The Inner Temple: A Community of Communities
by John Deby QC, Master of the Silver until 2011
Most people would expect the Inns of Court, like the City Livery Companies and Oxford and Cambridge Colleges, to have gathered together a large collection of silver over the centuries. There have, however, been both additions and disposals. Additions have come mainly from gifts by Treasurers and other Benchers, with pride of place going to Master Schiller who was Treasurer in 1942 and bequeathed to the Inn in 1947 a very high proportion of the present collection.
The Inn itself must have purchased items of silver from time to time but the Inner Temple records make little reference to silver. There is, however, an entry in the contemporary account book recording the joint purchase with Middle Temple of what must have been a very splendid cup to give to James I in 1608 as a “thank you” for the Royal Charter. Alas, the cup was pawned in Holland by Charles I and never redeemed, and has not since been traced.
On the debit side, silver is sometimes sold or melted down. All the silver (except Church Plate) was melted down in the Civil War; changes of fashion doubtless led to pieces being melted down and remodelled; items were sold when money was needed, in particular in the last century to fund student scholarships.
In this article I can only refer to some of the more interesting items in the collection. The piece we have had for the longest time is a silver-gilt chalice, which is one of a pair. They were supplied by Terry in 1609, the year after the Royal Charter, and the account book reads: “To Terry, a goldsmith, for two new communion cups for the Temple Church, abating of the exchange of one old one, 13li 12s 2d; the Middle Temple paid the one half, 6li 16s 1d.”
Probably our most famous cup is one dated 1563. Scholars have argued whether it portrays a poppy, a pomegranate or a gourd, but it is clearly a melon, a fruit which had at that time recently been introduced to this country. In 1999 it was displayed at the Museum of London in the Exhibition “London Eats Out” as an ornament to a table set with a feast of 1565. In 2001 it was displayed at the British Museum at an exhibition of Dürer, as its design clearly shows influences from his work. The Victorians were fond of copying older pieces of silver and we also have a good copy of this cup which was made in 1898.
A particularly beautiful piece is the silver-gilt Grace cup made in 1620. It is engraved “1588 McLeod of Lewes” and is said to have been made from silver salvaged from an Armada galleon wrecked off the island of Lewis. Another remarkable item is a large rosewater dish and ewer made in 1670 and given to the Inn in that year. The dish has a very fine engraving of a Pegasus on it and was long used at important dinners. We also have an excellent copy of this made and given to the Inn in 1878.
Then there is a pair of Charles II silver-gilt tumbler cups. They were usually made as part of a canteen for travellers. With their matted surface (effected by hammering) they could easily be thought to be modern but they date from 1671 or 1673. They are very attractive, not least because the neck of one of them can be inserted into the other, something which most people find irresistible.
The Inn has a good collection of porringers (which were always intended to contain drink and not porridge). The gem of our more recent acquisitions (in 1992) is a silver-gilt porringer of massive proportions made in 1678 by Robert Smythier for the City of London to give to Sir William Dolben on his giving up the Recordership of London. It cost 59 pounds and one shilling, which is an indication of the gratitude they felt for his services which is duly engraved on the porringer. It has been said to be as near to perfection as one could hope to find in a piece of silver. Dolben was a member of the Inn, a Bencher and Reader in autumn 1677.
A more recent acquisition is the so-called Sherlock Cup, which was purchased jointly with Middle Temple at a cost of £49.9.6 and was presented to the Master of the Temple, Dr Sherlock in appreciation of his services. Dr Sherlock succeeded his father as Master in 1704 at the tender age of 26. He remained at the Temple for 49 years; during the latter part he was also Bishop of London. Sherlock left the cup to his nephew, Thomas Gooch, and it remained in the family until the sale in 2000. It was then again bought jointly by the two Inns and is held in turn, year by year, so that the host Inn at the annual Amity dinner can place it in front of the two Treasurers.
Then we have a silver-gilt tazza (salver with a foot) engraved with the Royal Arms of William and Mary and those of Charles Montagu, Earl of Halifax. A number of such finely engraved salvers were made in the late 17th and early 18th century. It was the custom for the Chancellor of the Exchequer to retain as a perquisite his silver seal of office on the dissolution of Parliament. This was defaced and a salver made from it with the representation of the seal engraved on it. Halifax ceased to be Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1699 and died in 1715. This salver is dated 1720 and is apparently a replica of one made for the Earl in 1687.