In the Middle Ages, the authority of the City of London Corporation reached beyond the city's ancient walls in several places (the Liberties of London); to regulate trade into the city, barriers were erected on the major roads wherever the true boundary was a substantial distance from the old gatehouse. Temple Bar was the most famous of these, since traffic between London (England's prime commercial centre) and Westminster (the political centre) passed through it. Its name comes from the Temple Church (an old complex once owned by the Knights Templar but now home to two of the legal profession's Inns of Court), which is located nearby.
It has long been the custom that the monarch stop at Temple Bar before entering the City of London, so that the Lord Mayor may offer him or her the City's pearl-encrusted Sword of State as a token of loyalty. This picturesque ceremony has often featured in art and literature. However, the popular view that the monarch requires the Lord Mayor's permission to enter the City is incorrect.
Today Temple Bar (like other major entrances to the City of London) is marked by a stone monument in the middle of the roadway, topped by a statue of a dragon, (commonly described as a "griffin"). The dragon comes from the City's arms, where two of them feature as supporters.
The earliest Temple Bar may have been no more than a turnpike; there was a gate of some kind from 1293. One was badly damaged during the Peasants' Revolt in 1381.
By the late Middle Ages a wooden archway (with a prison above) stood on the spot. Badly damaged in 1666 by the Great Fire of London, it became necessary to rebuild the structure. Commissioned by King Charles II, and designed by Sir Christopher Wren, the fine arch of Portland stone was constructed between 1669 and 1672. During the 18th century, the heads of traitors were mounted on pikes and exhibited on the roof.
The other seven principal gateways to London (Ludgate, Newgate, Aldersgate, Cripplegate, Moorgate, Bishopsgate and Aldgate) had all been demolished by 1800, but Temple Bar remained as an impediment to the ever-growing traffic. In 1878 the City of London Corporation, eager to widen the road but unwilling to destroy so historic a monument, dismantled it piece-by-piece in an 11-day period and stored its 2,700 stones carefully.
In 1880, the brewer Sir Henry Meux bought the stones (at the instigation of his wife, Valerie, Lady Meux, a barmaid he married amid much scandal) and re-erected the arch as a gateway at his house, Theobalds Park, between Enfield and Cheshunt in Hertfordshire.
It remained there, incongruously sitting in a clearing in a wood, until 2003. By then it had been purchased by the Temple Bar Trust from the Meux Trust for £1 in 1984. It was carefully dismantled and returned on 500 pallets to the City of London where it was painstakingly re-erected as an entrance to the Paternoster Square redevelopment just north of St Paul's Cathedral. It opened to the public in late 2004.
Charles Dickens mentioned Temple Bar in Book II, Chapter I of A Tale of Two Cities, noting its proximity to Tellson's Bank, also on Fleet Street. While critiquing the moral poverty of late-18th century London, Dickens wrote that in matters of crime and punishment, "putting to death was a recipe much in vogue," and illustrated the horror caused by severed heads, "exposed on Temple Bar with an insensate brutality and ferocity..."
Temple Bar: urban conservation and modern approach can co-exist ; A recent article by Environment Editor Frank McDonald was critical of an extension to the Quays pub in Temple Bar. Dermot Kelly, a former Executive Planner (until 1997) with Dublin Corporation responds
Jun 20, 2002; More than five years after my employment with Dublin Corporation, I now have to defend myself. For the record, my work included a...