Emma Matthews shares some of the tales from her ‘Discover Legal London’ virtual tour. (Sign up for our newsletter to be informed when her next tour is scheduled.)
The Royal Courts of Justice is an imposing neo-gothic building in the heart of Legal London. It was opened by Queen Victoria in 1882 and houses over 80 court rooms, 1000 rooms and 3 miles of corridors. The great hall feels like a cathedral and a tributary of the River Thames runs under the basement. The High Court of Justice (where Johnny Depp is fighting his libel case again the Sun, and where he once partied after the film premiere of Sweeney Todd in which he played the ‘demon barber of Fleet Street’) and the Court of Appeal hear over 17,000 cases a year. You can watch wigged and gowned barristers and judges in real trials.
The Temple Church with its round nave, built by the Knights Templar, dates back to the 1160s. (Think Da Vinci Code which was partly set and filmed there). King Henry III considered making the Church his mausoleum when he extended it in 1240. James I gave the Temple Church to the Inner and Middle Temples (Inns of Court) in 1608 on condition they maintain it. And they do, including rebuilding it after it was hit by bombs in World War II. The organ was used by Hans Zimmer for parts of the score of the film Interstellar.
Middle Temple Hall dates back to when it was opened by Queen Elizabeth I in 1573. Members dine at a table made from an oak tree from Windsor Great Park, given them by QEI. The US ambassador is an honorary member of Middle Temple because of the close links between the American and English legal systems. Several founding fathers were members of Middle Temple.
16 Prime ministers have been members of Lincoln’s Inn and the old hall dates back the 1480s. John Donne preached in the Chapel and came up with the phrase “for whom the bell tolls” while there. Charles Dickens set the opening of Bleak House in the Lord Chancellors court which used to sit in Lincoln’s Inn. New Square has handsome houses from the 1660s and is older than Old Square whose buildings are 19th Century. Gray’s Inn has a golden griffin as its official badge and Shakespeare’s play Comedy of Errors was first performed in its Hall. Winston Churchill met F D Roosevelt there at a dinner in 1916. Francis Bacon laid out the gardens in the 1608 and died after he caught a chill stuffing a chicken with snow to see if it would keep longer. The first frozen chicken! Charles Dickens worked as a law clerk in Gray’s Inn.