London's finest surviving Elizabethan Hall (1562), 101ft long and 41ft wide, highly atmospheric, with double hammerbeam roof, screen and notable paintings. 17C and C20 additions.
History of the Building
Middle Temple Hall is perhaps the finest example of an Elizabethan hall in the country. 101 feet long and 41 feet wide, it is spanned by a magnificent double hammer beam roof carved by the carpenters of Queen Elizabeth I from the oak of Windsor Forest. Begun in 1562 when Edmund Plowden, the famous law reporter, was Treasurer of the Inn and finished in 1573, it has remained virtually unaltered to the present day.
The oil paintings above the Bench are those of Queen Elizabeth I, who reputedly dined many times in the Hall; Charles I of the school of Van Dyck; Charles II attributed to Sir Godfrey Kneller; James II, and, all in Coronation robes, William III, Queen Anne and George I.
In the windows are memorials to other notable people associated with the Inn: Edward VII who was Treasurer in 1887; the late Duke of Windsor who was made a Bencher in 1919; Sir Walter Raleigh; Edward Osborne, Lord Mayor in 1583; Ferdinand, fifth Earl of Derby; and eleven Lord Chancellors and Keepers of the Great Seal, twenty four Chief Justices, ten Masters of the Rolls and nine Chief Barons of the Exchequer.
High Table, where Benchers of the Inn still dine, is made of three 29-foot planks of a single oak floated down the Thames from Windsor, reputedly as a gift from Elizabeth I.
Since medieval times the cup-board has been the centre of ceremonies. On it is laid the book which members sign when they are called to the Bar and by it stood the Readers when each Lent and Autumn they gave their lectures. These Readings were originally intended to teach young members the law.
The Readers’ coats of arms which can be seen on the wood panelling date from 1597. The earliest is that of Richard Swayne who was elected both Autumn and Lent Reader, a custom which ended in 1609. Other early ones are those of Richard Lane, Keeper of the Great Seal to Charles I and William Montagu, Chief Baron of the Exchequer. If a Reader had no coat of arms he applied for one to be created. Alexander Staples took three staples sable, John Delafont a fountain playing into a basin, John Viney a bunch of grapes and Robert Sowler three shoe soles.
The Carved Screen
At the other end of the Hall from the cup-board is the splendid, elaborately carved screen made in 1574. Extensively damaged during World War II, it has been so well repaired that the joins cannot be seen. On either side of the white marble bust of Edmund Plowden in the centre of the screen are two double-leaved doors added in 1671 to assert the authority of the Inn after some young members had occupied the Hall without permission and ‘kept Christmas’ for several weeks. Revels lasting a few days were, however, customary and at Candlemas 1602 William Shakespeare’s newly completed ‘Twelfth Night’ was performed for the first time.
The Hall Today
The Hall is not just an historic relic. It is the centre of the life of the Inn today. Bench, Bar and Students meet here daily at lunch and in the evenings during terms. Here are held not only the Student Moots and Bar Examinations but all the great functions and meetings of a twenty-first century Middle Temple and Bar.