diamond geezer

 Friday, January 30, 2004

Theobald's Park

I'm just back from deepest Hertfordshire, my two days of 'team-building' complete. Thankfully what we got to do was quite useful - no trying to support bricks on towers constructed from newspaper for us - although other groups of delegates on site weren't quite so lucky. I've suffered from both overeating and overheating, so it's good to have escaped the corporate hotel lifestyle and to be back home again.

The old mansion at Theobald's Park looked delightful in the snow, looking out across the glistening Lea Valley, surrounded by deer-filled woodland. The original Theobalds was the favourite hunting lodge of James I, but fell into ruins after the king died here in 1625. The main part of the present building dates from the 18th century and has since been owned by an MP (1763), a rich London brewer (1820), the Admiral of the Fleet (1910), the Metropolitan Police riding school (1939), a local secondary school (1951), and finally a conference centre (1995). The latest owners have restored some of the old house to gilt-edged wood-panelled splendour, but I don't think that flipcharts, vending machines and Sky TV were part of the original Georgian decoration.

And yes, down at the end of the drive, within sight of the 'Lady Meux restaurant', lies Temple Bar (see yesterday). Or, at least, what's left of Temple Bar, which isn't much. Just a small section of the east wall remains, surrounded by towering scaffolding that gives some idea of the scale of the original structure. A handful of workmen were hiding in the portakabins for warmth, occasionally popping out to dismantle a little more of the remaining wall. Some of the large stones that made up the arch were lying around on pallets, covered by snow, ready to be transported back to London. It won't be long before there's nothing left here but a muddy clearing in the woods, and conference delegates will have to make do with a stroll in the Italian Garden, or just another dip in the spa bath.

You'll be able to see Temple Bar reborn later this year, back in London at Paternoster Square beside St Paul's Cathedral. Latest news here. This ancient gate to the City of London certainly deserves to be seen by more than a few corporate freeloaders, squirrels and delivery lorries, but I'm sure one corner of Hertfordshire will be sad to see it go.

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