The Garden Guide

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

Old Temple Gardens

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The long green slopes down to the Embankment, are much larger than the older gardens, as the wall which was built in 1528 to keep out the river, cut across from where No. 10 King's Bench Walk now stands. The wall must have been a vast improvement, and was greatly appreciated. In 1534 a vote of thanks was passed by the "parliament" of the Inner Temple to the late Treasurer, John Parkynton, who had "takyn many and sundrie payns in the buylding of the walle betwene the Thames and the garden," for which "greate dyligens" they gave unto him "hartey thankes." And, indeed, the garden must sorely have needed this protection. It is difficult to picture the Temple in the sixteenth century, and the little gardens must have been as bewildering as the present courts and buildings. In the records there are references to various gardens, no doubt small enclosures like the present courts, besides the Great Garden and the kitchen-garden. There was the nut garden, perhaps adorned with nut trees, as Fig-tree Court probably was with figs. There is more than one record of payments for attending to the fig-tree or painting rails round it. In 1610, just at the time James I. brought them into notice, a mulberry was "set in Fairfield's Court." In 1605 seats were set "about the trees in Hare's Court"; thus all the courts were more or less little gardens. In 1510 a chamber is assigned to some one "in the garden called le Olyvaunte." This was probably the Elephant, from a sign carved or painted to distinguish a particular house facing it. There was similarly "le Talbott," probably from a greyhound sign, in another court. The houses facing the Great Garden apparently had steps descending into it from the chief rooms, and it was a special privilege to have your staircase opening on to it. Thus, "May 1573, Mr. Wyott and Mr. Hall, licensed to have 'a steeyrs' (stairs) from their chamber into the garden." The Great Garden was constantly being encroached on as new chambers were built. Entries in the records with regard to permission to build into the garden often occur; for instance- "1581. Thomas Compton... to build... within the compass of the garden or little Court... from the south corner of the brick wall of the said garden... 57 feet... and from the said wall into the garden 22 feet." On one occasion a license to build was exceeded, and the offence further aggravated by cutting down "divers timber trees." The offender was at first put out of commons, and fined �20, which was afterwards mitigated to �5, with the addition of a most wise proviso, that "he shall plant double the number of trees he caused to be cut down." Would that the fault of felling timber always met with the same punishment!