The last time Inner Temple’s library was wrecked, it was Hitler’s bombs that did it. On the night of the 10th—11th of May 1941, London faced the most devastating attack of the Blitz. That night, the House of Commons chamber was left a smoking shell. St Clement’s Dane’s, on the Strand, was gutted. Much of Fleet Street was on fire. And according to Clare Rider,
Temple Church and almost everything in it, including stained glass, altar, reredos, organ, pews, books and pulpit, were devastated … fires raged through the Hall, Library, Master’s House, Crown Office Row and what remained of Harcourt Buildings.
… fires continued to burn throughout the following day. Only when they were finally extinguished could the extent of the damage to the Inner Temple buildings be assessed. It must have been a depressing sight.
After Hitler was dead, our civilisation and the rule of law saved, it was decided to build a new library
worthy of the site and the historical importance of the Inn
as Inner Temple put it in 1947. The new library, like all the reconstruction work, was funded mainly by the public through the War Damage Commission. Clare Rider tells us that
The Library was opened by the Treasurer, Sir Patrick Spence, in a formal ceremony on 21st April 1958 attended by the Lord Chancellor [David Maxwell Fyfe, Viscount Kilmuir—Carl]. The Law Times of 2nd May recorded that ‘those who were present on the occasion cannot fail to be impressed both with its general design and with the workmanship which has been bestowed on its furnishings and equipment’ …
Nor can anyone fail to be impressed by the library today. It allows barristers and students to do legal research work of the highest standard, and provides services to barristers outside London. I was there only last week, doing international law research I could do nowhere else. It’s also a fine interior that deserves to be left alone.
Yet now, fifty-seven years after it was built, Inner Temple library faces a new threat—this time, shockingly, from Inner Temple itself. The plan is to spend £16 million and close the library for 18 months in order to get rid of five of its rooms, together with its fine gallery; to install a depressing plaster ceiling to lour over what remains; to take away half the spaces for readers to sit and work, and to remove 25,000 books.
The books really matter, and the space really matters, as David Allen Green explains in his very good piece about this plan. To think none of it’s important in the digital age is wrong, and glib.
The idea’s to make way for education and training rooms and a 120-seat “auditorium” to be hired out at a profit. Private Eye (No. 1400) said about the plan—
In a rush to monetise their prime slice of City real estate, scheming elders at the Honourable Society of the Inner Temple are pushing ahead with plans to create a lucrative commercial training complex – even if it means taking the sledgehammer to one of the oldest libraries in London.
Astonishingly, according to a submission drafted by the Inn’s Library Committee this summer, this proposal hasn’t even been the subject of a proper business plan assessing the likely income from the new facilities. How can Inner Temple’s governing benchers even think of doing it?
How could anyone do it? On a speculative punt, it would spoil a permanent professional and educational asset and a true centre of excellence—and instead assemble something that’ll be “state of the art” only on the day it opens. That a library might be intentionally damaged in the interests of “education and training” makes “education and training” a sinister phrase. The library is the best education and training resource the Inn will ever have, and should not be cut down at all. It should be enhanced and preserved.
Is it even intended that any revenue the auditorium might earn should be paid to the public purse? It ought to be, since any profit would be made from the destruction of an asset public money bought for Inner Temple.
This goes beyond the interests of the Inner Temple, or of the Bar. To wreck this outstanding library would not merely be deliberate vandalism. Nor would it just be anti-professional, anti-intellectual and anti-educational. It would insult the people, who built it, and this country’s history. What Hitler destroyed and the public rebuilt should endure.
If you’re not a barrister, you can visit the library this weekend from 11 am to 4.30. It may be your last chance to see it as it was meant to be. Please read about the campaign to save the library, please sign the petition against this horrible plan—and if you have any other influence, please exert it.