds Park in Hertfordshire and re-erected there as a gateway (the Lady Meux apparently used the small upper room for entertaining – among those said to have dined here was King Edward VII and Winston Churchill).
In 1976, the Temple Bar Trust was formed to have the archway returned to London – they eventually succeeded 30 years later in 2004 when it was re-erected on its current site between St Paul’s and Paternoster Square at a cost of some £3 million.
The original site of the Temple Bar is now marked with a Victorian era memorial – erected in 1888 – which features statues of Queen Victoria and Edward, the Prince of Wales.