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Travelogue I3

June 3, 2016

If all signs pointed towards London’s confirmation as a city devoid of the living and the dead, I remained nonetheless firm in my desire to respect the method and see the observation through to its end. From St. Mary le Strand, a few more steps brought me through an archway into the enclosed court of Somerset House. Impressive though it was in scale and as an art institution, I did not tarry but swept through the southern wing to have a look at the river. Yet the difference in height between the house’s terrace and the embankment below hindered my efforts to get closer.

Stepping back through the southern wing and into the court, I lingered a moment on the entryway’s landing to examine the subterranean galleries running what appeared the inner length of the house, tracing between house and court a modern moat of sorts. A stairwell to the right led from the court down to a first level where bridges connected a narrow walkway to a number of doors inaccessible to the general public. From there, via a stairwell which I could not see from my position, a person could make her way still further down to a lower level at the moat’s bottom. In its attempt to reach that level, the light, already feeble in the city, met with no few obstacles in the form of the aforementioned bridges, covered entries and stout, stone braces separating house from court.

As luck would have it, my timing allowed me a glimpse of a tour group wending their way through the lowest level, all of which allowed a better estimation of the galleries’ depth. While they filed one by by one beneath a passage and behind the corner opposite, there came to me an impression, in truth quite vapid, of looking in on some conspiracy. Normally kept safe from prying eyes by means of those subterranean passages, the conspirators had thus granted me knowledge for which the reckoning would come only later, if at all.

That feeling deepened as I worked my way east towards the colony of barristers known as the Inn. There, two of the four Inns of the Court, Inner and Middle Temple form a sprawling complex unto themselves at the boundary between Westminster and the City of London. So located, I might have expected the Inn to fall within a split jurisdiction but later learned that the complex lies outside the authority of the City’s parishes, the Corporation of the City of London, as well as the London bishopric. Its independent status from city institutions lay in its history as one of the few surviving “liberties”, a Middle Age unit of property wherein the crown’s rights were revoked in favor of private ownership. It amused me to read further that, following what seemed a legal technicality over historical terms, the Inn thus operated as a de facto local authority.

Set apart from the city, the Inn frustrated my attempts to find a way in. In reality, I found myself obliged to make a circuit of the western, northern and eastern sides before I could at last pass before a gatehouse from where an attendant watched over a car park. Once inside, I moved from the brick buildings lining the car park to the more elaborate constructions at the complex’s southern edge. An iron fence separated me from the largest expanse of lawn which I had until then seen in London and from which emerged a five-story brick building with hulking, limestone turrets at each corner from the third floor up. Thinking that I might in time come upon an entrance to the lush green, I strode the length of the iron barrier until I came across a gate which bore a sign forbidding entry to non-residents.

Still, I remained determined to see what I could of the Inn’s western reaches and to push at the outward form of an institution which, like the surrounding city, seemed equally empty of humanity at this hour.

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