Uncommon counsel (2): Barts, butchers and barristers

Gregory Jones QC relays a short history of barristers’ haunt ‘Farringdon Without’. Never a place for grey-suited City workers, the ward’s past has been a radical and bloody one but in its own way continues to move with the times

As the largest of the 25 wards, Farringdon Without possesses a diversity of trades and professions greater than any other part of the City of London. 

Many have been present for centuries. The ward covers the western area of the City, including the Middle Temple, Inner Temple, Chancery Lane, Smithfield and St Bartholomew’s Hospital, as well as the area east of Chancery Lane that includes the Silver Vaults and parts of Lincoln’s Inn. In 2011 its resident population was 1,099, although it is now certainly higher. It is the ward I have had the honour to represent as a Common Councilman for the last three and a half years. Whatever way you look at it, the ward’s history has been a bloody one; full of death and dubiously justified property confiscation.

Origins: Nicholas de Faringdon and the goldsmiths

Originally, the area was part of a larger ward first known as Fleet Ward, or the Ward of Fleet Street, but after 1276 known as the Ward of Anketill de Auvergne after its Alderman of the time, and which also became known as the Ward of Ludgate. Farringdon was named after Sir Nicholas de Faringdon, who in the days before elections was appointed Lord Mayor of London for ‘as long as it shall please him’ by King Edward II. The ward had been in the Faringdon family for 82 years at this time. His father William de Faringdon was Lord Mayor in 1281-82 and also a warden of the Goldsmiths’ Company. During the reign of King Edward I, William Faringdon was implicated in the opportunistic arrest for alleged treason of English Jewry, some of whom were fellow goldsmiths. Today, the Silver Vaults in Chancery Lane host the largest silver and gold retail market in Europe and, along with a number of jewelry shops, maintains the goldsmith’s tradition within the ward. The ward was split in two in 1394: Farringdon Without and Farringdon Within. ‘Without’ and ‘Within’ denote whether the ward fell outside or within the London Wall – the terms ‘extra’ and ‘infra’ were also used.

Lawyers settle in the Temple

During the reign of Henry II, the Knights Templar moved from the Old Temple in Holborn to a new location on the banks of the River Thames, stretching from Fleet Street to what is now Essex House. The original Temple covered much of what is now the northern part of Chancery Lane. The old Temple eventually became the London palace of the Bishop of Lincoln. After the Reformation it became the home of the Earl of Southampton, and the location near the Silver Vaults is now named Southampton Buildings.

The first group of lawyers came in the 13th century, although they were legal advisers to the Knights rather than a society of lawyers. The Knights Templars were unfairly persecuted as heretics, particularly by King Philip IV ‘the Fair’ of France. Their order was finally dissolved by the Council of Vienne in 1312, and in accordance with a papal bull their City lands were seized by the king and granted to the Knights Hospitallers. King Edward II ignored the claims of the Knights Hospitallers and divided the Temple into the Inner Temple and the Outer Temple, being the parts of the Temple within and without the boundaries of the City of London respectively.

During the 12th century the law was taught in the City of London, mainly by priests. However, a papal bull of 1207 prohibited the clergy from teaching the common law, rather than canon law, and a decree by Henry II on 2 December 1234 ordered that no institutes of legal education could exist in the City of London. Consequently, the common lawyers migrated to the hamlet of Holborn, situated close to the law courts at Westminster Hall and outside the City. Two groups of lawyers, however, occupied the Hospitaller land but it was not until 1324 that the claim of the Knights Hospitaller to the Inner Temple was officially recognised in England. Even then Edward II, ignoring the Knights’ rights, still bestowed it on his favourite, Hugh le Despencer. Upon Hugh le Despencer’s death in 1326, the Inner Temple passed first to the Mayor of London and then in 1333 to one William de Langford, the King’s clerk, for a ten-year lease.

In 1337 the Knights petitioned Edward III and, as a result, the Inner Temple was divided between the consecrated land to the east (Inner Temple) and the unconsecrated land in the west (becoming Middle Temple). In 1346, Langford’s lease having by then expired, the Knights Hospitaller leased both Middle and Inner Temples to lawyers from St George’s Inn and Thavie’s Inn respectively. When the Knights Hospitallers were dissolved by Henry VIII in the Reformation, the barristers remained as tenants of the Crown, for an annual rent of £10 for each Inner and Middle Temple. The current tenure dates from a charter granted by James I in 1608. Originally a grant of fee farm, the reversion was purchased from Charles II, finally giving the lawyers absolute title. In legal terms quite a speedy conveyance and a bargain.

Fleet Street: tanners, curriers and journalists

As well as goldsmiths, in medieval times the Fleet Ditch attracted tanners and curriers to the ward. As the City grew, these noxious trades were banished to the suburbs and by the 18th century the River Fleet had been culverted and built over. It became an open sewer, and the locality slums due to odours. The modern Farringdon Street was built over it, with the Fleet Market opening for the sale of meat, fish and vegetables in 1737. Charles Dickens described the market in unflattering terms in his novel Barnaby Rudge: ‘The air was perfumed with the stench of rotten leaves and faded fruit; the refuse of the butchers’ stalls, and offal and garbage of a hundred kinds.’ It was so filthy that Alexander Pope, in his poem The Dunciad, wrote that children swam ‘where Fleet-ditch, with disemboguing streams, Rolls the large tribute of dead dogs to Thames’.

Over the summer of 2016 the very last Fleet Street journalists departed for Scotland; but the Fleet Street offices of D C Thomson, opened by the then MP for Aberdeen, Winston Churchill, over 100 years ago, continue the publishing tradition, selling a range of titles including the Dundee Courier, The Beano, The People’s Friend, and my own childhood favourite, Commando.

Smithfield and the meat trade

Smithfield in the north is home to a range of City institutions such as St Bartholomew’s Hospital and the livery hall of the Haberdashers’ Company, but is best known for its ancient meat market, dating from the 10th century, now London’s only remaining wholesale market in continuous operation since medieval times. We currently have four active Common Councilmen working in the Smithfield meat trade. Along with other ward councillors they supported the Temple in its recent battle with Transport for London over changes to the Tudor Street entrance. The Smithfield buildings stand above a warren of tunnels. Previously, live animals were brought to market by hoof (from the mid-19th century onwards they arrived by rail) and were slaughtered on site. The area also contains London’s oldest surviving church, St Bartholomew-the-Great, founded in 1123.

Smithfield has also been the site of human butchery being the venue for many bloody executions including Wat Tyler, leader of the Peasants’ Revolt and Sir William Wallace. Stripped naked and dragged through the City at the heels of a horse to the Elms at Smithfield, Wallace was hanged, drawn and quartered – strangled by hanging, but released while he was still alive, emasculated, eviscerated and his bowels burned before him, beheaded, then cut into four parts. His preserved head (dipped in tar) was placed on a pike atop London Bridge. It was later joined by the heads of the brothers John and Simon Fraser. His limbs were displayed, separately, in Newcastle, Berwick, Stirling, and Perth. A plaque stands in a wall of St Bartholomew’s Hospital (Barts) near the site of Wallace’s execution at Smithfield.

Barts Hospital

Barts, founded in 1123 by Rahere with a Charter from Henry I, is the oldest hospital in the world still providing medical services on its original site. The Henry VIII gate carries the only statue of King Henry remaining in London and denotes the hospital’s second Charter. Granted after the dissolution of the monasteries following petitioning by the Lord Mayor, Aldermen and Vicary, the King’s physician, the Charter states that the hospital should remain open in perpetuity for the poor sick of London. Here William Harvey, physician to James I, conducted research on the circulatory system in the 17th century and Percivall Pott and John Abernethy developed important principles of modern surgery in the 18th century.

In 1992 the controversial Tomlinson Review of London health care concluded that there were too many teaching hospitals in central London. Barts was targeted for closure due to a low local resident population and the government’s refusal to include the daytime working population, many of whom regularly used Barts services. A long but ultimately successful campaign was mounted by The Save Bart’s Campaign, led by my fellow Common Councilman Wendy Mead.

Barts is now a centre of excellence for cardiac and cancer services, in newly built, state of the art facilities with leading edge equipment. The Cardiology Unit is the biggest and most advanced in Europe and includes a Direct Access Heart Attack Clinic which takes in, by ambulance, patients from across the City and northeast London, by-passing overcrowded A&E departments thus providing the most rapid treatment possible. Since the closure of A&E at Barts in 1996, a Minor Injuries Unit has been operating. Work is in progress to upgrade these facilities, making them more relevant for an ever increasing daytime City population.

A chemical laboratory at Barts was the initial meeting place of Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson in A Study in Scarlet. Barts was Watson’s alma mater. This fictional connection led to a donation by the Tokyo ‘Sherlock Holmes Appreciation Society’ to the Save Barts Campaign. In the 2012 BBC drama SherlockThe Reichenbach Fall showed Holmes appearing to have deliberately leapt to his death from the roof of Barts as a surrogate for the waterfall of the original story The Final Problem and for the resolution to Holmes’s faked suicide in the The Empty Hearse. The nearby telephone box now operates as a de facto tourist shrine to Sherlock/Benedict Cumberbatch.

Radicals and reactionaries

On 27 January 1769, the radical MP John Wilkes was elected Alderman for the Ward, while a prisoner in Newgate Prison. This was after he had repeatedly been elected as a Member of Parliament and expelled from Parliament for ‘outlawry’; essentially for what was considered at the time ‘obscene and malicious libel’ against King George III. Known for his verbal wit, when told by a constituent that he would rather vote for the devil, Wilkes responded: ‘Naturally.’ He then added: ‘And if your friend decides against standing, can I count on your vote?’ In a famous exchange with the Earl of Sandwich, where the latter exclaimed, ‘Sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox,’ Wilkes is said to have replied: ‘That depends, my lord, on whether I embrace your lordship’s principles or your mistress.’ His statue is in Fetter Lane. He was extremely scornful of some of his followers and his colleagues in the City of London, referring to the latter as ‘fat-headed turtle-eating aldermen’. By 1800, however, the City so feared a French invasion that the ward inhabitants joined neighbouring wards to form an ‘armed association’ under the title ‘the West London Loyal United Volunteers’ under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Price. Alas it appears he is not a relative of current barrister ward Common Councilman Emma Price.

Moving with the times

This ward has deep, still visible, historic roots. It has always been a place for the individual. Horace Rumpole of 3 Equity Court, Temple, would have been a long time elector of Farringdon Without, though it is doubtful whether he ever exercised his right to vote or become a Freeman and drive his sheep across London Bridge. He nonetheless illustrates the fact that this ward has never been a place for the City men in grey suits. When told to ‘move with the times’ he replied: ‘If I don’t like the way the times are moving, I shall refuse to accompany them.’

Further information

See also Uncommon counsel (1): Barristers and the City, Counsel, January 2017

Contributor Gregory Jones QC, Francis Taylor Building, Temple and Common Councilman for the ward of Farringdon Without

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Gregory Jones QC

Gregory is a practising barrister at Francis Taylor Building, Temple. He is Common Councilman for the Ward of Farringdon Without (see http://gregoryjonescc.net for ward details).