Temple bar may again be London landmark

Almost a century after it was taken away, Temple Bar looks as if it may be coming home. A gateway, or bar, has been the official entrance to the City of London for the past 900 years. The first wooden structure was dated 1079. The Temple Bar -- so called because it was on top of the hill above Fleet Street (close to the Temple) -- dates from the 17th century. It is a central arch, flanked by two smaller side arches, in English Renaissance style.

It was King Charles II who authorized the structure to be built and paid for it with public funds. There are four statues on the structure, all done by John Bushell. Charles I and Charles II stand side by side James I and his wife, Queen Anne of Denmark, stand on the other side -- although these days there is some reason to believe the figure next to James I is not Queen Anne at all, but rather Queen Elizabeth I.

In any case, Temple Bar guarded the entrance to the city from the west until the late 19th century, when it became necessary both to widen the street and to build new law courts on the north side to Temple Bar. The gateway was demolished and the pieces were removed to a builder's yard.

Sometime in the 1880s Sir Henry Meux found the demolished gateway and bought the pieces.He completely reerected the archway as the front gate to his estate in Hertfordshire.

That's where it stood until 1939, when Sir Henry's house was requisitioned for the war effort. From that time until this year, the gateway fell into virtual disuse and was harmed greatly by severe neglect. It was overgrown with weeds. It lacked maintenance. It was just about frogotten.

"It was not totally forgotten, however," notes Sir Hugh Wontner, who is chairman of the trustees of the Temple Bar Trust. "Since 1948 there have been occasional plans to restore the structure, but the most promising was produced in 1960 by Lord Mottistone, then surveyor to the fabric of St. Paul's Cathedral. He drew up a plan showing the arch standing on the north side of the cathedral, and it is substantially this plan, with a number of improvements, that is now to be carried out."

Last May the lord mayor of London approved the plan, and, as Sir Hugh puts it , "We received the news with delight."

However, approval by the City of London is one thing, reconstruction of Temple Bar is another. Sir Hugh and other concerned members of the city formed a charitable trust three years ago. The trustees of the Meux estate, who are the present owners of Temple Bar, gave them an option to buy the monument for $: 1,500, which is believed to be the figure given for it in the last century by Sir Henry Meux. But moving the statue from Hertfordshire and installing it in the City of London works out to be another $:600,000.

"We believe," Sir Hugh continues, "that funding for this project is a matter of great importance, because this beautiful historic structure should be saved for posterity and rebuilt in its original condition, where it can be admired and used by the people of this country, and those from overseas, who come to London to enjoy our heritage."

There are people in the United States who agree. Sir Hugh says that in particular the American legal profession has taken great interest in this project.

"So many American lawyers have received a part of thier education, from Thomas Jefferson onwards, in the vicinity of Temple Bar. In fact, contained in the bicentennial exhibition at the National Gallery in Washington, D.C., called "Through the Eyes on Thomas Jefferson,' one of the prime exhibits was a magnificent painting of Temple Bar."

To help meet a part of the Temple Bar reconstruction costs, an American foundation has been formed. In the meantime, Sir Hugh has launched a nationwide campaign to raise money in the United Kingdom.

For information concerning the Temple Bar Trust, Sir Hugh Wontner can be reached in care of the trust at 1 Savoy Hill, London WC2, England.

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