Tuesday 9 April 2013

Hare Court and Arthur Cohen

Temple, the area south of Strand largely occupied by barristers' chambers, has been home to two Inns of Court - Inner and Middle Temple - since the middle ages. Much of the building now there is considerably less ancient than that might suggest, as large parts of it had to be reconstructed after the Blitz; this was mostly done in eighteenth-century style, so the difference between old and new buildings is not obvious. Among the major buildings to be destroyed and rebuilt were Inner Temple Hall and Library, and part of Temple Church. The Elizabethan Middle Temple Hall also suffered damage.

However, there had also been major rebuilding in the nineteenth century. By the 1830s, much of Temple was rather ramshackle, so new buildings brought modern comforts to the barristers who then often resided as well as worked there. A rather exuberant acknowledgement of one of these projects can be spotted on Middle Temple Lane. This fine sculpted plaque commemorates the rebuilding of the west side of Hare Court in 1893-4, work begun by Inner Temple Treasurer Alfred Marten and finished by his successor Arthur Cohen.

Cohen's route to the Bar had not been as straightforward as it should have been: the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography describes a difficult path through university. A gifted student from a prominent family (his mother was a Montefiore with connections to the Mocatta family), Cohen wished to study at Cambridge but was rejected by several colleges because he was Jewish. In 1849, Magdalene College accepted him as a mathematics student - but only after he had passed an entrance exam on William Paley's View of the Evidences of Christianity. Once at the University, he succeeded academically as well as rowing for his college, and was President of the Union Society, but he could not be awarded his degree as a Christian oath was compulsory. That only changed thanks to the Cambridge Reform Act 1856, after which he became the first professing Jew to graduate from the University. A very successful legal career followed, and he was known for his kindness as well as his legal expertise. He was also the Liberal MP for Southwark in the 1880s, supporting Home Rule and opposing the hereditary House of Lords.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

How fascinating!