No man is an island.
January 17, 2022 – John Donne

When I was a very junior tenant, back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, one of the most terrifying experiences could be to visit the Temple in the late evening to collect work.

Chambers’ basement was where the very junior tenants had their desks. There were seven of us then. Two went on to become judges. One became a solicitor before vanishing without trace. Another, having found religion, discovered his real skills lay in property investment. Two entered the political world: one is now a much sought-after consultant and the other progressed from the House of Commons to the House of Lords. Number seven is still a practising barrister and that is yours truly.

Usually, our briefs were given to us in person by a junior clerk who came downstairs to hand out the work between 4.30 and 5.00pm unless we were at a court far away. It was an era when some firms of solicitors sent their lower-end work with no names on the briefs, for the clerks to dole out as appropriate. We were an ambitious lot. We had no idea then that the established juniors called this ceremony ‘feeding time at the zoo’, as we apparently resembled crocodiles snapping at food.

On this particular day, I had been conducting an appeal before the Crown Court in deepest East Anglia concerning tachograph offences committed by my lorry-driving client. Courts in those days, like Mastermind, finished once they had started so it was well after sunset when I trudged wearily back to my car which stood alone in a vast car park. I had managed to find a telephone box earlier to call Chambers to be told by the clerks that the next day I was off to Maidstone to apply for bail on behalf of a man whose lock-up contained 40kg of cannabis which he had told the Kent police was for personal use.

On grabbing the brief from Chambers at 10.30pm, I drove out of the Tudor Street entrance feeling very tired. Then, like a nightmare, all hell broke loose. Newspapers were pouring out of buildings from giant chutes and a whole fleet of newspaper vans suddenly appeared, driven at extremely high speeds on road and pavement with windows wound down to shout heated obscenities at me as my car was stuck in the middle of the road. After a few minutes, all went quiet again.

The reason this memory came back to me was because I was in Fleet Street last week, thinking how much it had changed from the days when the newspaper giants were there and journalists occupied the front half of a certain well-known drinking haunt while the barristers were in the rear. Once technological advances removed the newspaper industry, how quickly the old character of the street changed! The great buildings in which news barons held court are still there but occupied by very different people.

I popped into Chambers, which had the air of the Marie Celeste with two junior clerks eating crisps and no tenants at all as far as I could see. I was wrong, however. Sitting by himself, quaffing a glass of cheap fizz was Paddy Corkhill. He normally liked rather decent vintages, so I was a little surprised. ‘Oh, it’s you,’ he said, ‘glass of Chateau Downing Street Jardin? Found it in the library.’

I sat down and recounted my memory flash. ‘You know why you had that?’ Paddy asked. ‘I don’t know really,’ I replied. ‘It’s because you saw the buildings and remembered.’ ‘Yes,’ I said – thinking ‘obviously’ – wondering whether this was his first bottle. Paddy smiled. ‘You don’t understand, William. I meant you could see the buildings because the whole street is empty. Rather like Chambers.’ I sat up in my chair. ‘And, subconsciously, you thought: it will happen to us. The pandemic has just made it faster. We desert the Temple. The old hospitality haunts founder. The rationale that underlies the Inns of Court disappears and, hey presto, it has all gone.’

‘But we would lose so much, Paddy,’ I said. ‘I learnt everything in that basement dissecting one another’s cases. And going up through Chambers it was the camaraderie that kept me going so many times. You can’t get that from a computer screen. This is our own special world. I don’t want to lose it.’ ‘I don’t either,’ said Paddy, ‘but all things have their day.’ ‘Shall we go and have some proper wine in that pub you like?’ I asked. ‘Closed down,’ he said.