Middle Temple Gatehouse | Step through a 17th century gateway to London’s legal heartland
The story behind the neo-classical grand entrance to Middle Temple, which has prompted debate over the identity of its architect.
Fleet Street is one of London’s most famous streets – after all it has coveted spot on Monopoly board! However, it is also home to some of the capital’s most varied architecture; from the Neo-Gothic splendour of St Dunstan-in-the-West to the Art Deco temple of Peterborough Court. One of these interesting buildings is the Middle Temple Gatehouse, a grand 17th century entrance to the district of Middle Temple. Located across the road from the Royal Courts of Justice, it stands at the western end of Fleet Street.
Today, the Middle Temple is home to one of London’s legal districts. The name Temple comes from the Medieval group, the Knights Templar, who based their headquarters in the area from the 1160s until they were dissolved in 1312. Temple became synonymous with legal industry later in the 14th century, establishing accommodation and offices for lawyers and students.
The current building you see today is the second gatehouse on the site. The original was erected in the early 16th century by English official and soldier, Sir Amias Paulet (d.1538), who served as treasurer for Middle Temple. Although it’s not clear if it was damaged during the Middle Temple fire of 1678, it was certainly in bad condition by this stage and needed to be replaced.
When it comes to the architect of the current building, there has been much debate about who was responsible. Historic England, British Listed Buildings and architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner (1902-1983) all state it was designed by Roger North (1653-1734). However, the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) and Museum of London have cited the gatehouse as the work of Sir Christopher Wren. North was a lawyer who trained at Middle Temple and an amateur architect, as well as a friend of Wren. While it’s unlikely we’ll never know for sure, who knows… perhaps both men dreamt up the design over an ale or two in the pub?
The current red brick and Portland stone structure was built in 1684 and Grade I listed in 1950. The ground floor features a central carriageway sandwiched between two arched footways, all featuring black gates. Above the carriageway is the Agnus Dei symbol of the ‘lamb of God’, holding a flag of St George. The symbol can be spotted throughout the district and is part of the Middle Temple’s arms. As a gatehouse to London’s prestigious legal district, it is given an air of superiority with the classical details of four Ionic pilasters, with the top storey crowned by an entablature and pediment. The first floor features two full-length windows which open out to iron balconies, situated underneath a narrow stone band depicting the Latin phrase: ‘SVRREXIT . IMPENS . SOC . M . TEMPLI . MDCLXXXIV.’
- Middle Temple Gatehouse, Middle Temple Lane, Temple, EC4Y 9BB. Nearest station: Temple.
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Posted on 18 Oct 2021, in Architecture, History, London and tagged 17th century, Temple. Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on Middle Temple Gatehouse | Step through a 17th century gateway to London’s legal heartland.