Sport is an incredibly popular past time, and this is no exception for members and students of the Middle Temple, many of whom, outside of working and studying, enjoy playing sports in their leisure time. The Inn itself has been involved with sports through facilitating the creation of sports clubs, land for events to take place on and financial support.
Tennis has long been a popular past time for members, with the Middle Temple grounds once having their own tennis courts, located in the garden. It is notable that the Middle Temple Lawn Tennis Club is considered to be one of the oldest in England, having been founded in 1878. However, there is evidence that members were playing before the club’s formation, as in the image at the top of the article from 1861, showing tennis being played in the gardens in front of the old Victorian library.
During World War II, the Inn’s tennis courts were removed to make way for allotments. After this, the post-war rebuilding of the Inn only allowed room for one court (instead of the previous two) and along with the disfigurement of the lawn, a decision was made not to allow any further play. Following this announcement, the Tennis Club wound up at ‘a sparsely attended general meeting’ on Friday 27 March 1953, with a decision to leave the remaining club funds in the bank. There were attempts by Benchers to revitalise the Tennis Club in the 1960s, unfortunately, the plan never materialised due to the eventual lack of funds versus cost and declining interest.
The garden lawns by Hall, however, were already being optimised by the Middle Temple Lawn Bowls Club, founded in 1961, which held a robust membership of over 50 people in the first year alone. The club was subject to the notion that ‘bowls is strictly a game for older men (and women)’. This did not, however, faze Thomas Banks, the Junior Vice President, who in 1961 wrote an open letter to The Guardian, pointing out that the national singles bowls champion was under 30 and that the Middle Temple Bowls Club welcomed players of all ages.
Golf has for many years been a popular past time for members, evidenced by The World of Golf Journal writing to the Inn in 1906, asking them if they would like to subscribe to the magazine for the benefit of their members. They believed that a subscription, considering the popularity of golf amongst the Inn’s members, would be ‘a popular addition to the common room.’ However, it appears that Middle Temple did not see much value in the subscription and did not take up the offer.
Golf was, and continued to be, nonetheless, a big part of life at Middle Temple. In 1921 a golfing competition was founded by Master Edward Scrutton in which the four Inns of Court all competed in teams to win ‘The Scrutton Cup’. Master Scrutton himself was Called to the Bar at Middle Temple in 1882, going on to become a Bencher in 1908, with a personal passion for golf, so it is of no surprise that he set up this tournament which is still hosted by the Bar Golfing Society to this day. Following the introduction of the Scrutton Cup, the Middle Temple Golfing Society was formed in 1923 by Master Scrutton and their many matches and competitions were held on courses near London at 17:00 in the summer months so to ‘cause minimum interference to working hours.’
The Middle Temple Golf team have had moderate success in the Scrutton Cup, having won 21 times over the last 100 years, in an event that has only ever paused for World War II and the Coronavirus pandemic, with the Middle Temple’s best winning run lasting from 1928-1932. In honour of winning the Cup in 1958, after 24 years without victory, a dinner was held in honour of the Middle Temple Golfing Society at the Inn. Later in 1980, another dinner was held to celebrate the victory of Middle Temple in the Scrutton Cup, after 14 years without a win, at which members of the winning team were invited to dine in the Queen’s Room.
It was not only members who established sports clubs and competitions: the Inn’s students have also been known to form their own sports societies. For example, the badminton club was founded in Hilary Term of 1959 and the Inns of Court Cricket Club was formed in 1957 by members of the four Inns.
However, it soon became clear that the cricket club was expensive to run; the President claimed that a minimum of £40 a year was required to cover the costs of ‘the kit, balls, hire of the ground and the various other expenses which go with cricket.’ Therefore, the club requested financial help from the Inn in order to continue competing and allow them to host home games, stating that it was ‘humiliating as well as frustrating and boring to play the part of guest all the time.’ Nevertheless, despite the club’s limited resources, they performed very well, only losing two out of ten matches they played in the 1966 season.
Over its history, Middle Temple has maintained strong connections to the world of sport, through its students, members, and societies within the organisation, showing that is possible for one to have a successful legal career, while also participating professionally in sports: a connection which we hope will continue in years to come.
Francesca joined the Archive Department as the Projects Archivist in October 2019, having previously worked as a Volunteer Archive Assistant at the Scottish Jewish Archives.