Inner Temple Lane, EC4Y
I spent part of my illustrious working career in offices adjacent to the Temple, the home of London’s barrister community. One of the pleasures of working in that area was wandering through the warren of lanes that make up that neck of the woods, observing legal minds strolling around grappling with some obtuse point of law or, more likely, designing strategies for extracting more fees from their clients.
Inner Temple Lane was one of my favourites, principally because of the solid stone gateway at the north end which leads on to Fleet Street and the magnificent black and white timbered building that fronts on to Fleet Street. It is the City’s sole surviving timber-framed Jacobean townhouse. That it has survived is a miracle.
The stone gateway was originally part of the estate of the Knights Templar, passing to the Order of St John of Jerusalem – the Knights Hospitallers. The latter are responsible for the area’s legal connections, having leased to lawyers considerable pockets of land south of Fleet Street south of Fleet Street so they could ply their trade. The Jacobean townhouse was built around 1610 and contains a beautiful chamber known as Prince Henry’s Room, named after James the First’s son, the plaster work, extant, containing representations of flowers, three feathers and the initials P H. Henry can’t have enjoyed the room for long as he died at the age of eighteen but it may well have served as a council chamber for the Duchy of Cornwall.
The building survived the Great Fire and part of it was used as a pub, initially the Hand Inn and then the Prince’s Arms. From 1795 the premises, now known as the Fountain, were leased by Mrs Salmon and housed her enormously popular collection of waxworks. Amongst the delights on offer was a clockwork model of Mother Shipton which kicked visitors as they departed, thanks to hidden treadles under the floorboards. Other highlights included were what were termed as anatomical waxes alongside tableaux, one of which was “Shepherds and Shepherdesses making violent love”. A young Charles Dickens was a regular visitor and in David Copperfield he has his eponymous hero going “to see some perspiring waxworks in Fleet Street”. After Mrs Salmon’s death the collection was sold and relocated at Water Lane.
A photograph of the gateway dating to around the 1870s shows that the premises were occupied by Carter’s Ladies and Gentlemen Hair Cutting Saloons, offering hair cutting and shampooing services as well as steam-powered hair brushing. The front window proclaimed that a haircut would cost you six pennies. It also offered wigs for sale and the items on sale look to be of a judicial nature rather than syrups you might buy if the steam-powered hair brush had chewed up your barnet.
Large hoardings proclaimed the building to be “formerly the Palace of Henry VIII and Cardinal Wolsey” but advertising standards being somewhat laxer in those days there is no evidence that it was. What was apparent was that the building was in a dilapidated state with its frontage boarded up and the Jacobean timbers hidden under numerous coats of paint. It was only rescued and restored to its former glory about a century ago. Prince Henry’s Room has been open to the general public since 1975, usually afternoons but check if you are thinking of going, and hosts an exhibition of Samuel Pepys and the London he lived in.
We should be grateful that this wonderful landmark has survived the vicissitudes of fire, war, time and taste.