Knights-atop-the-columnStanding outside the Temple Church, in the west of the City of London (between Fleet Street and the River Thames), stands a pillar topped with a pair of Templar knights riding a horse in an obvious commemoration of the military order that once had its preceptory here.

But what many people don’t realise is that the column was also erected, apparently like the Golden Boy of Pye Corner, to commemorate another point where the all-consuming Great Fire of London was finally stopped.

The 10 metre high column was erected in 2000 (another of its purposes was to mark the millennium) in what was once the cloister courtyard of the headquarters of the Templars, which had originally founded to protect pilgrims to the Holy Land in 1119.

The bronze figures of the two men atop a single horse which caps the column was a representation of the image found on the order’s official. It represents the poverty of those who initially joined it – so poor they could only afford one horse for every two men, a situation which was to change dramatically in coming centuries as the order accumulated wealth, a situation which, eventually, in France, led to its downfall.

London Remembers reports that the column was designed in the gothic style, similar to the Purbeck marble columns in the church (which, incidentally, are said to be the oldest surviving free-standing examples of their kind) and deliberately made to contrast with the more florid column of Sir Christopher Wren’s Monument, which marks where the fire started and, also, according to a signboard, “the arrival of the new classical order”.

The column, designed by Ptolemy Dean, and the sculpture, designed by Nicola Hicks, were the gift of Lord Lloyd of Berwick, Treasurer of the Inner Temple in 1999. A Latin inscription around the base of the column reads: “Lest the Temple should be without a memorial of the start of the third millennium the Inner Temple caused this monument to be erected for the greater glory of God.”

For more on Temple and the Temple Church, see our earlier posts here and here and here.

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Templars

Not much remains today of the original early medieval home of the Templar Knights which once existed just west of the City of London. While the area still carries the name (as seen in the Underground station, Temple), most the buildings now on the site came from later eras. But there are some original elements.

First though, a bit of history. The Templar precinct which become known as the Temple area of London was the second site in the city given to the military order, known more completely as the Knights of the Temple of Solomon (thanks to their Jerusalem HQ being located near the remains of the Temple of Solomon).

Temple-churchThe first was in Holborn, located between the northern end of Chancery Lane and Staple Inn, and was known as the ‘Old Temple’ after which, in the latter years of the 12th century, the Templars moved their headquarters to the new site – ‘New Temple’ or Novum Templum – on unoccupied land on the bank of the River Thames. 

This new precinct included consecrated and unconsecrated areas. The consecrated part was a monastery and was located around what is now Church Court with the monastic refectory built on the site of what is now Inner Temple Hall – the medieval buttery is the only part of the original building which survives.

The lay or unconsecrated part of the precinct lay east of Middle Temple Lane, where a second hall was built on the site of what is now the Middle Temple Hall (you’ll find more on that here) which was used to house the lay followers of the order.

The original buildings also included the still existing Templar Church (pictured, along with a monument depicting the Templars outside the church), which was consecrated in 1185 during the reign of King Henry II by Heraclius, the Patriarch of Jerusalem, on a visit to London. Like all other Templar churches, its circular design was based on the design of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem (the chancel was added later and consecrated in the presence of King Henry III in 1240 – for more on the Temple Church, you can see our earlier post here.

The New Temple become an important site in London (and the kingdom as a whole – the Masters of the Temple were the heads of the order in England) and was used by many of the nobility as a treasury to store valuables (and to lend money). It also had close connections with the monarchy and was, as we saw earlier this week, a power base for King John and from where he issued what is known as the King John Charter in 1215. He also used it for a time as a repository for the Crown jewels.

In an indication of the Temple’s prominence in state affairs, some of the great and powerful were buried here during this period including William Marshal, 1st Earl of Pembroke, who died in 1219, and his sons William and Gilbert (for more on those buried in the Temple, see our earlier post here). There were also apparently plans to bury King Henry III and his Queen here – this apparently spurred on the building of the chancel on the church – but they were eventually buried in Westminster Abbey instead.

Numerous relics were also apparently housed here during the Templar times including a phial believed to contain Christ’s blood and pieces of the true Cross.

The Templar era came to an end in 1312 when the order was dissolved on the authority of Pope Clement V amid some heinous allegations of blasphemy and sexual immorality which had the support of King Philip IV of France. While the pope awarded their property to the rival order, the Knights of the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem (also known as the Hospitallers), King Edward II had other ideas and ignored their claims with regard to the London property and instead, claimed it for the Crown (a dispute which went on for some years).

It later became associated particularly with lawyers, although lawyers would have certainly been at work in the New Temple given its role as banker to the wealthy (but more on its later associations with lawyers in later post).

For more on the history of the Templars, see Malcolm Barber’s The New Knighthood: A History of the Order of the Temple.

Lost London – Alsatia…

November 28, 2014

A Thames-side slum area located between Temple and Whitefriars Street (and south of Fleet Street), an area previously occupied by the Whitefriars Monastery, Alsatia was known as something of a lawless district where residents resisted any intervention by City officials.

The district came into existence following the dissolution of the monastery by King Henry VIII (he apparently gave the buildings and land to his physician Dr William Butts) and the area, despite some initial efforts to build substantial houses there, eventually degenerated into an overcrowded slum (apparently even when the priory was still existent, some of the surrounding areas had been somewhat disreputable).

The right of sanctuary apparently existed in the area which meant that debtors and criminals who entered gained immunity from arrest while they remained here.

Authorities were certainly loathe to enter the district given the strength which residents showed in resisting any attempts to grab hold of wanted persons and the maze-like narrow thoroughfares of the area and it became mockingly referred to as Alsatia in a reference to Alsace, a much disputed region on the French-German border which was historically outside normal legal jurisdiction.

Among those who took refuge here was Daniel Defoe – he is said to escaped here in 1692 after he was wanted by authorities for writing seditious material.

There were several attempts to clean up the slum but these had little effect (although the Great Fire of London did burn through here in 1666) and in 1608, King James I confirmed the area’s liberties in a formal charter. The rights remained in place until 1697 when they were abolished by an Act of Parliament (along with those of other liberties), although the area maintained its disreputable character for some time after.

Alsatia was mentioned in several books including in Thomas Shadwell’s 1688 play The Square of Alsatia and Sir Walter Scott’s 1822 novel, The Fortunes of Nigel, and the term continued to be used to refer to run-down neighbourhoods until late in the 19th century.

 As London undergoes the big chill with much of the rest of the country, we thought we’d take a quick look at the frost fairs which were once held on top of the frozen River Thames.

While records reveal the Thames froze over as far back as the city’s Roman era, the first recorded ‘frost fair’ dates from the mid-16th century (Queen Elizabeth I is said to have attended one in 1564) while the last was held in 1814.

Frost_Fair_of_1683While the lower temperatures played a role in allowing the ice to get thick enough to hold frost fairs on top (the period between the 14th and 19th centuries is known as the ‘Little Ice Age’ in northern Europe), so too did the fact that the Thames was broader and shallower than it is now, not to mention the narrow arches of Old London Bridge (it was demolished in 1831 – for more on this, see our earlier entry) which slowed the waters of the Thames.

The fairs were set up in a range of locations along the river. Descriptions of them talk of a range of activities being carried out on the river’s frozen surface – yes, the use of sleds and skates but also things like bear-baiting, coach, horse racing, dancing and puppet plays as well as the setting up of booths or stalls from which traders sold food, souvenirs, and, importantly, drink.

One of the longest of the fairs – recorded by diarist John Evelyn – was held over the winter of 1683-84 and located between Temple and Southwark. It featured streets of stalls with different traders grouped in different areas. King Charles II himself was a visitor.

During the last and biggest frost fair, held on the river near Blackfriars Bridge, a street known as ‘City Road’ ran down the middle of the Thames and donkeys gave people rides.

There is a frieze depicting a ‘frost fair’ underneath the southern end of Southwark Bridge.

PICTURE: Detail of an image of the Frost Fair of 1684 with London Bridge in the background. Source: Wikipedia.

Located at 20 Devereux Court, just off the Strand in the area of London known as Temple, The Devereux takes its name from Elizabethan Robert Devereux, the 2nd Earl of Essex, whose mansion, Essex House, once occupied the site on which it stands.

Devereux, a favorite of Queen Elizabeth I, inherited the mansion from his step-father, Robert Dudley, the Earl of Leicester, in 1588 (the house was originally called Leicester House). A spectacular fall from favor which culminated in an abortive coup, however, led to Devereux’s beheading in 1601 (interestingly, he was the last person to be executed inside the Tower of London – the tower where he is held was named after him).

Used by other members of Devereux’s family following his death, a plaque outside the pub explains that the property was sold to property developer, Nicholas Barbon (also noted as the founder of fire insurance), in 1674, and that he had it demolished soon after.

The present building is said to date from 1676 and was originally two houses. Soon after its construction, it became the premises of the famous Grecian Coffee House which had moved from Wapping Old Stairs.

Noted as a meeting place for prominent Whigs, it was also frequented by members of the Royal Society such as Sir Isaac Newton, Sir Hans Sloane and Dr Edmund Halley as well as writer, poet and politician Joseph Addison and Richard Steele, editor of The Tatler (who gave the coffee house as the magazine’s postal address).

The early 1840s, the premises was into lawyers’ chambers and then later into the public house which now occupies it.

There’s a bust of Essex on the facade beneath which is written the inscription, “Devereux Court, 1676”. The pub is these days part of the Taylor-Walker group. For more, see www.taylor-walker.co.uk/pub-food/devereux-temple/pid-C7177.

For a great book on London’s pubs, take a look at London’s Best Pubs: A Guide to London’s Most Interesting & Unusual Pubs.

The man behind what is perhaps the most famous quote about London – “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life” – Samuel Johnson was a noted writer, critic and raconteur of the 18th century whose work included a then unparalleled English language dictionary.

Often simply referred to as “Dr Johnson”, Johnson was also the subject of one of the most famous biographies ever written – that of his friend James Boswell’s aptly named Life of Samuel Johnson.

Born in 1709 in Lichfield, Staffordshire (the home is now a museum), Johnson – who often struggled with poor health and depression – was the son of a bookseller who managed to help fund his brief time at Pembroke College in Oxford before lack of funds meant he had to leave without a degree (he was later awarded an honorary degree).

He worked with his father and as a tutor before eventually, in 1737, heading to London with his friend and former pupil, actor David Garrick, and there worked for the rest of his life as a writer producing works including magazine articles and essays, poetry, sermons, and biographies.

In 1746, he was commissioned to produce the dictionary and rented  a property at 17 Gough Square, not far from Fleet Street, where he would spend the nine years working in it. Published in 1755, the dictionary was a remarkable work which not only won him acclaim ever since but also resulted in King George III granting Johnson a modest pension for the rest of his life (he had previously been arrested for debt).

The Gough Square house is these days open to the public and includes an exhibition on Johnson’s life, particularly with regard to his time there (there’s a statue of his cat Hodge in the square itself). Other sites which Johnson is known to have frequented include Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese in Fleet Street, the Anchor Inn in Bankside, the Theatre Royal Covent Garden (now the Royal Opera House) in Bow Street where the Beefsteak Club met, and St John’s Gate in Clerkenwell where he once had an office.

Johnson married an older widow, Elizabeth Porter, in 1735, but she died in 1752 and it was following her death that Francis Barber, a former Jamaican slave, moved in as his servant, eventually becoming Johnson’s heir.

Johnson’s friends included some of the great luminaries of the time, including artist Joshua Reynolds, philosopher Edmund Burke, poet Oliver Goldsmith, and, of course, Boswell.

Following a series of illnesses, Johnson died in 1784 and was buried in Westminster Abbey. The 300th anniversary of his death was marked with a series of events last year including a re-enactment of the walk Johnson and Garrick made from Lichfield to London.

Dr Johnson’s House (17 Gough Square, nearest tube is Temple, Holborn or Chancery Lane) is open Monday to Saturday, 11am-5.30pm (5pm from October to April). Entry costs £4.50 an adult, £3.50 for concessions, £1.50 for children and family tickets are available for £10. For more information, see www.drjohnsonshouse.org.

Located just outside the west end of the medieval city walls, the Temple Church is an anomaly in a city where, thanks to the Great Fire of 1666, few medieval churches remain.

First consecrated in 1185, the church – like all Templar churches – features a round nave – known as the Round Church – modelled on that of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. It adjoins a ‘Hall Church’ which features three bays dating from the 13th century.

While they have been moved several times, the Round Church contains a number of tomb effigies including those believed to be that of William Marshall, 1st Earl of Pembroke and one of the towering figures of the 12th and early 13th centuries.

It also features a series of faces around the outer wall (these were renewed and replaced in the 1820s), each of which shows a different and, at times, plain odd expression.

The church is located in the midst of what was once a large landholding – located between Fleet Street and the Thames – once owned by the Templar Knights which included quarters for the knights and serjeants. Following the disbanding of the order in early 1300s, the Temple Church passed into the hands of the Knights Hospitaller and then became the property of the Crown during the 16th century reformation.

In 1608, James I granted all the Templar’s land to the societies of the Inner and Middle Temple, two of London’s Inns of Court – the inns are still dedicated to housing those studying and practising law and it’s the inns which maintain the church today.

One of the most famous figures connected to the church is Richard Hooker, Master of the Temple between 1585-91, and author of Of The Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, an important document in Anglican theological thought.

Christopher Wren also left his mark here – he refurbished the church’s interior in the 1670s although much of work was later removed – as did World War II – the roof of the Round Church was brought down during the Blitz.

Make sure you pop in for one of the free organ recitals which are held over lunchtimes each Wednesday.

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 and seniors); WEBSITE: www.templechurch.com

Temple Bar, LondonIt’s been a while since I was in London so I was delighted to find that the Temple Bar had been restored (not to its original site, but to the city as a whole!). The only surviving gateway into the city of London, it was constructed in 1672 to replace a crumbling wooden predecessor and was designed by Sir Christopher Wren (he of St Paul’s fame). The Temple Bar stood at the junction of Fleet Street and the Strand until 1878 when, to help traffic flow, it was removed. Apparently it was intended that it would be rebuilt somewhere else in the city, but time passed and no suitable site was found, so it eventually ended up on an estate in Hertfordshire. Where it remained until 2004 when – thanks to the work of the Temple Bar Trust – it was able to be returned to the city – it is now located between St Paul’s and Paternoster Square – for all to now enjoy.

WHERE: Between Paternoster Square and St Paul’s Cathedral. Nearest tube station is St Paul’s. COST: Free to see (actual building not open to public). WEBSITE: www.thetemplebar.info.

The Temple Bar isn’t the only ‘monument’, for want of a better word, which has been relocated in London. Another is the Wellington Arch, a magnificent structure which was originally finished (though not really completed) in 1830. Then known as the Green Park Arch, it stood parallel with the Hyde Park Screen (it was created to be seen in conjunction with it) and was later adorned with a huge – and controversial – statue of Wellington. But by the 1880s, traffic flow was again a problem and so it was decided to move the arch to its current location, perpendicular to the Hyde Park Screen. As a footnote, when the arch was moved in 1883, the statue of Wellington was not placed back on top but moved to a new site – Aldershot, where it is now.

WHERE: Grosvenor Place, Westminster, SW1X 7. Nearest tube station is Hyde Park Corner. COST: Adults £3.70/child £1.90 (English Heritage members free – there is a joint offer for others combined with Apsley House). WEBSITE: www.english-heritage.org.uk/daysout/properties/wellington-arch/.