A wry view of life for the world-weary

The Streets Of London – Part Twenty Eight


Temple Bar in Paternoster Square, EC4V

One of the principal attractions of the reconfigured Paternoster Square, as we noted last time, is the splendid Temple Bar, designed by Sir Christopher Wren. So sprawling is the conurbation that is our great metropolis that we have to remind ourselves that once there were two cities – the city of London and the city of Westminster.

Like most cities at the time mediaeval London was surrounded by a wall and ingress and egress was controlled through a number of gates. Temple Bar was the principal western route from London into Westminster and stood on what is now Fleet Street. A bar at the site, probably just a chain across some posts, was first mentioned in 1293 but by 1351 a wooden gate had been built there housing a small prison atop. In 1544 Temple Bar featured prominently in Thomas Wyatt’s uprising in protest at the forthcoming nuptials of Mary to Philip II of Spain. Having fought his way down the Strand the gates of Temple Bar were thrown open to him but the rebel met his Waterloo at Ludgate and in retreat was cut off by cavalry at the Bar and surrendered.

Remarkably, the Bar survived the Great Fire of 1666 but it was rebuilt as part of the general improvements made to London after the fire. Designed by Sir Christopher Wren it was made out of the finest Portland stone by the City Mason, Thomas Knight, between 1669 and 1672. It was a two storey construction with a wider middle arch for traffic and two smaller outer arches for pedestrians. Four statues, carved by John Bushnell, celebrating the Restoration with images of Charles II, his father, Charles I, and his parents, James I and Anne of Denmark were featured on the top storey. More gruesome exhibits were displayed from time to time on the Bar, namely the heads of traitors, pour decourager les autres.

The problem for the Bar was that it was too small to allow easy access for the increasing amount of horse drawn traffic that was plodding up and down the streets of London but unlike the other seven principal gateways into the City which had been demolished by 1800 the Bar hung on in grim determination, despite public antipathy towards it. Dickens in Bleak House published in 1853 described it thus, “that leaded-headed old obstruction, appropriate monument for the threshold of a leaden-headed old corporation”. In 1874 it was discovered that the keystones had dropped and timber was used to prop it up.


But popular sentiment was against the old gate as it caused a bottle neck and disrupted trade and in 1878 the Corporation of London hit upon a brain wave. They decided to dismantle the edifice brick by brick, a process which took 11 days and stored the 2,700 pieces. In 1880 a brewer, Henry Meux, bought this D-I-Y kit and had it reassembled at his gaff at Theobalds Park where it stood until 2003. It was dismantled again on 13th October 2003 and stored in 500 pallets. The arch was then painstakingly re-erected as an entrance to the newly refurbished Paternoster Square and opened to the public on November 10th 2004.


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