Elise Brunet, Curator
The question I hear the most when I give a tour is “when was Osgoode Hall built?” Number two on the chart is “why is there a chunk of rock in a showcase?” in the Great Library.
Precious things reside in showcases, so is this a minimalist sculpture, a meteorite from a distant galaxy or a significant archaeological find? The plaque informs us that the stone was presented to the Law Society by the Inner Temple. That’s cryptic enough and it doesn’t explain why they would give us a rock and we would gratefully accept it.
Bluntly put, that thing is construction rubble. It’s imported rubble, if that makes a difference, and it’s really old. It came from the right side of the doorway of 2, Crown Office Row, which was built in 1737. Literature buffs will appreciate that this was the birthplace of Charles Lamb, the English writer. 2, Crown Office Row is located at the heart of the Inner Temple grounds, which explains the Inner Temple connection.
The Inner Temple is one of the four Inns of Court for England and Wales. The inns were the ancestors of our own Law Society, and while their role has changed over time, they retain the exclusive right to call barristers to the bar. The Inner Temple owes its name to the fact that it sits on what was the London headquarters of the Knights Templar. The Law Society inherited many of its traditions, such as titles like “bencher” and “treasurer” from the inns. Their members established the structures and ethical standards that inform those of our own legal profession, and guided the evolution of the common law and the justice system that we know today.
The Inns of Court are centrally located in London, which was most convenient until the Germans decided to bomb the City. Between September 1940 and May 1941, successive aerial attacks with explosive and incendiary devices turned the Inner Temple to ruins. The Crown Office Row was severely damaged in October and perished in the fires of the night of May 10 and 11, the worst attack of the war. The adjacent Middle Temple also suffered serious damage.
Reconstruction started soon after the end of the war. The financial assistance from the War Damage Commission was substantial, but did not cover all expenses. American and Canadian Bar Associations generously contributed funds and library materials, among other things, to assist their overseas colleagues. That probably would have been the end of it had D.L. McCarthy, a former Law Society Treasurer, not seen an article in the London Times. The British House of Commons, St. Paul’s Cathedral and the Temples had been distributing pieces of their respective buildings to their American counterparts to acknowledge their fundraising efforts. Were Canadians less worthy of recognition? Surely Canadian legal organizations, universities and provincial bodies were entitled to relics of their own?
McCarthy promptly contacted the Treasurer of the Inner Temple who explained that there had been no such gifts from the Temple. He had merely allowed one of their members to take stones for an American friend of his, but if Canadian institutions wanted some, he would be delighted to send over as many as they wanted, suitably cut and appropriately inscribed.
McCarthy then approached the Law Society, which approved the initiative and constituted a committee to handle the process. The committee settled on a block six to eight inches high and about a foot wide, and asked that it be left in its damaged state. It also asked Lord Schuster, the Inner Temple Treasurer, to prepare a short note on the relic’s origins and history. By January 19, 1949, the stone was sailing towards Canada and on March 8, the Law Society’s Corporate Secretary, W. Earl Smith, confirmed its reception.
The Committee didn’t quite know what to do with the rock and it instructed the Society’s architect to investigate display methods. The decorating department of the T. Eaton Company eventually prepared drawings for an oak case based on those of the Royal Ontario Museum, but the design had to be revised when the stone proved to be too heavy for the original case.
On the Convocation of May 18, 1950, D.L. McCarthy officially presented the stone to the Law Society. It was placed in the Great Library, in front of the war memorial, near the location it occupies today. Photos of Crown Office Row before and after the bombing and Lord Schuster’s memo were framed and displayed near the case.
The stone was meant to remind us, sheltered Canadians, of the ravages of war. It also acknowledged the Ontario legal profession’s kinship with the Inns of Court and their members, and the responsibility of the Law Society of Ontario to uphold the standards that they have set. Even the connection to Charles Lamb had relevance: he was a master of the English language, a skill vital to lawyers, who earn their living as “the spokesmen of others.”
Clare Rider, “Phoenix from the Ashes: The Post-War Reconstruction of the Inner Temple, Accessed at https://www.innertemple.org.uk/who-we-are/history/historical-articles/phoenix-from-the-ashes-the-post-war-reconstruction-of-the-inner-temple/ on August 25, 2020
File 16-2-73, Presentations from the Inns of Court, LSO Corporate Records and Archives
Inns of Court. Website of the Bar Council. Accessed at http://www.barcouncil.org.uk/about-the-bar/what-is-the-bar/inns-of-court/ on August 25, 2020