Charles and Mary Lamb in the Inner Temple

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William Cowper Of The Inner Temple

by Clare Rider, IT Archivist 1998-2009

Childhood in the Inner Temple

Charles and Mary Lamb, probably best known as co-authors of Lamb's Tales from Shakespeare, were born in the Inner Temple, at 2 Crown Office Row. Their father, John Lamb, was employed as a Hall waiter and clerk to Samuel Salt, who served as Under-Treasurer (a post subsequently known as Sub-Treasurer) to the Honourable Society of the Inner Temple from 1745 to 1768.

Samuel Salt, who was originally a member of the Middle Temple, was appointed Under-Treasurer of the Inner Temple in 1745 and was called to the Bar by the Inner Temple on 18 May 1753. He acquired chambers successively in Ram Alley Buildings (later known as Mitre Court Buildings), Tanfield Court and Sir Robert Sawyer's Buildings (on the site of the present Paper Buildings). In 1759, on grounds of personal convenience, he exchanged these chambers for a set of chambers in 7 Fig Tree Court, directly above the Under-Treasurer's office in 2 Crown Office Row. He proceeded to make a staircase connecting 7 Fig Tree Court with his office in 2 Crown Office Row and the combined chambers were deemed sufficient to house not only Salt and his office, but also his clerk and his clerk's family. It was in this building that Charles and Mary Lamb were born.

Sir Frank MacKinnon, in his commentary on Charles Lamb's essay 'The Old Benchers of the Inner Temple' concluded that the Lambs were housed in the back chamber of 2 Crown Office Row, behind the Under-Treasurer's office rather than in the Fig Tree Court chambers above.1 If this were the case, it must have been a confined space for John Lamb, his wife Elizabeth, and their several children. The curious situation of an Under-Treasurer, subsequently to become Bencher and Treasurer of the Inner Temple, accommodating an employee's family is best explained by the fact that Samuel Salt had lost his own wife in childbirth in the first year of their marriage. The Temple church registers refer to her burial in the vault on 22 December 1747.2. Salt never remarried, despite the attentions of 'mild Miss Susan P....' who pursued him with 'a hopeless passion' for forty years3, and seems to have regarded John Lamb's family as his own.

Samuel Salt continued to live at 2 Crown Office Row/7 Fig Tree Court with his household until his death in 1792. Despite his resignation as Under-Treasurer in 1768 in order to pursue a political career in the House of Commons (representing the boroughs of Liskeard, Cornwall, from 1768 to 1784, and Aldeburgh, Suffolk, from 1784), he continued to serve the Inner Temple in a number of ways. In 1770 he was appointed Bar Auditor and in 1776 he was selected as an 'Associate of the Bench'. He acquired full Bench status in 1782 and subsequently served as Reader, in 1787, and Treasurer, in 1788.

John and Elizabeth Lamb had good reason to be grateful for Salt's hospitality. They had a total of seven children whilst under Salt's roof, of whom Charles Lamb, born 10 February 1775 was the youngest. They were all christened in the Temple Church, the register recording the baptisms of Elizabeth (born 9 January 1762, baptised 30 January 1762); John (born 5 June 1763, baptised 26 June 1763); Mary Anne (born 3 December 1764, baptised 30 December 1764); Samuel (baptised 13 December1765); Elizabeth (born 30 August 1768, baptised 3 September 1768); Edward (born 3 September 1770, baptised 21 September 1770) and Charles (born 10 February 1775, baptised 10 March 1775).4 Only three of these children, John, Mary and Charles, survived infancy, although there is no record of the burial of their less fortunate siblings in the Temple Church registers. Perhaps they were buried in Hertfordshire, where the Lambs had family connections.

Samuel Salt seems to have taken a direct interest in the Lambs' surviving children. He allowed them free access to his own library, where they developed a taste for literature; in all likelihood helped to procure the entry of John and Charles to Christ's Hospital (of which he was a Governor); and assisted in finding subsequent employment for them as clerks in the South Sea Company (of which he was a Director). In 1792, Charles went on to work as clerk in the East India Company (of which Salt was also a Director), and he remained there until his retirement in 1825.

Charles looked back with fondness on the first seven years of his life in the Inner Temple in his essay, 'The Old Benchers of the Inner Temple'.5 He described his birthplace as 'Cheerful Crown Office Row…..the place of my kindly engendure' and the Temple as 'the most elegant spot in the metropolis'. He also benefited from his time at Christ's Hospital (otherwise known as the Blue Coat School), situated on the north side of Newgate Street, which he attended from 1782 to 1789. It was there that he formed his life-long friendship with fellow pupil and poet, Samuel Taylor Coleridge. His connection with Salt protected him from some of the harshness of school life:

Any complaint which he [Salt] had to make was sure of being attended to. This was understood at Christ's and was an effectual screen to him [Lamb] against the severity of the Masters, or worse tyranny of the monitors.6

He also, in his essay on Christ's Hospital, acknowledged the kindness of the Sub-Treasurer (John Spinks), whose generosity supplemented the meagre diet of the other pupils:

The present worthy Sub-Treasurer to the Inner Temple can explain how that happened. He [Lamb] had his tea and hot rolls in a morning, while we [the other pupils] were battening upon our quarter of a penny loaf -- our crug moistened with attenuated small beer, in wooden piggins, smacking of the pitched leathern jack it was poured from. Our Mondays milk porritch, blue and tasteless, and the pease soup of Saturday, coarse and choking, were enriched for him [Lamb] with a slice of "extra-ordinary bread and butter," from the hot-loaf of the Temple.7

notes:

  1. Sir F. D. McKinnon Inner Temple Papers (London 1948; republished 2003) 2nd ed. p134
  2. Register of Burials at the Temple Church ed. H.G. Woods (London 1905)
  3. Probably Miss Susan Pierson, the sister of a fellow Bencher: McKinnon Inner Temple Papers 2nd ed. p188
  4. The Register of the Temple Church 1628-1853: Baptisms 1629-1853; Marriages 1628-1760 ed. G.D. Squibb, Harleian Society New Series vol. I (London 1979)
  5. Reproduced in full by McKinnon in Inner Temple Papers 2nd ed. pp117-128
  6. Charles Lamb 'Christ's Hospital Five and Thirty Years Ago' Essays of Elia ed. E.V.Lucas (1905)
  7. Charles Lamb 'Christ's Hospital Five and Thirty Years Ago'