HOn Tuesday 31st October, eighteen members of the White Lion Society enjoyed a wonderful day in Central London visiting the Middle Temple, the Temple Church, and Lincoln’s Inn Chapel and Old Hall. We saw spectacular displays of heraldry, and heard much about the history of these important sites from three excellent guides.

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Middle Temple

In mid-morning, after gathering outside the main entrance to the Middle Temple, we assembled in the Princes Room for coffee and tea before being taken on a guided tour of the principal rooms led by Diane Eccles, who shared her knowledge of the history of the site from medieval times, through to Middle Temple’s development as the home and training centre for lawyers today.

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We started our tour in the Main Hall, parts of which date from 16th century. This is used for serving lunch for the members and also for special dinners. This Hall and its double hammer beam roof have witnessed many great occasions over the past four hundred years. The first known performance of William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night occurred here in February 1602.  Elizabethan characters such as Drake and Raleigh are commemorated here, as are the later Stuart kings whose portraits hang above the high table at the western end of this Hall. The heraldry of various leading members dominates this historic Hall. The stained glass windows, for example, are decorated throughout with heraldry, and we were fortunate to catch this display on such a sunny day. The oak panelled walls are literally packed with an impressive display of the coats of arms.

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In one corner of the Hall we were briefly shown what is described as ‘Drakes Cupboard’, a table made from the hatch cover of Sir Francis Drake’s famous ship The Golden Hind. We were only shown a glimpse as this piece of furniture is now protected with a heavy wooden cover. From the Main Hall we visited the Parliament Room, where there are more portraits and historical paintings, and a set of fine stained glass windows one of which includes a portrait of Queen Elizabeth I. We then passed through further corridors filled with more portraits and members’ heraldry, and completed our tour in the Princes Room where our guide highlighted the 16th-century armour supposedly made for the Earl of Essex.

Temple Church

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The second part of the White Lion Society visit to the Inns of Court included a visit to the Temple Church, just a short walk from the Middle Temple.

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We were given an excellent talk by John Shearer, the Verger, on the history of the church, its origins, and its architecture as well as the war-time damage and the seventeen year restoration project. He also provided us with some marvellous anecdotes about the difficulties encountered over the years with the ownership of the Church being split between the Inner Temple and the Middle Temple, each Inn jealously guarding its own privileges and traditions.

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Members were able to see in the Church the fine armorial tomb of the lawyer Richard Martin, Recorder of London, who died in 1618, one of the few 16th-century memorials to survive the severe damage to the Church caused in the Second World War, and to view the spectacular Charter Window commemorating the granting of the royal charter by James I of England and VI of Scotland to the Middle Temple and Inner Temple in 1608; this incorporates the Stuart royal arms, the pegasus  salient from the arms of the Inner Temple and the agnus dei of the Middle Temple.

Lincoln’s Inn Chapel, the Under Croft and Old Hall

The afternoon session was taken up with a visit to Lincoln’s Inn where our guide, Tim Kidd, took us through the historic Chapel, the Under Croft, and the Old Hall describing the history and development of these parts of Lincoln’s Inn.

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Once again, we were stunned at the quality, scale, and range of heraldry on display in the Chapel. The magnificent east window above the altar is a unique testament to the history of Lincoln’s Inn, depicting the arms of the past Treasurers of Lincoln’s Inn. Then you realise that there are even more windows along each side of the Chapel equally well decorated, and heraldic shields attached to carved angels along the top edge of the walls.

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One of the most famous law students associated with Lincoln Inn was John Donne, who is believed to have been admitted in 1592 but no formal record in the Lincoln’s Inn archives has survived. There are other references such as his role as Preacher of Lincoln’s Inn from 1617, and his gifts to the Library. His involvement with the building of the Chapel is recorded and he preached a sermon in the Chapel on its consecration on Ascension Day 1623. Donne is commemorated with a display of his arms on one of the angels along the edge of the ceiling.

After visiting the Chapel and the Under Croft, we ended our tour in the Old Hall, adjoining the Chapel. The Old Hall dates from the 1490s and should not be confused with the Great Hall which was built in the mid-19th century, and is currently closed and undergoing a major restoration and refit project. The Old Hall is used for dinners and other special events.

The south end of this hall includes a fine wooden screen with several painted coats of arms. The walls are decorated with a series of portraits. There are also some heraldic stained glass windows. 

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(c) The White Lion Society 2018