In Focus: Elizabethan Buildings — Middle Temple Hall


We’re here at Middle Temple Hall, built in
1562 and largely complete by 1572. It’s built by the treasurer of the Middle
Temple, which was an Inn of Court where barristers trained, lived and worked. We’re in the hall
which had a number of functions: the first of which is dining, where all of the inn would
come and join together; it would also be used for the government of the members of the inn;
and also it’s used for theatrical performances. Middle Temple Hall encapsulates the sort of
intrinsic duality in Elizabethan architecture, in terms of its theory and its practice. On
the one hand you have an incredible hammer-beam roof that looks back to the medieval period,
but you’ve also got the most up-to-date and sophisticated hall screen with an awful amount
of Renaissance ornament, derived from prints, brought in from the Continent and probably
carved by foreign craftsmen working in London. Elizabeth I’s reign saw quite a dramatic shift
in the status of craftsmen and artisans. In the period, there isn’t one individual would
be described as, or indeed have operated as, an architect in the modern sense of the word;
someone who oversaw, had an overarching theoretical conception of a building project. What you have instead is a series of highly-skilled
craftsmen working on individual aspects of the build; You have a combination of native craftsmen
who have essentially grown up in the medieval tradition. But what you also have is an influx
of highly-skilled foreign craftsmen that are fleeing religious persecution in the Netherlands
and Northern Europe, and what they bring with them are skills and expertise that are simply
lacking at home. They not only bought new techniques and skills
in making and creating (be they goldsmiths, joiners or carvers) but they also bought with
them a whole series of inspiration, inspiration from classical Rome and Ancient Greece. They
bought the classical idiom to the English craftsman.

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