Trip to the Royal Courts of Justice, 5 December 2019
Descending from the calm of the coach into the hustle and bustle of the Strand, we crossed over the road beside St. Clement Danes’ Church and found the little lane leading from Fleet Street to the Temple Church. The noise receded and the medieval lane opened up to show the round church, modelled on the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem and built in the 1100s by the Knights Templar. The church has an exhibition displaying the history of the church and the Templars, the negotiations in the Temple that led to the Magna Carta, and the church's continuing connection with two of the Inns of Court, Inner and Middle Temple who maintain the church. Two statues on loan from the House of Lords and a facsimile of membranes from the Statute Roll of 1297 in which Magna Carta was enrolled, were part of the fascinating exhibition. The church is beautiful in a simple way and felt eerie with someone playing the organ and the many stone effigies of some of the Knights Templar.
After lunch in various places, we reconvened with our guide at the RCJ with its gothic spires, towers and pinnacles, all built in Portland stone. This building took 8 years to build, the architect George Street (who had been a pupil of Charles Barry, the architect of the Palace of Westminster) sadly died before completion. It was moved from Westminster Hall for convenience; closer to the legal quarters of the 4 Inns of Court, Lincoln’s, Grey’s, Inner Temple and Middle Temple, the self contained precincts for barristers’ chambers and solicitor’s offices.
The great hall is an enormous 238’ long, 48’ wide and 80' high. With loaned paintings decorating the walls, a statue of Queen Victoria and one of G. E. Street, it is very daunting and intimidating, an indication when one arrives to the seriousness of the civil litigation carried on here perhaps. There are big wooden boards with the “daily cause” list....imagine our surprise to see Leslie Fothergill on one of them! The masons went on strike half way through building so German masons were brought into finish which didn’t go down well and there are two highly carved pillars which were carved by the bored masons!
Queen Victoria opened the building in 1882 and on entering a beautifully decorated room upstairs in the style of Pugin with the painted shields of the Inns of Court, a room next door was serving as a meeting area. She commented that the noisy barristers reminded her of bears and it is now known as the Bear Garden! With over a 1000 rooms, 19 court rooms, there were several renovations and extensions in the 20th century, updating during the last few decades to accommodate computer technology (difficult in a grade 1 listed building), even the basement has been converted into courtrooms to accommodate the growing need. It is one of the largest courts in Europe and it is here that civil issues are fought...financial, family disputes, asylum, deportation and libel to name but a few.
Stan was the perfect guide, knowledgeable, amusing and interesting; he filled our heads with stories and facts pertaining to the long history of the beautiful cathedral-like building. After the tour we were allowed to (try and) find a court to sit in on a hearing but to remember to sit only in the back 2 rows, no bowing and sshhh! Some of us did and although an interesting experience, it wasn’t what I expected. No banging the table, long speeches or clever retorts, no historical robes, horsehair wigs and gavel thumping. Absolute silence, a ticking clock, turning of pages, clearing of a throat and a question asked at length followed by a nervous reply! Not very glamorous or dramatic. But we did see fleeting glimpses of barristers in quiet corridors, wearing their flowing robes and wigs, sometimes in what I imagined to be confidential talks with others. So understated drama!
Reports from earlier trips
If you didn't go, we hope you find them interesting.
If you were there, maybe these accounts will bring back some happy memories.
Farleys Farm Report
St Pauls Cathedral
(I am aware that this should be St Paul's but the website does not permit an apostrophe in a link. David)
Christian Dior slideshow
Chelsea Physic Garden
Royal Courts of Justice
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