Situated in a truly remarkable location, the Inner Temple Library welcomed visitors through one of the ancient gates on Fleet Street, near the Royal Courts of Justice, firmly entrenched in the heart of legal London. Stepping into the Inner Temple felt like a journey back in time, although not as far as the 12th Century Temple Church we passed. It transported us to an era where Victorian lawyers and clerks, adorned in frock coats and top hats, seemed to wander the cobblestone streets. The historical weight of the place was palpable, leaving an indelible impression.
The library resided in a building reconstructed in the 1950s, following severe damage inflicted during World War II. Recently, a comprehensive renovation and extension, based on the original post-war plans that were never fully realized, had added two additional floors. As we climbed up the large staircase to the second floor, we were greeted by portraits adorning the walls and a quaint drawing room. It felt as if we had stepped into the pages of a Jane Austen novel, and that impression remained with us as we entered the Library. Inside, the soft, subdued lighting created an atmosphere reminiscent of a Gentleman’s Club.
As we ventured further into the Library, it transformed into a more traditional academic space. Expansive oak bookcases housing an impressive collection of books and journals lined the walls, complemented by sturdy oak tables. Although steeped in tradition, the study areas, much like Sebastian Street, offered modern amenities such as study lamps and individual charging stations. Notably, the refurbishment had lowered the ceiling, eliminating the walkway present in other Inn libraries and the Law Society.
Fortunate enough to visit during a quiet period, we had the opportunity to thoroughly explore the Library, engaging with our knowledgeable tour guide – Deputy Librarian Tracey Dennis – and immersing ourselves in the surroundings. On one side, we marvelled at the deceptively grand 18th-century Master’s House, revealed to be just one room deep. On the other side, a serene and verdant garden beckoned, enticing visitors to unwind. The gardens flourished during our visit, enticing individuals to enjoy the idyllic setting from the terrace bar while savouring their cocktails—a truly enchanting place to work!
The Library boasted an extensive collection of legal resources, including law reports, statutes, looseleafs, and textbooks. Notably, it also preserved older editions of textbooks. Each of the Inns holds a different specialty collection aside from the core legal resources, and the Inner Temple has commonwealth reports for jurisdictions including the Caribbean and Canada. While the majority of the collection was reference-only, members had the privilege of borrowing textbooks overnight. However, the library lacked a formalized library management system for loans, requiring borrowers to sign out books at the desk. A small lending collection in the foyer, adjacent to the photocopier, offered titles on wellbeing, equality, and diversity, available for borrowing without formalities—simply take and return. For members, the Library provided access to online databases through computer terminals scattered throughout the premises. Although remote access to Lexis could be requested by members unable to visit in person, other online resources, such as Westlaw and iLaw, were exclusively accessible within the library’s confines.
As our visit drew to a close, we were invited to a meeting room where we were treated to biscuits, tea and coffee. It was there that Robert Hodgosn, the current ‘Librarian and Keeper of Manuscripts’ and former City Librarian, enlightened us about the remarkable versatility of the building. Beyond its function as a library, the Inner Temple served as a highly sought-after venue for corporate events and weddings. It also frequently played host to gatherings for the Inns of Court and the Bar Council. On special occasions, the library was entrusted with showcasing some of the Inn’s precious treasures, such as the renowned letter from Edward VI, excluding his sisters Mary and Elizabeth from the succession. Additionally, Rob graciously afforded us an intimate and personal encounter with one of the few surviving letters from the “nine-day queen,” Lady Jane Grey.
Written by Alex Hepburn, Conor Jackson, and Alex Giles