History of Temple Bar

Sir Christopher Wren’s Temple Bar marked the gateway to the City of London for 200 years. Then it was rebuilt at Theobalds Park, Cheshunt to form a grand entrance to a country estate.


Today, Temple Bar has been rebuilt at Paternoster Square, opposite St. Paul’s Cathedral in the heart of London.

Old Temple Bar
Temple Bar is the only surviving gateway to the City of London, where it once stood at the junction where the Strand meets Fleet Street for more than 200 years. A bar is first mentioned here in 1293, at which time it was probably no more than a chain (or bar) between wooden posts. Due to its vicinity to the Temple, an area where the guilds of lawyers organised into what would become the Inns of Court in an area that is now considered “Legal London”, it was commonly referred to as Temple Bar. A little over a century later however, this was replaced by a handsome gateway, which was built from timber and had the addition of a prison above it.

The old Temple Bar, demolished 1669

Since its conception in 1351, Temple Bar is mentioned throughout history, whether it be stories of victorious kings returning through its arches, its opening to receive the marriage of Mary Tudor to Phillip of Spain, or the passing by of the funeral cortege of Henry VII’s Queen, Elizabeth of York. Perhaps one of the most significant of state events, was the great triumphal procession of Elizabeth I in celebration of the defeat of the Spanish Armada. The Lord Mayor waited at Temple Bar to present to the Sovereign the keys of the City, which Elizabeth I enhanced by presenting the Lord Mayor with a pearl encrusted sword, one of five City swords. This tradition has been preserved for more than 400 years, and the ceremony now is carried out on major state occasions where the Queen halts at Temple Bar to request permission to enter the City of London and is offered the Lord Mayor’s Sword of State as a sign of loyalty.

Sir Christopher Wren’s Temple Bar
Temple Bar is best remembered as Sir Christopher Wren’s monument, and although no documents survive to prove he designed it, Wren’s son retained original drawings for the work. The old gate survived the Great Fire of 1666, but had fallen into disrepair. Under the orders of Charles II Temple Bar was rebuilt with highly prized Portland stone from the Royal quarries in Dorset, demonstrating the importance that the king placed on the project. One third of the total cost of £1,500 was spent on sculpturing four impressive regal statues to adorn the new stone gateway. On the east side of the gateway, in two niches, were stone statues of Queen Anne of Denmark and James I, and on the west side were the statues of Charles I and Charles II. It was a statement which illustrated that Temple Bar was as much a royal monument as a city one.

Temple Bar c1799

During the eighteenth century Temple Bar was used to display the heads of traitors on iron spikes which protruded from the top of the main arch. One story goes that the Rye House plotters drew so much attention that telescopes were offered for hire in order to gain a better view. The last heads to be displayed were those of Towneley and Fletcher, who were taken at the Siege of Carlisle and executed in 1746. For some time after Towneley’s execution his head was displayed on Temple Bar until a faithful family retainer secured possession of it and brought it back to Burnley, where for many years it was kept in a basket covered with a napkin in the drawing room at Towneley Hall.

Removal of Temple Bar from Fleet Street
Wren’s Temple Bar stood in Fleet Street for just over 200 years until a variety of factors ditacted its removal. Firstly, and most importantly, the roadway needed widening to relieve the heavy traffic and the building of the Royal Courts of Justice resulted in the decision to remove the somewhat costly and outdated Temple Bar. The Corporation of London however, had a strong attachment to the Bar and rather than see it cleared away, it was taken down brick by brick, beam by beam, numbered stone by stone, and stored in a yard off Farringdon Road until a decision for its re-erection could be reached.

Dismantling of Temple bar in 1878

On January 2, 1878, the first stone was removed and just 11 days later the scaffolding was cleared and the dismantling was complete. In its place, the Temple Bar Memorial was erected in 1880. The monument, a tall pedestal surmounted by a dragon or “griffin” stands in the middle of the roadway.

Temple Bar – Life at Theobalds Park
Ten years later it caught the eye of Lady Meux, a banjo playing barmaid who had married into a very wealthy family of London brewers.

Temple Bar, just after it was rebuilt in 1889

Forever trying to convince Victorian high society of her respectability, she decided to rebuild impressive Temple Bar to grace her Hertfordshire estate at Theobalds Park. More than 2,500 stones weighing nearly 400 tons, were transported from London to Hertfordshire carried on low flat trolleys and pulled along by a team of horses.

Sir Henry and Lady Meux

When rebuilt at Theobalds just eight months later, a magnificent garden party was held in celebration and special trains brought in large numbers of visitors whose heads would turn as they stood in awe of the majesty of this historic relic. While under the ownership of Lady Meux guests were regularly entertained in the upper chamber of Temple Bar which was beautifully decorated with “spy” cartoons from Vanity Fair and it is believed that it was here that Lady Meux dined with Edward VII, the Prince of Wales and Winston Churchill.
A gamekeepers lodge was added in 1889.

The future of Temple Bar
In 1976 the Temple Bar Trust was established with the intention of returning the Bar to the Capital. The Trustees are drawn from members of the Corporation of London together with others involved in the preservation of the nation’s architectural heritage.
In the December meeting of the Court of Common Council 2001, the Corporation of London agreed to fund the return of Temple Bar to the City of London. At a cost of just over £3.0m – funded by the Corporation along with donations from the Temple Bar Trust and several Livery Companies -Temple Bar will be dismantled, and rebuilt as a gateway to the central piazza at the Paternoster Square redevelopment by November 2004, a scheme which will create over 70, 000 square metres of offices, restaurants and cafes. Once back in London, ownership of Temple Bar will transfer back to the Corporation of London.

An artists impression of
Paternoster Square

Latest NEWS…
Temple Bar has now been rebuilt at Paternoster Square and was officially opened by the Lord Mayor of London, on the 10th November 2004.

Harris Digital Productions filmed the entire project and is currently editing 130 hours of DV broadcast footage for a forthcoming project.