A relic of the early medieval age, the late 12th century Temple Church in the City of London is a marvel in its own right, its circular nave modelled on the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem (for more on its history, see our earlier entry here). But it’s inside the round church – once based inside property that formed the London headquarters of the Templar Knights – that we are concerned with in this piece – for there can be found are series of remarkable effigies of knights which date from the 13th century.

There are nine effigies in all (and one grave cover) and, having survived the Great Fire of 1666, most of them were damaged during World War II when, in a bombing raid on 10th May, 1941, the roof was set alight and came crashing down on top of them. They have since been repaired, using as much of the original material as possible, and still make an imposing sight redolent with the history they depict.

Pre-eminent (at least in his lifetime) among those depicted is William Marshal, the 1st Earl of Pembroke (1146 -1219) and an advisor of kings including King Henry II, King Richard ‘the Lionheart’ and King John who was named Regent during the infancy of King Henry III.

One of the most influential men of his age (described by early thirteenth century Archbishop of Canterbury, Stephen Langton, as the “greatest knight who ever lived”), he lies in the southern group of effigies near his sons William, 2nd Earl of Pembroke (1190-1231) and Gilbert, the 4th Earl of Pembroke (1194-1241). (The 3rd Earl of Pembroke, Richard, was the second son of William – he died after being captured during fighting in Ireland and was buried in Kilkenny). Another of this group is believed t0 depict Robert, Lord de Ros, one of the 25 barons to guarantee the observance of the Magna Carta, signed by King John in 1215.

The only identified effigy in the northern group is that of Geoffrey de Mandeville, the 1st Earl of Essex and a man known for the cruelties he inflicted during the troubled reign of King Stephen (he shifted his allegiances between King Stephen and his rival, the Empress Matilda several times), particularly in the eastern counties where he seized Ramsey Abbey near Peterborough to use as his base.

Interestingly, none of the men named was a Templar but are believed to have been benefactors of the Templar Knights. Some of those shown are cross-legged but whether this denotes a crusader or not remains a matter of debate.

WHERE: Off Fleet Street and down Inner Temple Lane (nearest tube station is Temple); WHEN: Check website for times; COST: £4 (free to under 18s, seniors); WEBSITE: www.templechurch.com.

Advertisements

This well-to-do area in London’s north-west, just outside Regent’s Park, takes its name from the historic ownership of land here by the Order of St John of Jerusalem (also known as the Knights Hospitaller).

The land had previously been part of the Great Forest of Middlesex. The Order of St John of Jerusalem, which since 1140s had its English headquarters in a Clerkenwell priory where St John’s Gate stands (this now houses the Museum of the Order of St John – see our previous entry here), took over ownership of land in the early 1300s after the previous owners, the Knights Templar, fell into disgrace.

Following the Dissolution, it became Crown land and remained so until 1688 after which it passed into the hands of private families, notably the Eyre family who owned much of the area.

It remained relatively undeveloped until the early 19th century when, following the introduction of semi-detached villas on planned estates, it was marketed as a residential alternative for London’s middle classes, away from the smog and congestion of central London.

It became favored by the bohemian set and residents included creative types like artists and authors as well as scientists and traditional craftsmen (apparently in the late 19th century it was also known for its upmarket brothels).

Rebuilt with swanky apartment complexes in the early twentieth century, these days it remains a leafy enclave for the wealthy. Many of the houses which have survived are heritage listed.

Landmarks include St John’s Church (pictured above, this was consecrated in 1814) and the St John’s Wood Barracks and a Riding School (this was completed in 1825 and is the oldest building still on the site) which is now home to the King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery which carries out mounted ceremonial artillery duties such as firing royal salutes for the State Opening of Parliament, royal birthdays and state visits.

St John’s Wood is also home to Abbey Road Studios (home of the Beatles and that famous zebra crossing), Lord’s Cricket Ground (officially the home of the Marylebone Cricket Club which was moved here in 1814, the same year the church was consecrated) and the Central London Mosque located on the edge of Regent’s Park.

For more on St John’s Wood, take a look at the website of The St John’s Wood Society.

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.