Saturday, 24 February 2018

THE TEMPLE CHURCH - A glimpse through history By Elizabeth Chadwick


Temple Church exterior. Wikipedia
A building that has featured in several of my novels is the Temple Church in London, where the great William Marshal whose life story. I have told in The Greatest Knight and The Scarlet Lion, and the forthcoming Templar Silks is buried with two of his sons, William II and Gilbert. William Marshal and his family were associated with the Templar order throughout their lives and their burial in the Temple Church reflects their commitment to the order Knights.
The rectangular nave of the Temple Church, originally part of the 1240 improvements.
The Temple Church in London is a beautiful building of mellow golden stone set within the tranquil labyrinth of The Inns of Court, and it has its own very special almost ethereal atmosphere even though it could not in itself be called an ethereal building.
What you see now and experience now is the result of almost a thousand years of development and restoration. The church may retain the ground plan of the original, but there is not a great deal left of that first building. Most of what a visitor sees has either being restored or interpreted at some point or another in history.
Thought to be the tomb effigy of William Marshal. 
It is believed that the Templar order of warrior monks came to England in 1128 and around that time establish themselves in Holborn, on the site of what is now Southampton House. They build a church of Caen stone with a round at one end, emulating the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. However, within a few decades. They had outgrown their original premises and moved to the current location the 'New Temple' closer to the River Thames. The new church was consecrated in 1185 by Heraclius, the visiting patriarch of Jerusalem who was in England to offer the throne of Jerusalem to Henry II (who declined). During the same visit he was to consecrate the Hospitaller's establishment in Clerkenwell.
Google Map View.  Click to enlarge. The Temple Church is centre picture just above the greenery.
The Templars' growing influence, logistical expertise, their power and the security of their establishments made them perfect for the role of 'bankers' to people who wished to deposit their treasure or make large-scale financial transactions and who wanted to know that their money would be safe. The Bishop of Ely ( a post that went with the office of royal treasurer), had a right of lodging at the Temple during the Angevin period.
in 1312, the Templar order was dissolved and their property was given into the keeping of the Hospitallers, although there were various legal disputes and the Hospitallers did not gain possession until 1338. Within 50 years of this date, the apprentices of the Law acquired the tenancy and have occupied the Temple grounds ever since.
The Round in 1792
The West door of the Round is the only part of the Temple Church to show its original surface to the world. Even prior to bomb damage in World War II, (after which major repair work had to be undertaken), the church had been restored in the 19th century to as near to the original as possible according to the vision and understanding of 19th-century historians, architects and antiquarians which in essence meant that a sledgehammer was taken to crack a nut.

The 13th century church had a rectangular choir of five bays and was completed in 1240 during the reign of Henry III, who, at one time, had intended to be buried here, but then embarked on his great Westminster project instead. But before Henry III's remodelling which at least gives us the current shape of the church, there had been a much smaller predecessor i.e. the church consecrated by patriarch Heraclius in 1185. There had also been an early 13th century chapel tacked onto the side of the Round with a crypt beneath it. The crypt is still there and also another underground chamber under the south side of the chancel, this time belonging to the late 12th century. This was excavated in the mid-20th century. It was built before the 1240 chancel, and was low and long with a stone bench running along the north and south walls and evidence suggesting that there was an altar in the East. One speculation is that this may have been the Templar strongroom because it was protected by thick walls and that the holiness of an altar incorporated an extra safety feature
The Round in the 18th century showing one of the shops attached to the church
With the lawyers ensconced in the Temple area, the Round was used as a sort of general waiting-room for people who had business with the lawyers. The West porch became a shop with Chambers above it and there were shops all along the south wall. The churchyard had a tailor's shop and there were other sundry shacks and hovels built in this area. Laundresses did their washing in the churchyard and hung up their clothes. Sometimes the House of Commons would use the church as a committee room.

In 1666 the Round was slightly damaged in The Great Fire of London and in 1682 Sir Christopher Wren suggested that $1,400 should be spent repairing it. The suggested repairs included raising the level of the floor, adding wainscotting up to window level in the Round and in the chancel, and whitewashing everything else. Also painting the effigies of the Templars. An organ was also to be made. The Middle Temple lawyers wished the organ to be made by Father Smith, but the Inner Temple had their own candidate in mind in Renatus Harris. Smith and Harris both made organs and they were set up in the Temple church and then tried out at services. But no one could reach an agreement. Finally in 1685 they decided to ask the Keeper of the Great Seal, Lord Guildford who was a great music lover to listen and decide. Unfortunately he died before he had made his decision known so the task was passed on to his successor Lord Chief Justice Jeffreys (the dreaded 'hanging' Judge Jeffreys) who decided that the Smith organ was the best and that Harris should be given a consolation sum of £200.
A 19th century restoration of one of the head corbels in the Round of the Temple Church
Wren's decor of wainscots and whitewash remained in situ until the 19th century, although at some point during the 18th century, buttresses and battlements were added to the church exterior. It had been decided in 1811 that no more burials were to take place within the church because the slabs kept getting broken. Restorations were carried out in 1828 by one Robert Smirke. The remains of St Anne's chapel were removed and portions of the West Door were recut.
The chapel of St Ann, the crypt and the belfrey in 1826
A crypt adjoining the south side of the Round Tower was in such a ruinous state that it was destroyed and the the legal records it had contained were removed elsewhere for safe keeping. The head corbels and arcading around the edge of the round were recut by masons and the original heads were thrown away. The pillars of the round and nave were replaced with 42 new pillars of Purbeck marble. The work continued over several decades and it was the quaintly named Sidney Smirke and Decimus Barton who made a full and thorough job of the restoration of the church when 'every ancient surface was repaired away or renewed' except for the vaulted ceiling of the choir.

Victorian Gentleman plaster cast of William Marshal
The effigies of the knights Templar within the church were re-restored as part of the of the mid 19th century 'upgrade.' In 1840, Mr Edward Richardson cleaned the effigies, removing the earlier coats of paint and recutting and restoring the figures to the best of his ability by joining the broken fragments and using artisitc license on the features where they were beyond recall. He then coated them with bronze paint and in so doing destroyed all traces of earlier colour. It is his inventive restoration from which the V&A plaster casts of the Temple Church knights have been taken, so if William Marshal the plaster cast effigy resembles a Victorian gentleman, then Richardson's imaginitive restoration is the reason why.

In 1941 the ceiling again survived, this time incendiary bomb damage during the Blitz but the Purbeck marble columns (themselves part of the 19th century restoration) split in the heat and had to be replaced. The effigies were in a poor condition 'smashed to smithereens' according to Elizabeth and Wayland Young in their book Old London Churches, but since then they have been yet again restored.

This is just a short blog post on some of the alterations and restorations that have altered the structure and appearance of the Temple Church throughout its long and eventful life and my brush strokes are broad with moments of detail here and there. It would take a whole book to write its story and indeed it was the authors of those books I consulted to write this article.

The Temple Church has weathered is alterations well, and while individual elements of its facelifts might horrify historians and interested parties (myself being one of them where the Templar effigies are concerned), nevertheless, there is no denying the beauty of this wonderful old building and the haunting ambience of the sum of its parts.

Books consulted in the writing of this article:

The Temple Church: A short history and Description with plan and illustrations by George Worley. Bell's Cathedral Series 1907

Old London Churches by Elizabeth and Wayland Young published by Faber and Faber 1956

Temple Church Monument being a report to the Two Honourable Societies of the Temple by Mrs. Arundell Esdaile, published by Geo. Barber & Son ltd. 1933
Elizabeth Chadwick's new novel Templar Silks which is about William Marshal's pilgrimage to Jerusalem and involves the Temple Church in London in a few scenes is published on the first of March 2018.

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