Phoenix from the Ashes: The Post-War Reconstruction Of The Inner Temple

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Phoenix from the Ashes: The Post-War Reconstruction Of The Inner Temple

by Clare Rider, IT Archivist 1998-2009

In the tranquil atmosphere of the Temple Church, it is difficult to imagine the chaos and destruction experienced sixty years ago, on the night of the 10th to the 11th May 1941. Except for the outer walls and vaulting, the Temple Church and almost everything in it, including stained glass, altar, reredos, organ, pews, books and pulpit, were devastated by a sustained and effective German air-raid. In addition to the Church, fires raged through the Hall, Library, Master's House, Crown Office Row and what remained of Harcourt Buildings. Despite the assistance of the Fire Brigade and the efforts of the Sub-Treasurer, Roy Robinson, and other members of the night watch, which are recorded in Master MacKinnon's pamphlet 'The Ravages of War', fires continued to burn throughout the following day. Only when they were finally extinguished could the extent of the damage to the Inner Temple buildings be assessed. It must have been a depressing sight.

Yet the bombing raid of the 10th -11th May was by no means the first to affect the Temple, nor was it to be the last. The Inner Temple had already suffered a series of enemy air attacks in the previous eight months, commencing on 19th September 1940, when an explosive bomb hit and sliced open the distinctive Library clock tower. Seven days later, on 26th September, the interior of the Victorian Hall was wrecked by another explosive bomb. Armstead's bronze statues of the Knights Templar and Knights Hospitaller, which had been sculpted in 1875 for the new Inner Temple Hall, were smashed, as were the stained glass windows and Victorian panelling. From that time until the completion of the new Hall in the 1950s, Niblett Hall, which had been constructed on the Alienation Office garden with a bequest from William Charles Niblett, was requisitioned as a substitute Hall for dining and other corporate activities. Further bombing raids followed in October, November and December 1940, now including incendiary bombs, which reeked much havoc in the Temple. Further incendiary bombs fell on 11th and 15th January 1941 and on the night of the 14th-15th March, but were successfully extinguished before they caused significant damage. However, as we have seen, the inn was not to be so fortunate on the next occasion, 10th-11th May, the worst night of destruction in the Temple throughout the Second World War. The three years of relative peace which followed were interrupted in March 1944, by another drop of incendiary bombs, whilst in July a flying bomb (or doodle-bug) fell near the Temple underground station, shattering windows throughout the Temple. The Benchers of the Inner and Middle Temple were faced with a dilemma - should they make plans for rebuilding as soon as possible, seeking funding from the government and the generosity of members, friends and overseas colleagues, or should they await the cessation of hostilities.

When Master MacKinnon wrote his pamphlet, 'The Ravages of War', in the summer of 1944, plans had already been drawn up for building a new Inner Temple Hall and Library and the Benchers had begun to consider the priorities for reconstruction. However, rebuilding could not take place until after peace had been declared and then only after some delay. It would no doubt have shocked some of the 1944 Benchers, who had optimistically looked forward to the reconstruction of the inn, to learn that the final building work was not to be completed until fourteen years later, in 1958. There were a number of reasons for this delay.

The first was need to gain approval from the War Damage Commission for the plans and estimated expenditure. The Commission had been established in the aftermath of the Second World War to oversee the reconstruction of major historic buildings in the capital and elsewhere and to allocate government grants towards rebuilding costs. In the event, the rebuilding of the Inner Temple cost just over one and a half million pounds, of which £1,432,082 17s 1d was recovered from the War Damage Commission, leaving the inn to find the balance of £110,887 18s, 6d.