October 2017: Imbibing at the Inn

To follow last month's 'Archive of the Month' on all things culinary, this month's edition looks at wine, beer, liquor and their consumption at the Inn. A wealth of material in the archive records the drink supplied to and kept at the Middle Temple over the centuries, how much was drunk (and by whom), as well as its ill-effects on members and staff alike.

One of the earliest references to the consumption of drink by Middle Templars appears not in our archive but in that of Lincoln's Inn. The first of the Lincoln's Inn 'Black Books' records, on 14 March 1442, a payment of forty-nine shillings and fivepence for a 'drinking' between the Two Inns - in Latin, 'pro potacione inter Hospicium de Lyncoln ynne et Hospicium Medii Templii'.

The Wine Butler's accounts and 'Consumption Books' provide a comprehensive daily record of the quantity and variety of drinks consumed by the Benchers and barristers between 1608 and 1944, and are a fascinating window on how tastes and habits have changed. In October 1608, according to one of the earliest such records, the Benchers seem consistently to get through a pint (if not a quart) of claret at dinner and another at supper.

Record of wine for the Benchers in September and October 1608 (MT.7/WBA/1)

Tastes diversified in the following century. For example, one Parliament night in 1743, the account records the consumption of one pint of 'sack' (a white fortified wine imported from Spain and the Canaries), two pints of 'Lisbone' wine (wine imported from Lisbon), two pints of Bennett's Port and two of regular port, as well as, specifically, a quart of port for the Under Treasurer and a pint for his Clerk. The predominance of port in British cellars was thanks in part to long-running conflicts with the French in the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries limiting the import of French wines.

Wine consumed on Parliament Night, May 1743, Wine Butler's Account Book (MT.7/WBA/238)

By the nineteenth century, the lists start to sound more familar to the modern ear - and more luxurious - including champagne, claret and Sauternes, as well as cognac and Scotch whisky. Indeed, these developing tastes in drink at the Inn are also represented in the Treasurers' Receipt Books of the day, which contain receipts and bills, often quite ornately decorated, for consignments of drink from a range of vendors and traders. In January 1880, for example, Demelle & Chaperon, Wine & Brandy Merchants of Bond St supplied the Inn with St. Julien, Sauternes and 1875 Chateau Lagrange (bottled at the Chateau). In 1889, William Gaymer & Son of Banham, Norfolk were sending cases of cider, and John McGregor & Son of the Balmenach Distillery supplied whisky by the cask.