|Dignified enthusiasm for the Jubilee|
Visiting the Middle Temple Inn of Court and its library was particularly interesting to me as a lawyer. Although American law is based on British law, the legal training is now quite different as most states in the United States have abandoned the apprenticeship model. However, to become a barrister (more or less the equivalent of a litigator) in the UK, you need an undergraduate degree, followed by a Bar Vocational Training program. Students are required to join one of the four Inns of Court as a student member and undertake 12 qualifying sessions on legal topics. Joining an Inn of Court is required but is extremely expensive. It provides legal education but most importantly it offers networking at 12 ritual dinners that accompany the educational sessions. After the qualifying sessions (covering topics like ethics and wills) have been completed, the students need to secure a pupillage, which are two six-month apprenticeships with practicing barristers. Our guide said there have been recent efforts to provide scholarships to the Inns to improve the diversity of the profession. The Inns are also providing what we would call career events to try to attract a wider variety of students into the field, rather than more white men from fee-paying schools.
We were fortunate to have an outgoing and extremely knowledgeable guide in Harpeet Dhillon, Deputy Librarian. Not only did she provide a wonderful tour of the library itself but she also made sure we saw other interesting parts of the Middle Temple Inn of Court. We started in the Great Hall which is still used for banquets and for ordinary lunches. We admired the many coats of arms that decorate various parts of the Inn: in its early years many of its members had their own coats of arms and now those who hold leadership roles in the Inn are allowed to create their own (later we speculated among ourselves about what motifs we might include if designing our own). We saw some elegant but seemingly comfortable rooms that the members use for casual gatherings as well as more formal meeting rooms before reaching the Library, which is now two floors (two basement floors previously used for book storage were recently turned into a café which we benefited from later – there can’t be too many tea breaks for me!). It was also interesting to hear about Ms. Dhillon’s educational path. She had been a cataloger for about ten years before taking this position, which includes collection development and administration. Previously, she worked at the Guildhall Library, a public reference library specializing in London, so she said it was an easy segue to the Inn of Court.
The Middle Temple Library, which has been in existence since at least 1388, has a lot of American connections. Five signers of the Declaration of Independence were members of this Inn of Court and a replica is displayed prominently; they were men who had been born in the Colonies but traveled to London for part of their legal education. The American Ambassador is an honorary member of the Middle Temple Inn of Court and sometimes attends gala events. The Library subscribes to the Harvard and Yale law reviews and its Collection is considered to be one of the largest collections of American legal materials outside the United States. It even includes some American law school textbooks (had I known, I could have brought and donated several of mine, although my luggage was heavy enough already).
One of the most interesting books we saw was the first printed catalog of the collection, published in 1700, and still in remarkable condition. Ms. Dhillon explained that acid-free paper often survives much longer than the leather bindings. She also taught us that the correct way to turn a page in a fragile book is at the top right; turning the bottom corner is much more likely to tear the page. Although we assumed people would wear gloves to touch rare volumes, she said it is easier to damage books wearing a glove because they limit dexterity.
The Middle Temple Library was one of the first to reopen during the pandemic, although naturally there was greater reliance on remote services. What we would call the reference desk is known as the “Enquiry Desk” and Ms. Dhillon said ruefully that on some days the most frequent in-person question is about the idiosyncratic photocopy machine. I remember when my mother was a librarian they had to keep track of all the questions they got at her library and, similarly, the most popular questions were Where is the water fountain? and Can you fix the Xerox? We thanked her for our tour and stopped on the lower level for tea. It was a shame the day was chilly and overcast because the adjacent garden was beautiful.
Dr. Dave Davies, a journalism professor at the University of Southern Mississippi who manages the British Studies program had joined our group, including our own professor, Dr. Jennifer Steele, today. The tube workers were on strike and he had figured out the bus to take, which was appreciated. He was fun and has a background in civil rights journalism, so I told him about Count Them One By One, my father's book. It turns out he reviewed it for the Clarion-Ledger!
After the library, we ate lunch at touristy pub called Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, which my mother and I had noted on our trip in 2018. It is near the Inns of Court on Fleet Street and claims to have served Charles Dickens. I had a cheese and onion pie with mash, and devoured it, having had only a granola bar and tea for breakfast. Next, we visited St Bride’s Church in Fleet Street, then the Tate Modern, and went on a twilight cruise on the Thames with the undergraduate students that are part of our tour group. The cruise was fun but chilly, so we were happy to get off. The group split up and several of us took a bus to Liverpool Street, dined at an Eataly (which I could have done in Boston but I was only in the mood for gelato, so it didn’t matter), then took the shiny new Elizabeth Line to Paddington, and after much confusion, a bus to Baker Street (we know how to look up the correct bus route but keep trying to go the wrong direction). There was a woman on the bus who asked us for advice, then presumably called home to say she was going to be late. I didn’t recognize the language she was speaking but finally she switched to English, saying bitterly, “I am in the middle of the nowhere!” We felt the same way trying to navigate the bus system! We asked the Good Samaritan near St. Paul’s Church who helped us find the right bus why the Elizabeth Line wasn’t on strike with the rest of the tube and she said they were proud of being brand new and didn’t want to spoil the good vibe! That turned out not be true.
|The Middle Temple's Great Hall|
|Every lawyer has a secret crush on Blackstone: he wrote much of English |
law in the 18th century and his principles led to the First Amendment
|Looking down at the Middle Temple Library |
from the upper level
|Modern technology meets rare books!|
On the wall are two of the Prime
Minister portraits that adorn the library
|Persian armor, donated by a patron|
|Tower Bridge, from the Thames|
|The Houses of Parliament and Big Ben, from the Thames|
Miles walked: 4.9
Books acquired: one – A Long Shadow from a used book shelf at St. Bride’s
Quote of the Day: As we walked into the Middle Temple, Channin breathed, "I smell history!"