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.

The second was the need to agree plans with the Middle Temple, which had also sustained major damage from German air-raids. Not only did the Inner and Middle Temple Benchers need to agree over the repair and rebuilding of the Temple Church and Master's House, which were jointly owned, but also over a transfer of land between the two inns, which was deemed appropriate in the light of war-time destruction. In particular, it was agreed that the Lamb Building, which belonged to the Middle Temple, but stood in the midst of Inner Temple property, should be rebuilt on a different site, in Elm Court, on land previously belonging to the Inner Temple. Correspondence between the inns in the Inner Temple archives bears witness to the fact that negotiations were not straight forward. However, an amicable resolution was reached in July 1945, both on the exchange of sites between the inns and on the fact that the Inner and Middle Temple should be treated as one unit for the purposes of War Damage Commission claims. They also agreed, with Lincoln's Inn and Gray's Inn, the need to co-operate over the allocation of the generous gifts offered by the American and Canadian Bar Associations. Rebuilding could now commence, in theory at least.

However, the third and most intractable reason for delay lay with the architect, Sir Hubert Worthington. His procrastination was to lead to a serious falling out, both with the Benchers of the inn and with the building contractors. As plans were delayed or changed and costs spiralled, the War Damage Commission also lost patience at the apparent absence of project management and it looked as if the inn would end up forfeiting a portion of its grant as well as being sued for loss of earnings by the building contractors. It is not surprising that in October 1953 the Benchers took the unusual step of throwing Worthington off the project and replacing him with his junior associate, T.W. Sutcliffe. Indeed, on the later rebuilding projects they employed Sir Edward Maufe, the Middle Temple's reconstruction architect, to design and oversee the work. Worthington was understandably offended by the Inn's decision, particularly when the design of the new Hall was attributed to his successor, Sutcliffe, by Sir Norman Birkett in an article in 'The Times' in February 1957. With wounded pride he wrote to the Benchers of the Inner Temple, to redress this mistake, only to find that they sided with Sutcliffe on the matter. No love was lost between them, as they considered suing their former architect for the losses caused by the delay. However, wisely, they opted for an out of court settlement.

In what order was the post-war reconstruction undertaken? Although the Temple Church and Master's House were not high up on the list of priorities agreed with the Ministry of Works, the two inns were keen to make them safe and to plan for their future rebuilding. The joint Inner and Middle Temple Choir Committee assigned the restoration of the Church to a specialist architect and architectural historian, Walter Hindes Godfrey of Carden and Godfrey, who supervised a major reconstruction of the exterior and interior between 1947 and 1957. The Purbeck marble columns, mainly dating from the Victorian restoration, were replaced, new pews and pulpit were introduced and specially commissioned stained glass windows, designed by Carl Edwards, were installed as the gift of the Glaziers' Company. Not all items used the refitting were new. William Emmett's carved reredos, installed as part of Sir Christopher Wren's seventeenth restoration work, which had been sold by the Victorians and placed on display in the Bowes Museum, County Durham, was returned to the Temple Church in 1953. The organ, by Harrison and Harrison, was donated to the church in 1954. The Rededication of the Chancel took place in the presence of Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, on 23rd March 1954, whilst the Rededication of the Round had to wait until 7th November 1958. Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, joined the Queen Mother for this second ceremony. Meanwhile, responsibility for rebuilding the Master's House in replica had been shared equally between the architects employed by the two inns, Worthington and Maufe. In 1955 it was ready for the new Master of the Temple, Canon J E Firth, and his wife to move in.

With plans for the Church and Master's House in hand, the Inner Temple Benchers addressed their own buildings. Although the 1944 Benchers had commissioned plans for the Hall and Library, it was decided after the War that priority should be given to rebuilding chambers and to the construction of a temporary Library in one of the rebuilt chambers buildings. Between 1947 and 1948 numbers 12 and 13 King's Bench Walk were reconstructed to Worthington's designs and a licence was obtained from the Ministry of Works to rebuild 1 King's Bench Walk and to use the first floor as a temporary Library. In 1949 the reconstruction work on numbers 1 and 6 King's Bench Walk was completed and the temporary Library was formally opened by George VI, a Royal Bencher of the Inner Temple. Meanwhile, some difficulty was experienced in obtaining a licence to rebuild 2 Mitre Court. It was no doubt with some relief that the Executive Committee reported at its meeting on 23rd February 1950 that the building licence had been obtained and that the rebuilding in replica of the original design by Sir Robert Smirke could take place under Worthington's supervision. However, the delays in receiving the architect's instructions led to difficulties and annoyance, and in the end the Inner Temple had to pay ££1,250 to the builders in compensation. Similarly, although the reconstruction of Harcourt Buildings had been discussed in July 1949 and again in June 1950, it was not until February 1951 that work commenced and completion was again delayed because of inefficiencies in the architect's office. On 5th October 1950, it was decided that the rebuilding of the Hall and Library should take priority over the rebuilding of the final two chambers buildings - Crown Office Row and Tanfield Court - and that Worthington be taken off the Crown Office Row project. In the event, Crown Office Row and Tanfield Court (renamed the Francis Taylor Building after Sir Francis Kyffin Taylor QC, later Lord Maenan), were both designed and overseen by Sir Edward Maufe. Crown Office Row was completed in 1955 and the Francis Taylor Building in 1957. But what of the Hall and Headquarters Building?

It was on 21st May 1947 that Worthington had been informed that the Hall, Library and Treasury Office were to be rebuilt on their old sites. The Executive Committee meeting on 17th March 1948 accepted his plans, subject to later alterations, but it was not until over two and a half years later, in December 1950, that the Committee felt able to recommend the revised version (scheme no. 9) to the Bench Table. Even then, Master Conway expressed reservations about the scheme, which Sir Hubert Worthington did his best to address. The Benchers had hoped that George VI would agree to lay the foundation stone for the Hall and Library in June or July 1951, but this proved an impossible timetable for the architect. At its meeting on 10th March 1952, the Committee was informed that the building of the Hall would be 'commenced very shortly', but by the end of the month work had not started. Understandably, the committee criticised Worthington for the delay. In the meantime George VI had died, and it was his daughter, Elizabeth II, as yet uncrowned, who came lay the foundation stone for the Hall, in November 1952. During 1952 and 1953 mounting criticism of Worthington, for the delays in producing detailed plans and supervising the construction of the Hall and Library, led to his dismissal by the inn. In November 1953, Sutcliffe and Maufe presented the Executive Committee with their revised plans for the Hall and Library, which were duly accepted. Building could then take place in earnest. A roof was installed on the Hall early in 1954 and the tiling of the floor was commissioned. The Hall was expected to be ready for use by October 1955 and it seems that this date was honoured, since an informal opening ceremony took place that month. In November, the pictures were hung and on 7th December a concert was given in the Hall in the presence of Elizabeth II. Controversy did not end there, since there was disagreement between Sutcliffe and a group of Benchers determined to commission and hang duplicate readers' shields on the panelling. Sutcliffe pleaded that the heraldic shields were out of keeping with the simple neo-Georgian interior. The Benchers prevailed and the shields were designed and painted by Frank Newsome Berry, under the supervision of Master Squibb. The armorial windows were mostly the work of Hugh Easton. Problems with the acoustics of the Hall soon became apparent and, although various solutions were suggested and tried over the years, the poor sound quality persists. However, by the end of 1955, to all intents and purposes, the Hall was complete.

Meanwhile work continued on the Library, Treasury Office and Benchers' rooms. Most of the internal work, including the panelling of the Parliament Chamber, was undertaken in 1956 and the marble pegasus, carved by J M Rysbrack in 1739 for the entrance to the Medieval Hall, was installed above the Benchers' entrance in 1957. The Library was opened by the Treasurer, Sir Patrick Spence, in a formal ceremony on 21st April 1958 attended by the Lord Chancellor. The Law Times of 2nd May recorded that 'those who were present on the occasion cannot fail to be impressed both with its general design and with the workmanship which has been bestowed on its furnishings and equipment', whilst The Law Journal of the same date praised the exterior of hand-made red brick edged by Portland stone as providing 'a satisfying combination of colour that matches most of the other new buildings and harmonises with the old'1. The phoenix had finally risen from the ashes. It may not have done so smoothly or without controversy, but the fact that it did so at all and that the inn is graced with beautifully crafted, pleasant and serviceable post-war buildings is a credit to Master Conway and the others who persisted despite the apparently insurmountable difficulties. Nikolaus Pevsner's co-author, Simon Bradley, may be dismissive of the architectural style used for the grander buildings, describing them as 'too often excessively timid and genteel', but few would deny that the Honourable Society of the Inner Temple has created an airy, civilised and comfortable environment for its members and many visitors.

Published in The Inner Temple Yearbook 2001/2002

Researchers wishing to consult the archives should apply in writing to:

Celia Pilkington


Celia Pilkington


Celia Pilkington