*From the website of The Honourable Society of the Middle Temple:
“…The Victoria Embankment finally saw the end of the Temple Stairs, after at least five centuries’ service. Initially, the new land created was to be used for a line of new docks, but through the Inns’ strenuous opposition this plan was abandoned and the land was added to those of the Inns’ gardens. A new pier was constructed, bearing the arms of the Middle and Inner Temples, reserved for the use of members of the two Inns – rights enshrined in the Thames Embankment Act of 1862.
Temple Pier had fallen into disuse by 1934, and that year (inspired by an item in ‘Punch’ magazine), members of the Middle Temple and their guests took a boat trip to re-assert their rights over it. Setting out from the pier, they toured the King George V, Royal Albert and Royal Victoria Docks, and enjoyed a substantial tea (which included lobster sandwiches and Russian Gateaux), before returning to disembark at the pier once again. It would seem that not everyone present had the sea legs that might have been expected, and this was remarked upon in a witty poem penned to mark the occasion:
When dealing (on paper) with naval affairs
The Admiralty Bar is grand,
But when we embarked at the Temple Pier,
They decided to remain on land.
The sixteen verse poem concluded with the expression of hope that this would not be the last such trip:
So here’s to the Act of ’62,
And the rights that we’ve used today.
With the pious hope that we’ll go again,
I propose to end this lay.
There was indeed at least one further such trip, in 1961. The Masters of the Bench hired the steamer ‘Zodiac’ for the 15th July that year, to proceed through the Pool of London and tour the docks. Three teas were given throughout the course of the journey, and limited places for barristers were made available.
Though separated nowadays by the Embankment roadway, the Thames is still very much a part of the Inn’s environment. The archway and doors leading from the Bench Apartments to the Hall are known as the ‘Water Gate’. While a number of speculative explanations for this name have been suggested, perhaps the most popular is that the doors originally controlled access to the Temple Stairs before being moved to Hall. While this is debatable, given the doors’ present good condition, they are just one of many reminders of the river’s continued presence in the life of the Inn.”