Cressing Temple: Visiting Knights Templar property in England Today

By , January 5, 2010 3:37 am

Introduction to the Knights Templar

Plan from excavations in the late 1990s at Cressing Temple

Plan from excavations in the late 1990s at Cressing Temple

The Knights Templar, the fabled, fantastically rich, and powerful organisation that rose spectacularly in the Middle Ages, fell as dramatically.

The “Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon” order,  known  more commonly as “The Knights Templar”, was founded in Jerusalem in 1119 AD to protect pilgrims bound for the Holy Land, and dissolved by the French King and the Pope in 1312.

In just under two centuries, the Templars became  powerful, important, and famous as an order of fighting monks. They were far from the only military knights who were also subject to a monastic rule, but they became (and remain to this day) the best known.

Everyone loved them, from the Pope, Kings and Princes to the peasants and labourers, and their success and visibility was unparalleled.

Their fall 200 years later was equally dramatic, and the Papacy was forced by the French King (who was, in effect, in control of the Pope) into eliminating them.

Many of the Templars were burned alive, particularly in France. In other countries, such as England, most were allowed to go quietly on their way, many joining other orders of monks.

The cellar at Cressing Temple, from the Templars' time, uncovered during excavation works

The cellar at Cressing Temple, from the Templars' time, uncovered during excavation works

Visiting Knights Templar sites in England today

Many of the biggest and best-known Templar properties can be indentified and visited, but the extent of the remains of Templar buildings varies significantly.
There are a number which have substantial and significant sites still, and others where only the name survives today.
This is the first in a series of posts about visiting Knights Templar property in England, and starts with the Essex site of Cressing Temple.

Cressing Temple – significant remains and buildings survive

Cressing Temple is in Essex, England. It’s a scheduled ancient monument, owned by Essex County Council, and open to the public.   A lot is left, and it’s a great place to visit to get a sense of the Knights Templar organisation and property.

It was the largest and most significant of the properties the Knights Templar owned in Essex, and was in the charge of a “Preceptor”.

This was the title of the Knight who had charge of an area and a number of monks under him; he was answerable only to the Grand Master of the Order.

Cressing Temple was given to the Templars in 1137 by Matilda, wife of King Stephen, not the rival claimant to the throne, the Empress Matilda.

The astonishing buildings at Cressing Temple, standing today

Plan showing the timber structure of the Wheat Barn at Cressing Temple.

Plan showing the timber structure of the Wheat Barn at Cressing Temple.

Two great barns were built by the Templars at Cressing. The first is now called the Barley Barn, and is thought to have been built some time around 1210 A.D.

The Wheat Barn was built in about 1260 to 1270 A.D. It is built directly on top of a Bronze Age settlement.

The Barley Barn is an immense structure built from oak, and was made from an estimated 480 oak trees. Tree science, dendrochronology, has dated the felling of these trees from between 1205 and 1235.

The Barn was originally larger even than it is today, but it seems to have been repaired later and made smaller at that time. It now measures about 36 metres long by 13½ metres wide.

Although it’s been repaired over the years, the original structure of the Barn still holds it up today. The arcade posts and main ties are the ones built by theTemplars.

The Barley Barn at Cressing is the oldest timber framed barn still in existence in the world.

The Wheat Barn is larger, 40 metres long and 12½ metres wide. It was built from 472 different oak trees, and there are identical trusses with braces meeting at a scissor above the collars.



Records and research into Cressing Temple

The Templar-built well at Cressing Temple

The Templar-built well at Cressing Temple

More is known about Cressing Temple than many Templar foundations because inventories made by both the Knights Templar and Knights Hospitaller have survived.

There has also been extensive archaeological research, with Essex County Council excavating the site between 1987 and 1996.

The archaeological excavations have shown that when the Templars took over the land they cleared it, and set up drainage systems, and started to build.

Evidence has been found of post holes, timber slots, gravelled surfaces outside, and latrine pits. The foundations of an original timber chapel built in about 1145 was discovered. This was replaced by a stone chapel a few years later.

The Templars also dug a very deep well, about 45 feet deep. It was lined with Reigate stone. There is also evidence that they filled in some existing ditches, and dug new ones to drain the land more efficiently.

The Well House was only built at the end of Victorian times, but the well itself is undoubtedly a Templar structure.

There is evidence from Carbon 14 dating to show that trees were cut down partly in order to make room for the buildings, and partly in order to provide the timber to build them.

There is also what appears to be a clay quarry which may have been used for tiles for the floors of the barns and other buildings.

The Wheat Barn, at Cressing Temple

The Wheat Barn, at Cressing Temple

The quarry appears to have been used as a rubbish dump and filled up by the Templars in the years after it was opened.

Three large ponds were also dug and presumably stocked with fish. The Knights Templar, like other monastic orders, did not eat meat many days of the year and ate fish instead. It was common for large houses or organisations to have their own fish ponds.

A very complete inventory from 1313 mentions a church, two chambers (almost certainly used as bedrooms) a great hall, a pantry, a kitchen, a buttery, a larder, bakehouse, brewhouse, dairy, granary, smithy, a well, and two barns.

The Templar holding at Cressing Temple was originally about 14,000 acres. It was very fertile land, good for agriculture, and the produce could be easily moved by river.

The Templars employed over 160 tenant farmers on the Cressing Temple site, and also established a market.

In 1309, before the estate was handed to the Knights Hospitaller the Cressing Temple was recorded as having a mansion house, bakehouse, brewery, dairy, granary, smithy, gardens, a dovecote, chapel, cemetery, watermill and a windmill.

After the suppression of the Order, the Cressing Temple passed to the Knights Hospitaller in 1313.

Visiting Cressing Temple

The Barley Barn at Cressing Temple

The Barley Barn at Cressing Temple

Cressing Temple’s address is Witham Road, Cressing, Braintree, Essex, CM77  8PD.

It’s about 50 miles from central London, and 4 miles from the nearest railway station, Witham (trains take about 45 minutes from London Liverpool Street station).

From April to September Cressing Temple is open from 10am – 5pm Sunday to Friday, in March and October  from 10am -  4pm Sunday to Friday, and from November to February,  10am and 3pm Monday to Friday.

The site’s details, opening hours, and travel directions can be found here.

8 Responses to “Cressing Temple: Visiting Knights Templar property in England Today”

  1. Lauren says:

    I was just watching a show about timber structures, so I am thrilled that you have this post describing it a bit further. The work on these structures is incredible to me, and the technology is even more impressive.

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  3. Fascinating stuff. I wish I could get to visit the area.

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  6. Joanna says:

    Fascinating that the number of trees used to build the barns can be determined! Looking forward to the rest of the series!

  7. Brian says:

    Since moving to France near Carcassonne, I have found the whole subject of the Templar Knights plus the Cathar history fascinating. The level of cruelty exercised against them during the period they fell from grace was incredible. Not all those in the UK got away from it either, so those that did probably considered themselves very fortunate.

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    I have read this two books by Brown James. This book is very informative and adventure. My mind diverts to Tomb Raider adventure. It is same as the story of “The Angle of Darkness”

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