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.

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