Yesterday, a group of Members went on one of our behind-the-scenes: a tour around the Middle Temple whose ancient hall dates from the Elizabethan era. It’s a magnificent structure with a handsome double hammerbeam roof, one of only four in the world. Middle Temple is one of London’s four Inns of Court, the other three being its near neighbour Inner Temple plus Lincoln’s Inn and Gray’s Inn slightly to the north on t’other side of Fleet Street.
Before universities proliferated, along with Oxford and Cambridge the Inns collectively were main centres of learning for young gentlemen who perhaps preferred to hang around the capital. Sir Walter Ralegh was one such. Today the hall’s main function is a refectory for members and students. But in its early days it was also a venue for revels, lectures, drama. Twelfth Night’s first performance was here in 1602. Our tour started and ended here for afterwards we enjoyed a fabulous buffet lunch seated on one of the long bench tables. Between these bookends in time, we were led through a series of wood panelled function rooms, all richly decorated with portraits of luminaries of the past who had close connections with this Inn.
King Edward VII and the late Queen Mother were both enthusiastic supporters who enjoyed the convivial hospitality of the Middle Temple. The guided part of our visit ended in the Library. The books are old; the building is modern, for the old library was irretrievably Blitzed. It’s the home of the Molyneux globes, one terrestrial, the other celestial. They are among the earliest of the type ever made, remarkable survivors. Members of the public are permitted to visit the hall, but only if it’s not being used and at the discretion of the porters, so it’s all a bit random. But we had our fill and much more besides, all thanks to the Inn’s senior librarian Renae Satterley @resatterley whose knowledge, enthusiasm and warm hospitality are a credit to this ancient institution. Rather than repeat what’s available elsewhere, read the history of Middle Temple on Wikipedia here or, better still, on their own web site here. Look out for the PDF download. Related post: Agnus Dei.