January 2019: A Middle Temple Menagerie

For centuries, animals - both real and imagined, physical and symbolic - have been present at the Middle Temple. This month we look into the archive to explore some of the stories surrounding animals at the Inn, and find them in some unexpected places.

One of the earliest references to animals in the archive appears in the Minutes of Parliament dated 18 November 1558, when the Benchers ordered 'none of the Fellowship to keep a Hawk within the Inn'. Hawking was a popular pastime amongst wealthy Elizabethans, one which the young gentlemen of the Inn no doubt enjoyed. The passing of this order suggests that specific incidents may have occurred as a consequence of resident hawks- sadly the records go no further on the subject.

Order of Parliament that no member of the Inn keep a hawk, 18 November 1558 (MT.1/PPA/3)

Domesticated animals rather more familiar to the modern reader have long been commonplace at the Inn. Complaints abound throughout the records regarding the noise made by dogs being kept in chambers. One particular incident stands out. In February 1856, one Alfred Hawood wrote a lengthy letter to the Under Treasurer, Mr Dakyns, complaining of a dog kept by a Mr Ferguson at the top of his staircase in New Court. He branded it a 'serious annoyance', accusing it of 'snapping and snarling' at visitors to his chambers and also complained of the 'filth which he deposits on the stairs'. On the very morning Hawood penned the letter, a boy had been bitten on the leg while climbing the stairs.

Page of a letter from Hawood to Dakyns concerning Ferguson's dog, 27 February 1856 (MT.20/XXV/VI/31)

Having tried and failed to speak directly to Ferguson, Hawood appealed to Dakyns' authority, feeling that 'a remonstrance from Head Quarters would be more effectual and less invidious than one from me' in ridding him of the 'dangerous nuisance'. A marginal note by the Under Treasurer on the front of the letter relates the matter's somewhat poignant resolution: two days later, Ferguson called in to report that he had sent the dog away, but that - revealing his evident affection for the animal - it would be 'brought occasionally for him to see it'.

Detail from the above (MT.20/XXV/VI/31)

It was not only the barking of dogs causing Middle Temple residents consternation. One Samuel Phillips occupied chambers in the Hall staircase in the early 1800s, and kept a notebook containing his musings and jottings on a range of subjects. One which stands out is a remedy for 'the bite of a mad dog', credited to a Dr Turnbull. An 'electuary' was to be drunk, with ingredients including powdered bark, antimony, 'camphire' (camphor) and wormwood, then washed down with a cup of valerian tea. Following this Phillips recorded that a compound of opium, mercury, asafoetida and galbanum gum should be applied to the throat - which 'appeared to be the most effectual'. A reference to 'hydrophobia' suggests that this remedy was supposed to combat a rabies infection.