Victorian London - Buildings, Monuments and Museums - Temple Bar

Temple Bar is the only remaining gate of many which formerly marked the boundaries of the City. It was erected after the great fire by Sir Christopher Wren, and has two posterns for foot passengers. It is composed of Portland stone, and is of the Corinthian order. Over the gateway, on the eastern side, are statues of Queen Elizabeth and James I., and on the western side those of Charles I. and II. This ancient architectural structure was thoroughly repaired and beautified on the occasion of her Majesty's visit to the City, on the 9th of November 1837.

source: Mogg's New Picture of London and Visitor's Guide to it Sights, 1844

But the busiest, noisiest, and most crowded street in the English metropolis is that called the "STRAND." It runs rum Charing Cross eastward to Temple Bar - the same street under the name of "FLEET," extends east of Temple Bar to St. Paul's Cathedral. Dr. Johnson in his day considered Charing Cross to be the most lively spot in London, and it is in our opinion the case now, for from it one sees the traffic of the "city" combined with the aristocratic equipage of the West End. Temple Bar is the western boundary of the ancient city of London, and therefore the Strand belongs to Westminster. The Bar or Gateway is a quaint-looking structure, dingy with smoke, and always has its apparently useless gates secured apart. We must except state occasions, for then her majesty Q.ueen Victoria cannot pass through that gateway without asking permission of the city authorities. Her power as Queen of territories so vast that the sun never sets upon them avails her nothing then - she must sue for admittance like a very beggar. It is a curious sight when she enters the city-proper upon state occasions. The dingy old gates of Temple Bar are then folded together and locked as if a foreign invader were to be kept out. The royal procession goes slowly on until the Bar is reached, and it stops humbly and asks if it may enter. One of the Queen's officers, apparelled, as a matter of course, in gorgeous gewgaws, descends from a carriage and knocks upon the gate. The Lord Mayor of London asks with as much pompous dignity as if he really didn't-know:

     "Who is there ?"

     The reply comes with equal pomposity-

     [-22-] "The Queen!"

     Then the gates are opened, and amid protestations of loyalty and love the monarch enters the city of London! The custom seems to outsiders a foolish and laughable one, but not so to the Londoner. To him it is a legal, constitutional right which he never would think of relinquishing to the most popular sovereign in the world - thanks to his genuine English love of liberty and independence. It is one of the privileges of the city of London - that even the King cannot enter it without leave! It matters little now, but the times once were when the privilege were worth possessing, when rapacious men sat upon the throne - and such times may be again. It seems a waste of words where so gentle a creature as Victoria Guelph is concerned, a nonsensical form, but no one can tell the temper of England's rulers in the future! The Londoner, notwithstanding his profuse exhibitions of loyalty, is nevertheless proud of this privilege, and it gratifies him nut a little to know that even the monarch cannot enter his gates without liberty!

source: David Bartlett, London by Day and Night, 1852

The old custom of closing the gates on the Sovereign's visit to the City and only opening them to the summons of the royal herald - an antiquated mode of vindicating the peculiar independence of London citizens - was discontinued in 1854.

source: Cruchley's London in 1865 : A Handbook for Strangers, 1865

The Temple Bar Memorial designed by the late Sir Horace Jones, the City Architect, and unveiled Nov. 1880, was intended to mark the exact site of the old Bar, removed because of its obstructing the thoroughfare. The Memorial is 31 feet 6 inches high, 5 feet wide and 7 feet 8 inches long, and serves as a refuge for pedestrians crossing the road. In niches on the north and south sides of it are life-size marble statues of the Queen and Prince of Wales, by Mr. Boehm, A.R.A., and in the pedestal are four basso-relievos, showing "the Queen's first Entrance into the City through Temple Bar, 1837;" "The Procession to St. Paul's on the Day of Thanksgiving for the Prince of Wales's recovery from illness, 1872;" and "The first Temple Bar" and "The Last Temple Bar." The portrait medallions on the east and west fronts represent Prince Albert Victor of Wales and Lord Mayor Sir F. Truscott, in whose year of office the Memorial was erected, at a cost of £10,696. The whole is surmounted by a small pedestal with an heraldic Dragon or Griffin, by C.B. Birch, A.R.A. The winged monster, representing one of the heraldic supporters in the City Arms, is certainly hideous enough to account for the censure bestowed by the public upon it. May it not, however, remind one of the Griffin of the elder Pliny, "which, with singular cupidity, guarded the treasure of the gold mines against the Arimaspi, - a one-eyed race continually battling for it." From this point of view the Griffin is no unfitting symbol for the life and death struggle continually going on in London for the possession of the precious metal.

source: Herbert Fry, London, 1889


Temple Bar was removed from the east end of the Strand in 1878, when the thoroughfare was widened, and the site was marked by the monument which has incurred so much unfavourable criticism. Wren's famous gateway, built in 1670, was re-erected in 1888 in a very different place - at one of the entrances to Theobalds Park, Waltham Cross. Its west side was adored with statues of Charles I and Charles II., and the east with Statues of James I. and Anne of Denmark; and on the spiked gates were once exhibited the heads of malefactors. In Theobalds Park, bought by Sir Henry Meux in 1882, once stood the famous Theobalds Palace, which the first Earl of Salisbury exchanged with James I. for Hatfield. This royal palace was demolished by order of the Commonwealth.

source: The Queen's London, 1896