Extract from

The Inner Temple: A Community of Communities

by John Deby QC, Master of the Silver 1991 - 2012

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.

Our recently most famous piece is a Dutch silver layette basket of 1645 by Breghtel. Layette baskets had regularly been made from willow rods, but for a period of about 30 years in the 17th century in Holland they were made for the nobility from silver. In this basket the flat pierced sides reproduce the willow basketwork with vines weaving through and forming the handles and are finely engraved, whereas the pierced bottom is embossed and reproduces the crowned arms of Orange (for Prince William II) impaling those of Stuart (for Mary daughter of Charles I) supported by the lion of Holland and the unicorn of England. It is decorated with vines and peacocks for fertility and marital fidelity, but there are also monkeys and weasels seeking to feast off the grapes, which are a symbol of chastity and virginity. The basket may have been given to Mary by her aunt and godmother, Elizabeth the “Winter Queen”. It was given to the Inn in 1925 by Marshall Hall and other Benchers. There are only seven of these baskets extant and this is the oldest, the biggest and the best. It was displayed at an exhibition in The Hague in 2006.

The collection is strong in 17th and 18th century work, ending with a Gilbert Marks rose bowl dated 1897, but there is a distinct dearth of new English silver thereafter until 1996 when Treasurer Nugee commissioned four pepper mills from Rod Kelly. He is the leading English expert on low relief chasing, and the pepper mills are decorated with scenes from the Temple. They go very well with our magnificent Victorian salts in the form of a flying Pegasus.

It was then decided to celebrate the Millennium by commissioning a silver centrepiece. Half a dozen leading silversmiths were invited to submit designs, and eventually Rod Kelly was chosen. He produced a large circular bowl (not spun but raised entirely by hammering) with a structure of six Gothic arches rising from it and meeting at the top under a tower based on the top part of the Round of the Temple Church. The flange of the bowl is chased with six panels in low relief with details picked out in gold. Three panels show very fine heads of Pegasus, and the other three show items relating to the Temple and the lives of lawyers. In the centre of the bowl is the recumbent figure of a Knight Templar, and on the Gothic arches are shown items related to the Church and the history of Christianity. This centrepiece was first displayed at a special Millennium dinner on 20 January 2000 in the presence of The Princess Royal, a Royal Bencher of the Inn.

At the same time we commissioned a pair of candelabra from Anthony Elson. They are tall with a central stem and four branches pitched at such a level that diners can see and be seen under them. The design echoes features of the Temple Church and is surmounted by a Pegasus standing on a symbolic representation of the conjunction of the planets Jupiter and Saturn, thought to have been the most likely explanation of the Star of Bethlehem.

In an article at the time I wrote: “They were much admired then and subsequently, but it is felt that we need to acquire another pair for the Bench Table for their full splendour to be seen, and that four smaller ones for the adjoining tables would add greatly to the array.” The first part of that wish was fulfilled in 2002 when a further pair was commissioned to celebrate the Queen’s Golden Jubilee, and now the second part is fulfilled by the commissioning of four more to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the Royal Charter, one for each century.