Tuesday, 19 November 2013

London: Inns of Court

King's Bench Walk, Inner Temple

 I was in London to have lunch with a friend and decided to do this walk around the Inns of Court, taken from London's Hidden Walks book 1 by Stephen Millar. This is an exceptional walk book with detailed accounts of each walk. Rather than repeat all that, I will simply pick out the things that most interested me.

You start at Blackfriars and walk along Tudor Street to enter the seemingly vast expanse of the Inner Temple. The imposing King's Bench Walk stretches out on either side of the gateway. It dates from the 1670s and was designed by Wren.

I was especially keen to see the celebrated Temple church and headed straight there. The round church, modelled on the church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, was consecrated in 1185 and the nave was added in 1240.

The inside is light and airy, the original round section being exceptional beautiful.

The route continues along Middle Temple Lane to reach Middle Temple Hall, a handsome building dating from Elizabethan times (1573).

Now you double back to emerge suddenly into the bustle of the Strand. George Edmund Street's magnificent Royal Courts of Justice is just to the left.

Now up Chancery Lane and left into Carey Street, where in a side street is one of the more unusual sites of this walk: an original Victorian public toilet.

Further along Carey Street is the entrance to Lincoln's Inn. This is the more elaborate view of the gate from the inside.

In the far corner is the dramatic Great Hall (left) and Library (right), opened by Queen Victoria in 1845.

While on the right there is the Old Hall built in 1490, which was once used as a law court.

You exit through an arch next to the Old Hall and then go through the rather plain Gatehouse of 1564 into Chancery Lane. Emerging into High Holborn you would normally paused to admire the half-timbered Staple Inn, although it is currently hidden behind scaffolding. I have walked past this building many time and it was pleasing to now know what it is.

Heading briefly west you pass the old Cittie of London pub and enter Gray's Inn, with the chapel dating from 1689 ahead.

Turning through an arch on the left you come to Gray's Inn Gardens, known as "The Walks", a delightful area open to the public, as are other gardens in the Inns of Court, at lunchtime.

Leaving Gray's Inn, you cross High Holborn to reach Lincoln's Inn Fields, London's largest square at 12 acres. It was laid out by Inigo Jones in the 17th century. One of the most interesting buildings is the extraordinary Sir John Soane's museum.

Leaving on the opposite side you pass the Old Curiosity Shop in Portsmouth St. This dates from the 1560s and is one of the oldest hops in London, but the link to Dickens may be opportunistic rather  than real.

Finally you emerge in the Strand and I will end with one of my favourite London churches, St Mary le Strand by James Gibbs (1727).

Conditions: cold but bright and mainly sunny.

Distance: 3 miles.

Rating: four stars. A very interesting look at an area I have passed through many times but never before explored.

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