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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Just a few feet from an entrance to St Paul’s tube station stands an old relic of London.
Aside from St Paul’s Cathedral, there isn’t much left in the City of London from the 16th and 17th century. Wars, fires and redevelopment have dramatically changed the architecture and even road layouts of the original Square Mile. With large-scale buildings being completely wiped from existence over the years, it’s impressive when a small piece of London’s heritage manages to survive.
The Panyer Boy is an ancient plaque in Panyer Alley, near the entrance to St Paul’s tube station. It depicts a naked child – likely a baker boy – sitting on a bread basket. Underneath the cherubic boy, are the words: “When ye have sought the City Round. Yet still this is the highest ground. August 27th 1688.” The quote is by English historian John Stow (1524/5-1605) and dates from 1598 – nearly a century earlier than the date below on the plaque. “This is the higher ground” refers to the long-held belief that Ludgate Hill was the highest hill in the City of London, however it’s actually Cornhill, which currently stands at 58ft (17.7metres) above sea level.
Despite the date stamp of the late 17th century, the mystery of the origins and original location of the Panyer Boy still continues. This stone effigy has been remounted from building to building as the surrounding environment has changed around him. Panyer Alley has existed for centuries and takes its name from ‘pannier’ – the basket or box from which the young baker boys would sell bread. Pannier is an Old English term deriving from the old French word ‘panier’. Some historians have speculated Panyer Alley was named after The Panyer inn, which stood nearby on Paternoster Row until it was destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666.
The carving of the child has somewhat eroded over time, making it even harder to work out what’s actually going on in the carving. Is the child holding a bunch of grapes or a loaf of bread? Stow certainly believed he was holding the fruit as he wrote in his Survey of London: “…a boy fitting upon it, with a bunch of grapes as it seems to be, held between his naked foot and hand, perhaps of Plenty…” This part of the City of London was known for its bakers, with nearby Bread Street the location of the capital’s bread market from Medieval times. Read the rest of this entry