July 2019: Duelling, Diamonds and the Deliverance of Europe - Archival Curiosities from Beyond the Inn

In a departure from the usual pattern, this month we look at material held in the Middle Temple Archive with provenance beyond the Inn as an institution, through gift, donation or serendipitous accident over the centuries. Some of these unexpected items and collections are closely connected to the Inn and its activities, some are impenetrably extraneous, but they share a unique novelty and curiosity.

The personal papers of certain prominent Middle Templars have found their way into the archive. One example is that of Sir Alexander Cockburn, a successful barrister and judge who rose to be Lord Chief Justice, and who was also a noted (and notorious) figure on the mid-nineteenth century social scene. While not a complete collection, the Inn holds his Fee Books as a barrister, which recorded cases he worked and the sums received for each - a useful source for those seeking to understand the professional activities of nineteenth century barristers, as well as for biographers of Cockburn himself.

Portrait engraving of Sir Alexander Cockburn, 19th Century (MT.19/ILL)

These papers also include something a little less quotidian - the manuscript of a romantic novel written by Cockburn himself in his twenties, in his own hand. It tells the story of Auguste de Morbiere, a young Frenchman living in the 1770s, and has a highly convoluted plot involving ghosts, dungeons, love affairs, convents, duelling and general intrigue. Analysing the text in the early 2000s, the writer Sian Busby commented that 'the novel does not have a great deal of literary merit, but it is written with a certain degree of verve'.

Chapter from Cockburn’s novel, describing a duel with an insulting and sarcastic Marquis (GD/4/6)

The papers of Sir Henry Honywood Curtis-Bennett KC (1879-1936), a Bencher from 1926 to his death, were donated by a relative in the 1980s. In keeping with most collections of personal papers, these include correspondence, press cuttings relating to Curtis-Bennett's career, and family photographs depicting an idyllic life in the English countryside. In addition to these items the collection also features a beautifully decorated paper fan from Kettner's restaurant, dated 16 July 1925. Kettner's, a popular establishment in Soho, had been opened in 1867 by Auguste Kettner, chef to the French Emperor Napoleon III, and was a favourite haunt of Curtis-Bennett's fellow Bencher, Albert Edward, Prince of Wales.