The Garden Guide

Book: London Parks and Gardens, 1907
Chapter: Chapter 11 Inns of Court

The Middle Temple, Benchers' Garden, Dickens and Fountain Court

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The Middle Temple, too, had its Benchers' Garden, and part of it survives to this day in the delightful Fountain Court. The Benchers' Garden was larger, covering the ground where Garden Court now stands, up to the wall of the famous gardens of Essex House. A garden covered the space where the library has been built, and the terrace and steps in front of the fountain reached right across to the Essex House wall. Below the beautiful old hall which Queen Elizabeth opened in person, and where Shakespeare's contemporaries witnessed "Twelfth Night," lay the rest of the Garden, with green lawns and shady trees down the water's edge. The fountain, once the glory of the Benchers' private garden, is still one of the most delightful in all London. Sir Christopher Hatton, whose garden of Ely Place-wrung by Queen Elizabeth from the unwilling Bishop-was not far off, was an admirer of the Middle Temple fountain. It was kept, he says, "in so good order as always to force its stream to a vast and almost incredible altitude. It is fenced with timber palisades, constituting a quadrangle, wherein grow several lofty trees, and without are walks extending on every side of the quadrangle, all paved with Purbeck, very pleasant and delightful." In an eighteenth-century picture, with groups of strollers and a lady passing the gay company in her sedan chair, the palings are superseded by fine iron railings enclosing the lofty jet, its marble basin, and shady trees. The pavement ended with the terrace wall overlooking the garden below, and the Thames covered at high tide what is now the lower part of the lawn. The Fountain Court has inspired many a thought which has found expression in prose and verse, but no picture is more vivid or well known than the figure of Ruth Pinch, in "Martin Chuzzlewit," waiting for her brother "with the best little laugh upon her face that ever played in opposition to the fountain," or the description at the end, of that crowning day to her happiness, when she walks there with John Westlock, and "Brilliantly the Temple Fountain splashed in the sun, and laughingly its liquid music played, and merrily the idle drops of water danced and danced, and peeping out in sport among the trees, plunged lightly down to hide themselves, as little Ruth and her companion came towards it." The fountain has suffered some modernising changes since Dickens wrote those lines; but in spite of them there is still music in its sound, which calls up dreams of other ages and of brighter gardens as it tosses its spray into the murky air. "Away in the distance is heard the vast sound From the streets of the city that compass it round, Like the echo of mountains or ocean's deep call: Yet that fountain's low singing is heard over all." -Miss LANDON.