Sunday, 14 October 2012

Staple Inn

When one walks down High Holborn today between the many modern office blocks there lies a curious fragment of the old medieval street in the form of the picturesque Staple Inn. This half timbered Inn gives an impression of High Holborn before the great fire and redevelopment in seventeenth century when it would have been lined with many similar buildings. The front facade is part of a larger complex of buildings including a hall built around a courtyard to the rear (although most of the other buildings were destroyed during the last war). The current front facade consists of two buildings, one was the original staple Inn (5 bays to the left), the other was a house of similar age (2 bays to the right). The distinction between the two is more evident on the early image left as during restorations the house was incorporated with the inn creating a larger front facade. The 5 bay Staple Inn was built in 1585 and was established as an 'inn of Chancery' which was a medieval school providing training in legal practices. The inn was also a wool staple where wool was weighed and taxed, which gives the inn its name. Staple Inn was once attached along with neighbouring Barnards Inn to Grays Inn, one of the four inns of courts. These 'partnerships' with larger law firms was common to many of the other inns of court and minor inns of chancery. The Staple Inn survived the great fire along with much of the Holborn area but took much damage during the second world war which was subsequently repaired.

As can be observer in the picture of 1880 above left the building was once covered by extensive plaster which obscured the original facade. This was removed during a restoration by Alfred Waterhouse relieving the semi-preserved original facade, Waterhouse also designed the opposite prudential assurance building. In his restoration of 1886 he removed many of the post-medieval alterations but overall was generally sympathetic. The building was again restored in 1937 on the eve of war, although this time it was much less-sympathetic with it being extensively rebuilt in part. Much of the visible woodwork dates from this restoration and only some Tudor elements actually survive. 

Just a few years after the restoration the Inn came under attack from German air raids which caused some damage to the building. However, a later air raid in 1944 was the most destructive in which the courtyard and the old hall were destroyed. The Inn was subsequently restored and remains a attractive example of a timber framed building once common in London. It is one of the most popular and heavily photographed buildings on the High Holborn road due to its striking difference from other dull buildings on the road. Architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner described the building as being 'no doubt the most impressive surviving example of timber building in London'. 


Behind the facade of High Holborn through the Holborn gateway (through a ground floor passageway) is Staple inn courtyard with the staple inn hall on the opposite side of the courtyard. The old hall was built around 1580 as a banqueting hall. The building is of a basic design with a iconic hammer beam roof like many other great banqueting halls in medieval London. However, this hall is neither as significant nor as big as other halls in London. 

The courtyard on which the hall sits was a undisturbed historic and peaceful oasis in the centre of London until in 1944 the courtyard was hit by a flying German bomb. The hall was completely destroyed, although luckily the inn front was not too badly damaged. The oasis was restored along with a rebuilt hall, built as close as the original as possible and was reopened in the 1950's.

As is demonstrated on the two images left (before and after) the reconstruction was a close copy of the original. In my opinion the reconstruction was a success as the interior too which often loses atmosphere with reconstructions is maintained closely to the original. The picture on the left © shows the hall in 1880 whilst the picture on the bottom left © shows the hall today (2012).   

1 comment:

  1. Jane Stedman ancestors 1
    Thomas, who was married to Jane Stedman, May 6, 1617, at Horsham, .... 
    and of 7, Staple Inn, London ; born 1st Jan 1763 ; nephew of Alexander, of the ..
    jane is my 4thg grandmother


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