Dickens London walk. Great Expectations
Back track along Fleet Street and turn right through the gateway into Middle Temple Lane. Elegant buildings of redbrick rise up on either side of the cobble-stoned byway, and Charles Lamb’s sentiment that ‘a man would give something to be born in such places’ still holds true.
You have entered one of London’s four Inns of Court, where barristers – the wigged and robed advocates of the legal profession – have their chambers. Immediately the blandness of late 20th-century architecture gives way to a tranquil oasis that has been left untouched by time and progress. ‘There is yet a drowsiness in its courts and a dreamy dullness in its trees and gardens’ wrote Dickens in Barnaby Rudge. ‘Those who pace its lanes and squares may yet hear the echoes of their footsteps on the sounding stones and read upon its gates… “Who enters here leaves noise behind”.’
Having passed Brick Court, turn right beneath the soaring London plane trees. To your left is:
Middle Temple Dining Hall, which was built in the 1570s and is occasionally open to the public, so a polite enquiry at the office just inside the door may well be to your advantage. Each of the four Inns of Court possesses its own dining hall in which aspiring barristers must eat a certain number of dinners during each law term. Despite heaping a goodly amount of scorn upon the legal profession, Dickens was not averse to participating in its traditions. In 1839 he enrolled as a student barrister at Middle Temple, hoping that the law would provide a safety net should his writing career end. However, he failed to eat the required number of dinners and subsequently resigned his membership in 1855.
Continue across the courtyard to the picturesque little fountain.
In Martin Chuzzlewit (1843–44) Dickens wove a romance around this court involving Ruth Pinch and John Westlock. The area has changed little since Dickens wrote of it, ‘Brilliantly the Temple fountain sparkled in the sun, and laughingly its liquid music played, and merrily the idle drops of water danced and danced, and peeping out in sport among the trees, plunged lightly down to hide themselves…’
Cross over to the steps to the left of the little fountain and look down them at the red-brick building on the right opposite the garden. This is:-
Garden Court, and was the place where Pip was living in Great Expectations, when the convict Abel Magwitch turned up one storm-tossed night to reveal himself as the source of Pip’s good fortune. ‘Alterations have been made to that part of the Temple since that time,’ Dickens has Pip explain, ‘and it has not now so lonely a character as it had then, nor is it so exposed to the river. We lived at the top of the last house, and the wind rushing up the river shook the house that night, like discharges of cannon, or breakings of a sea…’