It’s one of the oldest churches in London, but barely known to so many as it’s quietly hidden away amidst the legal buildings of Temple. A stone’s throw from Middle Temple Hall is the 12th century Temple Church. Although the church is usually open on weekdays for a small charge, it also welcomes visitors for free one weekend every September as part of Open House London. For those who don’t know, Open House London is chance for Londoners and tourists to see inside buildings normally off limits to the public, or usually costing to enter, for free.
The name Temple covers an area in the City of London between Fleet Street and the River Thames, east of Aldwych. The name Temple actually stems back to a Medieval group known as the Knights Templar. They comprised of wealthy and powerful soldier monks who protected pilgrims on their way to the Holy Land. Their financial skills were an early form of banking and they were renowned for their fighting during the Crusades. Back in England, they named their headquarters after Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem. Originally based in High Holborn, by the 1160s the Knights Templar found they needed a bigger site for their rapidly expanding organisation and purchased a new site near the Thames, which we now know today at Temple.
The original church was circular – with this now acting as the nave – and was based on the 6th century Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. The church was consecrated in February 1185 by Patriarch Heraclius of Jerusalem (1128-1190/1191) and it is believed King Henry II (1133-1189) was in attendance. The circular church measured 55 feet in diameter. It is believed the walls were painted different colours, while further decoration was provided by the Purbeck Marble columns – now acknowledged to be the oldest, surviving free-standing examples of these today. As well as the church, the Knights Templar also built residences and military training facilities on the surrounding land. Read the rest of this entry
The history of these striking 12th century ruins on Bankside.
While London has been in existence for over 2000 years, there is little that remains from the earlier centuries. The Tower Of London and sections of the old Roman Wall are just a few pre-17th century remnants of the City of London. Over the centuries, the city has been ravaged by fire, plagues and bombs. Back in the 13th Century, the population of London was extending beyond the City walls, as the adjoining City of Westminster was also rapidly growing since the 11th century – with people spreading across the River Thames to the South Bank.
Of course, during William Shakespeare‘s times, Bankside would have been comparable to Soho or Shoreditch today – where the population went to party and be entertained. However, a few centuries before the Elizabethan playhouses entertained the masses, Bankside became home to Winchester Palace – a city base for religious leaders.
The town of Southwark belonged to the old Diocese of Winchester – when the Hampshire city was the capital of Saxon England – and was a handy base for the Bishop when he needed to visit London for royal or state business. Henry of Blois (1096-1171), the Bishop of Winchester at the time, decided to construct the palace in the 12th century as a permanent base. The palace included a Great Hall, prison, wine cellar, brewery and butchers, among other buildings on the large site. As well as providing somewhere to rest, it soon became a place for entertainment. The palace played host to royal guests over the decades and was the location of James I of Scotland (1394-1437) and Joan Beaufort’s (d.1445) wedding reception in 1424. The bishops certainly lived well – even having access to tennis courts, garden and bowling alley. In 1642, the palace was converted into a prison to hold royalists during the English Civil War. One notable prisoner was Sir Thomas Ogle.
The palace remained in use for nearly 500 years until the 17th century when the building was divided up into warehouses and tenements. However, like many of London’s greatest Medieval buildings, it was largely destroyed by fire in 1814. The existing ruins, which lie on the Thames Path, were partially re-discovered in the 19th century following another fire and thought to be mostly 14th century. Further redevelopment of Bankside in the 1980s uncovered more remains. The ruins were Grade II* by Historic England in 1950 and have been deemed a Scheduled Ancient Monument. Today, all that’s left is the stunning, 14th century rose window and the gable wall with doors leading to the pantry, buttery and kitchen. The lower level would have featured a vaulted cellar, with direct access to the river wharf. The window was restored in 1972.
- The remains of Winchester Palace lie on the Thames Path at Clink Street, Bankside, SE1 9DG (just west of the Golden Hinde ship replica). Free to visit. Nearest station: London Bridge. For more information, visit the English Heritage website.
For the rest of Metro Girl’s blog posts on London history, click here.