Middle Temple Hall is a hallowed space, one of the most extraordinary historical venues in London. It’s hosted the who’s who of London’s legal and royal past, from medieval times to the present. However, unless you’re a member of Middle Temple or if you’re on a private tour, it’s hard to get a peek into this Elizabethan room. But there is an easy-peasy way to visit Middle Temple Hall, and all it requires is for you to arrive with an empty stomach and to part with a few pounds. Read on and see how lunch at Middle Temple Hall gives you access to one of the most glorious rooms in London.
What is Middle Temple?
Middle Temple is one of the four Inns of Court in London. The other three include Inner Temple, Gray’s Inn and Lincoln’s Inn. Simply put, the Inns of Court serve as the nerve centres for the legal profession. Barristers must belong to one of the four in order to be called to the bar. Each of the Inns includes a network of buildings, accommodation, libraries, gardens, a church or chapel – and a great hall.
Middle Temple is one of London’s secret gems, largely hidden from view. The area is wedged between Fleet Street to the north and Embankment to the south. It’s accessed via various entry points which look a little scary and inaccessible. Don’t be put off as you are allowed to enter and to walk around to your heart’s content. The gates do close at certain times and chances are you won’t get access on the weekends, so do check on the opening hours before you head off.
One access point to Middle Temple is via 17 Fleet Street, also known as Prince Henry’s Room. The building once belonged to the Knights’ Templar and was also a tavern and council chamber. It’s a Grade I listed building, having survived the Great Fire of 1666. Middle Temple was largely destroyed during the Great Fire. As the Thames was frozen at the time, beer from the Middle Temple cellars was used to help extinguish the fire.
To the south, Middle Temple is accessed via Embankment and through this glorious arch. Walk along gas-lit cobbled streets, through idyllic garden spaces and start some serious time-travelling. You can read all about the history of Temple Hall here.
Middle Temple Hall
Middle Temple Hall is the jewel in the Middle Temple crown. The Elizabethan hall dates from 1562 and has one of the most glorious hammerbeam roofs in the country.
This impressive portrait of Charles I takes centre stage in the Middle Temple Hall. It’s thought to be by Peter Lely after an original by Anthony van Dyck. It’s shouldered by other royal portraiture including Queen Anne, George I, James II and Charles II.
It’s said that this table was fashioned from the timbers of Sir Francis Drake’s Golden Hinde.
Remember to look up whilst you’re tucking into your lunch. The badge of the Middle Temple consists of the Lamb of God and St George’s Cross. These were symbols of the Knights Templar.
Middle Temple Hall: some famous diners
Some of the great and godly who came and went and dined in Middle Temple Hall:
– Queen Elizabeth I gate-crashed a debate here in 1578, much to the consternation of the barristers. The banquet table under the royal portraits is is made of Windsor oak, and it’s where Elizabeth I would have dined.
– The first recorded performance of Twelfth Night took place in Middle Temple Hall, and it’s thought Shakespeare himself was in attendance. Yes, you read that right.
– Notable diners would have included Charles Dickens, Sir Walter Raleigh, diarist John Evelyn, William Makepeace Thackeray, Henry Fielding, Inigo Jones, King Edward VII, the Duke of Windsor, HM the Queen Mother and Diana, Princess of Wales.
How can I visit Middle Temple Hall?
Lunch at Middle Temple Hall
As a muggle, you can’t just pop into Middle Temple Hall for a visit. The easiest way to gain access to this magnificent venue is to book a lunch slot.
You’ll be sitting at one of these great tables, surrounded by barristers and mouthfuls of legal banter, most of which you may not understand.
Lunch at Middle Temple Hall is served Monday to Friday from 12 noon to 2pm. Soup is normally on the menu, together with a salad buffet, carvery and a small selection of mains. Finish with a hot or cold dessert buffet, and wash it all down with soft drinks, champagne, beer or wine.
Check the website for the menu, which changes daily, and to book your lunchtime slot.
Tours of Middle Temple Hall
Tours of Middle Temple Hall only cost £12 but a minimum group of 12 is required (or a minimum payment of £100 if less than 12). These last approximately one hour and take place in the morning between 9 and 11.15.
During your visit you will visit the Middle Temple Hall and Bench Apartments (Parliament Chamber, Queen’s Room and Prince’s Room). You can also choose to have lunch after the tour.
To book a tour, contact the events team at firstname.lastname@example.org
Please note: Middle Temple operates a dress code in the Hall which is business or lounge suits, court dress or smart casual dress. Jeans may be worn if both clean and smart. You will be denied entry if you are wearing trainers, shorts, T-shirts, ripped or dirty clothing. Photography is not permitted in the hall.
Other Middle Temple Highlights
The Temple Church is a royal peculiar and was used by the Knights Templar as their headquarters. It was badly damaged during the Blitz, so what you see today is largely rebuilt. You can visit the church for a small admission fee (£5) or you can enjoy one of the free lunchtime organ recitals. The Temple church also holds concerts and exhibitions throughout the year. The church is normally open Monday to Friday from 10am to 4pm.
Fountain Court makes an appearance in Dickens’ Martin Chuzzlewit. ‘Merrily the fountain leaped and danced, and merrily the smiling dimples twinkled and expanded more and more, until they broke into a laugh against the basin’s rim, and vanished’.
You may already recognise Middle Temple as it’s often used as a film location. Sherlock Holmes, the Da Vinci code, Pirates of the Caribbean and Bridget Jones: the Edge of Reason have all been shot here.