Bits Of London That Moved: Temple Bar
Quite a few bits of London aren’t how they once looked and are in the wrong place. We do it to confuse visitors. One that I’m glad is back is Temple Bar. It was one of the original ceremonial gateways to the City of London, used for grand parades into the city; there had been eight gates once, as follows;
Aldgate, leading to Colchester and Essex, Bishopsgate, leading to Shoreditch and Cambridge, Moorgate, a Roman postern turned into a gate in 1415, leading to the Moorfields (marshes), Cripplegate, leading to the village of Islington, Aldersgate, leading to St. Barts, Smithfield Market and Charterhouse, Newgate, leading towards Oxford and the west, and Ludgate, leading to Bath and the South West.
And Temple Bar, the only one left. It’s supposed to have been built by Wren, and once displayed the heads of traitors on spikes. Perhaps we could revive that tradition, starting with the Quisling Mr Nigel Farage. The term Temple Bar refers to a notional bar, chain or any barrier across the route, but was applied to this gate.
Its name derives from the Temple Church to the south. ‘Temple’ is the name given to the area off Fleet Street which once belonged to the Knights Templar. In Bleak House, Chuck Dickens described it as ‘that leaden-headed old obstruction, appropriate ornament for the threshold of a leaden-headed old corporation’. There are lots of great stories about people being denied entry, although it was noted that the gate didn’t keep anyone out as you could nip into the city from the barber shop next door.
But the gate itself is now in the wrong place. It had stood where Fleet Street meets the Strand – outside the London boundary, as was – for 200 years before the old road was widened. The original spot has a monument marked with one of the City’s lovely heraldic griffins. For once, though, instead of simply bashing the gate to bits and chucking it away (something that happens to our most treasurable monuments) it was carefully taken apart, the 2,700 parts numbered, and stored.
And there it stayed in boxes for a decade, until Lady Meux, the wife of a brewery owner, fancied bigging herself up to her mates and had the gate rather absurdly installed at her estate in Theobald’s Park, Hertfordshire. The Temple Bar Trust was established to bring back the gate, and it officially returned to the revamped Paternoster Square in 2004. The Bar now heralds visitors into a bleak, bare square that once housed the Square Mile’s bookshops and can only now offer a Starbucks instead.
Never mind, have one of their frankly awful coffees and look at the Temple Bar from where you sit – a real piece of character in Square Mile.