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December 2023: Safeguarding the Inn—From Domestic to Public Police

Today, like the rest of the City of London, law enforcement within the Temple is upheld by the City’s territorial police force, the City of London Police. However, up until the mid-19th century the City’s public police were excluded from the precincts of Middle Temple and Inner Temple, for both Inns had had a long tradition of maintaining their own domestic policing force to safeguard their residents. This month we look back on the changing policing arrangements at Middle Temple, delving into the records dating back to the heyday of its domestic police force and the era that saw the Inn's transition of policing. 

Records in the Archive indicate that as early as in the 1580s a porter was engaged by the Inn to keep the gates locked every night. In the 17th century, watchmen were also employed when Readings and weekly Commons were held in Hall, probably to support the porter in keeping the events in an orderly manner and turning undesirables out of the Inn.


A list of instructions given by Charles Worsley, Treasurer, to the Inn’s several watchmen
concerning their duties and responsibilities, 1733 (MT/8/SMP/53) 


A regular team of watchmen was formed by 1715, whose responsibilities included proclaiming every hour while on their night beats, ensuring no chamber and cellar doors are left open at unreasonable hours and ‘[watching] carefully that no lewd women or idle persons be ... skulking about the House.’ In 1727, following the ‘barbarous murder’ of a Widdrington Darby, an Inner Temple resident, in Hare Court, Middle Temple decided to expand its watch team to six people, specifying several watching stations across the Inn for ‘better security of this Society’. With the abandonment of children becoming an increasingly concerning problem for the Inn, the watchmen were also instructed by the Treasurer to ‘take particular care that no children are dropped.’ 

As the Inn’s business expanded in the early 19th century, its security staff also grew into a larger team with over 10 members. Working alongside the watchmen to care for the Inn’s security were the gatemen and the warders, who, together, constituted what was internally called the ‘Police Establishment’ of the Inn. The overall management responsibilities of the department would fall under the remit of the porters, who worked to ascertain the vigilance of the security staff and submit daily reports to the Under Treasurer.


Close up of a full account of the Middle Temple’s police establishment,
detailing their payment duties and responsibilities in full, [1852] (MT/1/PPA) 


The gatemen, as the name suggests, worked as the first line of defence and attended the gates—predominantly the Middle Temple Lane Gate and the New Court gate—from dusk to dawn. On the other hand, the warders, who directly reported any nuisances to the Under Treasurer, took on a mixed role. Not only did they have to inspect those who passed in and out the gates and admit residents into the Inn at night, they also had to patrol different courts during the day like the watchmen, with various duties ranging from restricting unauthorised use of water pumps to keeping the crossings clear of horse carts and carriages.  

Roles in the police department were not particularly lucrative at that time, with the watchmen earning only £30 per annum—less than the launderess and just half of what the Head Porter made. It is therefore not surprising that over the decades the security staff, either individually or as a department, submitted numerous petitions for relief or improvement in working conditions. These petitions concerned requests for shelters from severe weather conditions during the watchmen beats, better quality apparel, gratuity for having dealt with emergencies and—in response to the Inn’s more stringent prohibition over receiving Christmas tipping and gifts—allowance for compensation. 


A map showing the several watchmen stations across the Inn, with names of the responsible watchman
for each station and their hours of duty, [1850s] (MT/8/SMP/165) 


The department’s growth in the first half of the 19th century incidentally mirrored the sweeping change in law enforcement that was happening across the rest of the City of London. The establishment of City of London police in 1839 saw the safety matters of the whole City now placed under the authority of one united force, with the Temple being an exception. Despite still manned by its own police force, the Inn contributed financially to the running of the City police through paying the annual police rate, calculated based on a rental valuation of its chambers. This in 1841 would amount to just around £150 but had increased sharply during the decade, doubling up to nearly £400 in 1853. 

Although the Inn seemed to be quite keen on keeping the nascent public police away from its security affairs, some Middle Templars were very enthusiastic about being a part of the public police service. There were at one time over 100 members and residents of the Inn who had signed up to volunteer as Special Constables for the Metropolitan Police Office, the public police service looking after the Greater London. Some of them must have assisted a police operation in April 1848, presumably for the Chartist demonstration in Kennington Common on 10 April, as there exists a letter dated two days later sent on behalf of Her Majesty expressing gratitude to the special constables of Middle Temple for their contribution to the ‘preservation of order and to the tranquillity of London’.


Extract of a list of Middle Templars who have offered their services as Special Constables if called upon by the government, [1848] (MT/21/1/33) 


Printed letter signed G. Grey, in representation of Her Majesty, for the valuable service
of the Special Constables of Middle Temple, 12th April 1848 (MT/21/1/6) 


In the second half of 1850s, however, it is clear that the Inn was considering a restructuring of its police department and admitting the City police into the Temple. Unlikely as this might have seemed, the Inn's relenting attitude was likely impacted by financial and security considerations. On the financial front, it appeared to be increasingly difficult for the Inn to justify for the soaring annual police rate payment, essentially money paid without producing any return. This was underlined in an 1857 salary report produced by a special committee, which questioned ‘whether these large payments might not be made available for the police purposes of the society’. A further report by Masters Slade and Bagshawe in May 1857 first recommended the admission of the City police, suggesting that the police rate should from now on be borne by tenants or life-holders of chambers, similarly to ‘how they are now charged to the gas and water rate’. 


Cover of a special committee report regarding the wages and appointments of the Inn’s staff, [1857] (MT/8/SMP/148a) 


At the same time, the effectiveness of the Inn’s domestic police in maintaining safety was also called into question. Several letters by the residents reporting on robbery incidents hint to the overall deteriorating performance of the security staff during the time period. One resident, Martin Leake, whose chamber had been burgled, wrote that there had been ‘systematic attempts’ at breaking into the chambers in the Temple, while one Charles Newton, who had some linen and gold pins stolen, went further to speculate that thieves in the Temple were provided with keys for burglary, casting doubt on the conduct of individual security staff. The surge of robbery incidents and the inefficiency of the Inn’s security staff were also mentioned in an 1857 petition by 121 barristers, who, in opposing to the introduction of the City police, claimed that there had been an increased vigilance of the porters and watchmen. 


Extract of a petition of 121 Barristers to the Masters of the Bench against the introduction of the Police, 12th June 1857 (MT/1/PPA) 


The Inn acted fast on its decision. Following a discussion with the Commissioner of the City Police on 10th June 1857 and a subsequent meeting of the joint committee between Middle Temple and Inner Temple, on 24 June the City police were allowed 'to undertake the guardianship of the Temple’. This had in effect made the Inn’s domestic police force largely redundant, resulting in the Parliament’s decision to discharge the warders and watchmen with compensation—though one watchman was dismissed for drunkenness. Only the porters and the gatemen were retained.  


Extract of the minutes of a Joint Committee meeting regarding the admission of Police, 12th June 1857 (MT/1/PPA) 


The introduction of the City police into the Temple likely came as a surprise for many and reasonably gave rise to discontent among some Middle Templars. Groups of barristers submitted petitions criticising that as ‘an invasion of a privilege’ and destruction of the Inn’s ‘collegiate character’, while residents lodged complaints about the police’s encroachment on their everyday life. Among them, one Richard Paternoster was particularly irritated and penned several letters complaining of ‘living under the surveillance of the police’ and its effect on his comfort, privacy and health. The Inn, however, showed great resolution in facing these grievances, and in January 1858 the Parliament reaffirmed that the new policing arrangements were made after ‘mature consideration’ and saw ‘no reason for receding’.  


A letter from Richard Paternoster to the Treasurer, complaining of the noise made by the Police
outside his chambers at night and its effects on his health, 5th October 1857 (MT/1/PPA) 


And so the dust was settled. In the decade following the introduction of the public police, the Inn and the City police seemed to have fostered a collegial working relationship. Material in the Archive show that the Chief Commissioner of the City police was among those invited to the opening ceremony of the New Library in 1861, a special occasion graced by the Prince of Wales, with police arrangements made for his Royal Highness’s carriage to enter the Temple. In 1870, the Inn made a request to the City police for their assistance on crowd control at a Temple Church event for which a large attendance was expected, which was approved. 

Collaborations on several special occasions implied that the Inn regarded the public police as a competent and trusted partner. Such partnership would have greatly enhanced public safety and security in the Temple—and ultimately benefitted the welfare of Middle Templars—and perhaps this was why displeased members and residents had, over time, grown to accept the change in policing arrangements. 


Extract of a letter from the Chief Superintendent of the City of London Police regarding crowd control suggestions
for a Temple Church event during Lent, 14th March 1870 (MT/15/TAM/345)