Temple Bar, London

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Horace Jones' Temple Bar marker topped by Charles Bell Birch's heraldic Dragon.
Temple Bar in 1870
Temple Bar Gate in 1878
Temple Bar in its dilapidated state in Theobalds Park in 1968
Temple Bar in Patenoster square in 2005

Temple Bar is the principal ceremonial entrance to the City of London on its western side from the City of Westminster. It is situated on the historic royal ceremonial route from the Tower of London to the Palace of Westminster, the two chief residences of the mediaeval English monarchs, and from the Palace of Westminster to St Paul's Cathedral. The road east of Temple Bar and within the City is Fleet Street, the road to the west, in Westminster, is The Strand. At Temple Bar the Corporation of the City of London formerly erected a barrier to regulate trade into the City. The 19th century Royal Courts of Justice are located next to it on its north side, having been moved from Westminster Hall. To its south is the Temple Church and the Inner Temple and Middle Temple Inns of Court. As the most important entrance to the City of London from Westminster, it was formerly long the custom for the monarch to halt at Temple Bar before entering the City of London, in order for the Lord Mayor to offer up the Corporation's pearl-encrusted Sword of State as a token of loyalty. The term Temple Bar strictly refers to a notional bar or barrier across the route, but is commonly used to refer to the 17th century ornamental Baroque arched gateway designed by Christopher Wren which spanned the road until its removal in 1878. Wren's arch was preserved and was re-erected in 2004 in the City, in Paternoster Square next to St Paul's Cathedral.

Detail from Temple Bar Marker, London, UK


In the Middle Ages the authority of the City of London Corporation reached beyond the City's ancient defensive walls in several places, known as the Liberties of London. To regulate trade into the City, barriers were erected on the major entrance routes wherever the true boundary was a substantial distance from the nearest ancient gatehouse in the walls. Temple Bar was the most used of these, since traffic between the City of London (England's prime commercial centre) and the Palace of Westminster (the political centre) passed through it. Its name derives from the Temple Church, adjoining to the south, which has given its name to a wider area south of Fleet Street, the Temple, once belonging to the Knights Templar but now home to two of the legal profession's Inns of Court.

The historic ceremony of the monarch halting at Temple Bar and being met by the Lord Mayor has often featured in art and literature. It is commented on in televised coverage of modern-day royal ceremonial processions. The City of London's own website describes the ceremony as:

"The Temple Bar ceremony, which is still occasionally re-enacted at a monument to the Bar, involves the monarch stopping to request permission to enter the City and the Lord Mayor presenting the Sword of State as a sign of loyalty."[1][unreliable source?]

However the popular belief that the monarch requires the Lord Mayor's permission to enter the City is incorrect.[2][unreliable source?]

Historic structures[edit]

A bar is first mentioned in 1293 and was probably very simple, possibly only a chain between a row of posts. More substantial structures with arches followed. One such structure 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. Although it escaped damage by the Great Fire of London of 1666, it was rebuilt as part of the general improvement works made througout the City after that devastating event.

Wren's Temple Bar Gate[edit]

Commissioned by King Charles II, and designed by Sir Christopher Wren, the fine arch of Portland stone was constructed between 1669 and 1672. Rusticated, it is a two-story structure consisting of one wide central arch for the road traffic, flanked on both sides by narrower arches for pedestrians. On the upper part, four statues celebrate the 1660 Restoration of the Stuart monarchy: on the west side King Charles II is shown with his father King Charles I whose parents King James I and Anne of Denmark are depicted on the east side.[3] During the 18th century the heads of convicted traitors were frequently mounted on pikes and exhibited on the roof, as was the case on London Bridge. The other seven principal gateways to London, namely (Ludgate, Newgate, Aldersgate, Cripplegate, Moorgate, Bishopsgate and Aldgate) had all been demolished by 1800, but Temple Bar remained despite its impediment to the ever-growing traffic. The upper story room was leased to the neighbouring banking house of Child & Co for storage of records.[citation needed] In 1874 it was discovered that the keystones had dropped. 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 over an 11-day period and stored its 2,700 stones carefully. In 1880 the brewer Henry Meux, at the instigation of his wife Valerie Susan Meux, bought the stones and re-erected the arch as the facade of a new gatehouse in the park of his mansion house Theobalds Park in Hertfordshire. There it remained, positioned in a woodland clearing, from 1878 to 2003. In March 1938 Theobalds Park was sold by Sir Hedworth Meux to Middlesex County Council, but the Temple Bar Gatehouse was excluded from the sale and retained by the Meux trustees.[4] In 1984 it was purchased by the Temple Bar Trust from the Meux Trust for the sum of £1. In December 2001 the City's Court of Common Council resolved to contribute funds for the return of Temple Bar to the City.[5] On 13 October 2003 the first stone was dismantled at Theobalds Park[6] and all were placed on 500 pallets for storage. In 2004 it was returned to within the City of London where it was painstakingly re-erected as an entrance to the Paternoster Square redevelopment immediately north of St Paul's Cathedral, which opened to the public on 10 November 2004. The total cost of the project was over £3 million, funded mainly by the City of London, with donations from the Temple Bar Trust and several City Livery Companies.

The top of one of the gates was offered for sale by Dreweatts Auctioneers[7] in a London sale of surplus stock from LASSCO on 15 June 2013.

Present structure[edit]

Following the demolition of Wren's gateway, Horace Jones, Architect and Surveyor to the City of London, designed a memorial to mark Temple Bar which was unveiled in 1880.

The elaborate pedestal in a Neo-Renaissance style serves as the base for a sculpture by Charles Bell Birch commonly called Griffin (in fact a dragon), in reference to the heraldic crest of the Corporation of the City of London. The pedestal is decorated with statues by Joseph Boehm of Queen Victoria and her son The Prince of Wales, the last royals to have entered the City through Wren's gate, which event is depicted in one of the reliefs which also decorate the structure.[8]

In fiction[edit]

The Dragon on top of Temple Bar comes to life in Charlie Fletcher's children's book about unLondon, Stoneheart.

Charles Dickens mentioned Temple Bar in A Tale of Two Cities (Book II, Chapter I), noting its proximity to the fictional Tellson's Bank on Fleet Street. This was in fact Child & Co. which used the upper rooms of Temple Bar as storage space. Whilst 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..."

In Herman Melville's Paradise of Bachelors and Tartarus of Maids, he contrasts the beauty of the Temple Bar gateway with the highest point on the road leading to the hellish paper factory, which he calls a "Dantean Gateway" (in his Inferno, Dante describes the gateway to Hell, over which are written the words, "Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.")

The dragon also features in Virginia Woolf's The Years, in which one of the main characters, Martin, points "at the splayed-out figure at Temple Bar; it looked as ridiculous as usual – something between a serpent and a fowl."

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Temple Bar. cityoflondon.gov.uk
  2. ^ The Gates of London in the Seventeenth Century (unpublished MA thesis, Courtauld Institute of Art, 2003) David Robinson, Temple Bar: the History, Architecture and Fabric of a Celebrated London Monument (unpublished English Heritage Report)
  3. ^ Victorian Web
  4. ^ See[1]
  5. ^ See[2]
  6. ^ See[3]
  7. ^ Dreweatts
  8. ^ Details and photos at Victorian Web.

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 51°30′49″N 0°06′43″W / 51.51361°N 0.11194°W / 51.51361; -0.11194