15 August 2011

Middle Temple Library

July 27

This is a law school library, located off of Fleet Street in a twisty bit of streets and alleys.  Our tour of Middle Temple Library was not really long, but it was interesting.

We first went upstairs to see some of the law collections, which includes one of the largest collections of US legal material in the UK. There are some US textbooks, and many donations of law books, including the Harvard Law Review and materials from Notre Dame in the All American collection. This section is used for quick access, commercial and business, needed for areas where American law comes into play in the UK.

The building underwent construction to convert into rooms which can be used for seminars or meetings, or when not in use can be for quiet study.  There are bookshelves on every wall, so conceivably anybody could walk in quietly and take what they needed during a meeting.   The idea behind this conversion is adaptation of library usage, filling several needs at once.

We got an explanation of British law, the differences between a barrister and solicitor and the Inns of Court, but it was confusing to me and I don’t think I should attempt to type it out.  One interesting tidbit is that early lawyers in the US were sent to the UK to learn because there was nowhere to get that education in the States, and then they went home to set up law practices.

The building is built out of reinforced concrete because the original was bombed twice in WWII.  The second floor holds legislation and the like, reference, collections of trials, and ecclesiastical law materials. There is no classification systems because it is traditional not to, and also there was agreement that labels look ugly.  It can be a bit touch-and-go finding books sometimes because of this, as there is only alphabetical order.

On the second level, in front  of the balcony looking down on the lower level, there are two glass-encased globes, the only pair of the earliest made gloves in England.  One is terrestrial and the other celestial; they were made in the late 16th century of papier mache, and it is theorized that they have held up so incredibly well because they were shellacked (or something similar, I didn’t write down the specific word). 

Down on the bottom floor is a large portrait of Robert Ashley, who donated his personal library to establish the Middle Temple Library.  Down there are located English textbooks; sub-law reports; Irish, Scottish and EU materials; and a small European collection.

After this we moved into the dining hall, which is a sight to behold.  The hallways between the library and there are lined with plaques with shields on them, and they continue here, covering all the walls.  There are half-suits of armor lining the upper ledge, with stained-glass windows above, and many long tables filling it up.   The wood is very dark and the doors have terrifying spikes on them to keep out latecomers who want to get in to events. 

In this room was held the first performance of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night.  The plaques are representative of each Reader of the Inn, who had to pay for the entire dinner honoring him, which was no mean feat.

We climbed up a staircase to the Minstrel’s Gallery, which gave us a view of the entire room below (well, everybody else, anyway) and a great view of the ceiling and some of the windows.  The ceiling is all points and carving, and there are hooks that were once used for lanterns; one of these hooks, we were told, was used to hold an acrobat doing one of those routines where they hang and roll up down on a long length of material.  The main table (where one is “called to the table”) is made from the hatch of the Golden Hinde.

About as close as I was willing to get
At the end of my notes for this day, as I sat in a chair with hardly any bottom support, I wrote V. TIRED OF HEIGHTS (underlined twice).  Ain’t that the truth.

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