The Eighteenth Century

The eighteenth century was an era of greater stability, perhaps of genteel decline. Charles Lamb, who was born in Crown Office Row in 1775, painted a loving picture of the Temple of his youth in his essay ‘The Old Benchers of the Inner Temple’. If he is to be trusted, the late-Georgian benchers were a very singular body of individuals. Sir Joseph Jekyll, Treasurer in 1816, similarly wrote of his elderly fellows as ‘fogrums’ opposed to all modern fashions, including new-fangled comforts. The decrepit state of some of the benchers was matched by that of the gloomy alleys and decaying buildings. Charles Dickens (Pickwick Papers, ch. 31) wrote of the Temple’s sequestered nooks, comprising for the most part ‘low-roofed, mouldy rooms, where innumerable rolls of parchment, which have been perspiring in secret for the last century, send forth an agreeable odour, which is mingled by day with the scent of the dry rot, and by night with the various exhalations which arise from damp cloaks, festering umbrellas, and the coarsest tallow candles’. Much of the Inner Temple was rebuilt between 1830 and 1900, replacing Restoration elegance and Dickensian quaintness with Victorian stolidity. The most successful of the rebuilding projects, though it resulted in the demolition of the little fourteenth-century hall, was the new Hall and Library, designed in a perpendicular style by Sydney Smirke and opened by Princess Louise in 1870.

Eminent Inner Templars from these centuries included a prime minister (George Grenville), seven lord chancellors (Lords Harcourt, Macclesfield, Talbot, King, Bathurst, Thurlow, and Chelmsford), Lord Ellenborough, Chief Baron Pollock, Lord Bramwell, James Scarlett (later Lord Abinger), Daines Barrington (author of Observations on the Ancient Statutes), John Austin (the legal philosopher), Henry Hallam (the constitutional historian), Sir Edward Hyde East (author of Pleas of the Crown), Dr Lushington, and Sir James Stephen.

From A Brief Historical Description by Professor Sir John Baker QC LLD FBA

Further Reading