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Introduction, Part Two

  King's Bench Walk in the 1720s. A view from Exchequer Court, showing (from left) Nos. 2 and 6-11, King's Bench Walk, the King's Bench Office (the low building by the river), Paper Buildings, the Library, Serjeant Hamson's Building, and (far right) the Exchequer Office.
Image copyright The Inner Temple

The eighteenth century was an era of greater stability, perhaps of genteel decline. Charles Lamb, who was born in Crown Office Row in 1775, painted a loving picture of the Temple of his youth in his essay 'The Old Benchers of the Inner Temple'. If he is to be trusted, the late-Georgian benchers were a very singular body of individuals. Sir Joseph Jekyll, Treasurer in 1816, similarly wrote of his elderly fellows as 'fogrums' opposed to all modern fashions, including new-fangled comforts. The decrepit state of some of the benchers was matched by that of the gloomy alleys and decaying buildings. Charles Dickens (Pickwick Papers, ch. 31) wrote of the Temple's sequestered nooks, comprising for the most part 'low-roofed, mouldy rooms, where innumerable rolls of parchment, which have been perspiring in secret for the last century, send forth an agreeable odour, which is mingled by day with the scent of the dry rot, and by night with the various exhalations which arise from damp cloaks, festering umbrellas, and the coarsest tallow candles'. Much of the Inner Temple was rebuilt between 1830 and 1900, replacing Restoration elegance and Dickensian quaintness with Victorian stolidity. The most successful of the rebuilding projects, though it resulted in the demolition of the little fourteenth-century hall, was the new Hall and Library, designed in a perpendicular style by Sydney Smirke and opened by Princess Louise in 1870.

  Princess Louise and Prince Christian received in the new Library.
Illus. London News, 21 May 1870. Image copyright Professor Sir John Baker

Eminent Inner Templars from these centuries included a prime minister (George Grenville), seven lord chancellors (Lords Harcourt, Macclesfield, Talbot, King, Bathurst, Thurlow, and Chelmsford), Lord Ellenborough, Chief Baron Pollock, Lord Bramwell, James Scarlett (later Lord Abinger), Daines Barrington (author of Observations on the Ancient Statutes), John Austin (the legal philosopher), Henry Hallam (the constitutional historian), Sir Edward Hyde East (author of Pleas of the Crown), Dr Lushington, and Sir James Stephen.

The last hundred and fifty years have brought significant changes in the size and composition of all four inns of court. The membership was widened to include law students from every corner of the empire, and (after 1919) women; the first woman barrister (Ivy Williams) was called to the bar by the Inner Temple in 1922. The number of benchers has risen from around 30 (Chaucer's number) in 1850 to over 200 in 1990.

The twentieth century also brought the catastrophe of war to the Temple. Not only did many members lose their lives in the services during two world wars, but in 1940-41 almost half the Temple was demolished by bombing.

  After the Blitz. Image copyright The Inner Temple  

In the Inner Temple alone the air raids destroyed Fig Tree Court (1666 and later), four buildings in King's Bench Walk (1677 and later), Inner Temple Cloisters (1681), Crown Office Row (1737, 1864), 2 Mitre Court Buildings (1830), Harcourt Buildings (1833), the Hall and Library (1870), and Tanfield Court (1881). They also destroyed the Master's House (1667), and much of Temple Church, owned jointly with the Middle Temple.


The remains of Crown Office Row
after the air raid on New Year's Day 1941.
Image copyright The Inner Temple


Some of these buildings were restored after the war to their original appearance, but the devastation also provided an opportunity to enlarge some of the courts. The narrow Fig Tree Court disappeared, being incorporated into Elm Court as part of the Middle Temple; and the decision was taken to achieve a spacious Church Court by resiting Lamb Building, which had stood in its centre. The vista from the Gardens, between Harcourt Buildings and the Library, was completely redesigned in a Georgian style (in red brick faced with stone) by Sir Edward Maufe and Sir Hubert Worthington.


The vista from the gardens, between Harcourt Buildings and the Library.
Image copyright Professor Sir John Baker


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