Decline and Fall of a Monument: Temple Bar

John Robinson looks at the sorry state of a London monument

Stranded in appalling condition on the North edge of London, its roof collapsed, windows broken, stonework eroded and bedaubed with graffiti, Temple Bar is a monument of outstanding architectural and historic interest. It was built in 1672 at the junction of the Strand and Fleet Street as the ceremonial entrance of the City of London from the West and occupied the same site as the medieval City gate. This latter which dated from the thirteenth century, survived the great fire but was superceded as a result of Charles II's direct intervention and request that the approach of the City be improved by widening Fleet Street and building a grander gateway. Its design has been attributed to Sir Christopher Wren but on no solid evidence and many scholars have doubted the attribution. The executants were Thomas Knight, the City Mason, and Joshua Marshall, Master of the Mason's Company while the statues of Elizabeth I, James l, Charles I, and Charles II, in niches in the upper floor were carved by John Bushnell. The style of the arch is influenced by the temporary introita pompa erected for ceremonial occasions in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and also owes something to the typical Baroque church facade with its tripartite division and taller centre flanked by scrolls, such as that of the famous Paris Church of St Etienne du Mont. The scale is larger than it appears in photographs, about forty feet wide counting the pedestrian entrances and about forty feet high to the top of the segmental pediment where the severed heads and quarters of traitors used to be exhibited from time to time.

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