Visiting England - English places associated with the Knights Templar
The Knights Templar
The "Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon" order, better known as "The Knights Templar", was founded in 1119 AD, and dissolved by the Pope in 1312.
In just under 200 years, they became an immensely powerful and important order of fighting monks. They were far from the only military order, but they became (and remain) the best known. They were the wealthiest, and most prestigious order.
Everyone loved them, from the Pope downwards, and their rise was spectacular. Their fall 200 years later was equally dramatic, and the Papacy was forced by the French King into dissolving 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 Knights Templar in England
The Knights were a popular organisation in England from the start. Both sides donated property to the order during the Civil War between King Stephen and the Empress Matilda, for example.
Many of the land grants to the Templars were substantial tracts of lands, and within a few decades, they owned tens of thousands of acres of prime farm land.
Hugh de Payens, the founder of the order and the first Grand Master of the Knights Templar, visited England to set up a branch of the Order in 1128.
The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle recorded his visit, saying:
This same year, (A.D. 1128,) Hugh of the Temple came from Jerusalem to the king in Normandy, and the king received him with much honour, and gave him much treasure in gold and silver, and afterwards he sent him into England, and there he was well received by all good men, and all gave him treasure, and in Scotland also, and they sent in all a great sum in gold and silver by him to Jerusalem, and there went with him and after him so great a number as never before since the days of Pope Urban.
This article does not attempt to name or describe all remains in England associated with the Knights Templar; rather, I have focused on those I know.
Temple Church, London
The Temple Church, at the heart of the legal world of Middle and Inner Temple, is mentioned here only for completeness.
Its history and layout are discussed in a detailed article to be found here, relating just to the London headquarters of the Knights Templar.
- History of Temple Church
This PDF is a fascinating book about St. Catherine's Church in Cornwall, written in 1883.
Temple Church, Cornwall
The Church of St. Catherine of Alexandria, Temple, Cornwall, was a remote Templar property.
It is thought that it might have been built to protect pilgrims travelling to the Middle East from Ireland and Cornwall, but that is uncertain.
There is a reference to a pilgrims' route going from Liskeard to Camelford via Temple.
The manor of Trebeigh was given to the Knights Templar by King Stephen in 1150, during the civil war between Stephen (nephew of the previous King Henry I) and the Empress Matilda (Henry's daughter).
Security was certainly poor in the country at the time; a chronicler described it as a time “when Christ and all his Saints slept”.
There may have been an Abbey somewhere in the manor – there is a modern-day Abbey Farm, and suggestions from the past that there was such an establishment. The location, if it did exist, is not known.
The church today contains the Norman font, and also stones inscribed with the symbols of the Knights Templar and Knight Hospitaller.
Originally built in the 12th
century, the church had fallen into ruins by Victorian times, and was
re-built and re-dedicated in 1883.
Temple Meads, Bristol
Now the site of a large and impressive railway station, Temple Meads (from the Anglo-Saxon for “meadows”) was owned by the Knights Templar.
Robert, Duke of Gloucester (illegitimate half-brother of the Empress Matilda, and a supporter of hers in the civil war) donated the land to the Knights Templar.
They built a church, in their typical round style, and it was then re-built in the more common oblong in about 1300 AD, either just before, or soon after, the order was suppressed. It is thought more likely that the rebuilding was done by the Templars, but it's not certain.
The oval foundations of the nave remain, and have been excavated. The church was badly bombed during the Blitz in the Second World War, and is now ruined. (See this article for more details of the devastating bombing by the Luftwaffe in the war).
The official name of the church is Holy Cross, but it is far more commonly known as Temple Church. It was the administrative site for the Templars' property across the south west of England.
Bisham Abbey, Berkshire
The manor of Bisham was granted to the Templars, and in about 1260 the built a community house there. The manor house today is built around that preceptary, and the Great Hall of the house is the 1260 building.
Unlike most Templar property, at dissolution this did not pass to the Knights Hospitallers, but rather directly to King Edward.
Later a monastery was founded near the house, and the name derives from that foundation.
Today the manor is a sports centre, of all things!
Cressing Temple, Essex
Cressing Temple is in Essex in England, east of London It’s a scheduled ancient monument, owned by Essex County Council.
Two spectacular medieval barns built by the Templars survive to this day, and can be seen and visited.
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.
- Visiting the Knights Templar property at Cressing Temple
A detailed article about the history, current buildings, and visiting details in relation to Cressing Temple.
St Mary the Virgin Church at Shipley, West Sussex, is now the parish church for the village.
The Manor of Shipley was among the earliest grants to the Knights Templar. The church was first built in about 1140 A.D. The name Shipley comes from a Saxon word meaning “place of pastureland”.
The parish was mentioned in the Doomsday Book in 1087, and is just under 8,000 acres.
The Manor was given to the Knights Templar by the Dean of Lincoln. Although the Church was built by the Knights Templar, in the 12th Century, it was built on the site of an even earlier, probably wooden Church.
The church is made mostly of Caen stone on the outside, and local sandstone. It is likely that the Templars first built a smaller church, and later extended the knave to double its original length, in order to support the tower they then built.
The east and west doorways are both mid to late 12th Century, and therefore date from the Templars.
There was a 12th Century
reliquary, a box which would originally have held part of a Saint,
about 8 inches long made of wood, covered with copper, and decorated
with enamel and gilt figures including a crucifixion scene. Some idiot stole in in the late 1970s.
Hereford Cathedral was built in about 1080 A.D. and pre-dates the Templars.
Hereford had been the centre of a diocese as early as the 6th Century, and a first cathedral was built in the 7th Century.
Hereford’s current cathedral was built by the Normans in stone in 1080. Of the original 1080 building, the choir, south transept, arches in the north transept and choir aisle and the knave arcade survive.
The Shrine of the Saint Thomas Cantilupe shows clearly that he was linked significantly to the Templars. The tomb, built of Purbeck Marble, contains the figures of 14 Knights Templar dressed in their armour, in niches along the bottom.
Temple Bruer is in the parish of Temple Bruer with Temple High Grange in Lincolnshire. The Templars were granted the Manor in about 1150 A.D.
It became the centre of the Templars’ operations in the Lincolnshire and surrounding counties.
A significant part of the Templars’ church remains, in the form of the south tower of the church.
The Templars held a weekly market in Bruer, and had 37 tenant farmers. A Tudor visitor described seeing the ruins of a circular church, although this can no longer be seen.
The site has been excavated, and a 1908 archaeological exploration showed that there had been a walled precinct around the church and other building foundations. There’s a medieval field system to the south-west.
- The Round Church, Cambridge
A good site about the Church, with photos and details about the building.
Holy Sepulchre Church, Cambridge
The Holy Sepulchre Church in Cambridge is more commonly known as the Round Church.
It was built in a clearly Norman style, with rounded arches and fairly small windows, and was built on the rough pattern of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.
The Round Church was actually built by an organisation called the Fraternity of the Holy Sepulchre. Almost nothing is known about this organisation, but they appear to have been linked to the Knights Templar and Knights Hospitaller.
It has many design features in common with the Temple Church in London.
The village website of Templecombe, including a history of the village and links.
Temple Ewell, Kent
Temple Ewell is a parish in Kent in England near Dover.
"Ewell" comes from an old English word meaning “Spring”. It was known as Ewell before the Knights Templar were granted the Manor by the King in 1163, when they added the word "Temple" to the village name.
The Knights Templar built the Church of St Peter and St Paul in approximately 1170. The church was built on the site of a wooden Saxon church.
There are no remains of the Preceptory itself above ground, but in late Victorian excavations mediaeval floors tiles and tools were found. From that we know the Preceptory was a two-storey flint building covered in caen stone 60 feet long and 25 feet wide.
There was a chapel and chapterhouse connected and a kitchen separately. Evidence was found of a doorway, external staircase, dormitory, and a main hall.
It appears to have been built with the same materials into a similar plan as the village church.
A 22 feet by 85 foot extension was built in the late 13th Century.
There is a small round church built by the Knights Templar near to Temple Ewell, on the heights above Dover. It appears likely that this land also belonged to the Preceptory. Templar remains can be seen in the church in Temple Ewell, including stone slabs with Templar crosses taken from the chancel in Victorian times and put in the church porch.
The Templars also owned the nearby Manor of Strood, known as "Templeborough" in 1292 and "Temple Strode Manor" in 1337.
The Manor House was built in the
late 13th Century and is still in existence today. It
appears to have been rented out to a tenant farmer, rather than being
the home of the Knights themselves.
- Templar Sites - Global Home Page
A detailed database of sites associated with the Knights Templar, including both historical and visitor information. Part of a world-wide project, this website covers sites in England and Wales.
Templecombe , in Somerset, was granted to the Knights Templar, who built a preceptory there in 1185 AD. After the dissolution, it passed to the Knights Hospitaller.
In the church is a 13th century picture of Christ from the Templars' time, found in a shed in the village in 1945. The painting has been carbon dated to 1280.
“The Time Team”, a British TV programme, explored Templecombe looking for remains of the Templars in 1995, and found medieval foundations and the lower walls of a building from the right dates.
A survey was carried by out Stewart Ainsworth of the Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England, and found further earthworks associated with the Templars. The site is likely to become a Scheduled Ancient Monument.
St. Mary's Church in Templecombe was first built in 890 AD. There are 9th century foundations under the tower and part of the nave. Not much of the Church is Templar-built, but there is a Norman (and probably Templar) font from the late 12th century.
- Detailed survey of Sompting
A detailed survey of the architecture of the church in Sompting.
- St. Mary's church, the parish of Sompting and the Friends of Sompting Church
The official web site for St. Mary's church, Sompting - with information about the parish of Sompting and the Friends of Sompting Church.
The parish of Sompting in West Sussex was granted to the Knights Templar by William de Braose in the late 12th Century.
It ihas, very unusually, an Anglo-Saxon stone church. Most Anglo-Saxon churches, and indeed Anglo Saxon buildings, were wooden.
The Saxon tower is an astonishing 25 metres high, and the walls were 76cm thick. The nave is also Saxon, built in the 11th Century.
The north and south transepts were added to the church by the Templars and they also installed the 12th Century doorway with carvings.
There is also an 11th Century window in the south wall inserted by the Templars into the original Saxon wall.
The south transept appears to have been built as a private chapel for the Templars, tacked onto the church.
The font in the church is also 12th Century and thought to come from the Templars.
The village of Garway, in Herefordshire, England, is near Monmouth. The Knights Templar were given the parish in 1180, and built a round church there.
The current church is a little later, and is rectangular, but the foundations of the round church are clearly visible on the north side of the present church, and the original Templar carved chancel arch survives today.
The Templars built their church on top of a wooden Saxon church from 615 A.D.
The Garway Manor granted to the Knights Templar was over 2,000
Other English places associated with the Knights Templar
Temple Sowerby, in Cumbria. The Manor (now a village) was owned by the Templars, and later passed to the Knights Hospitallers. There are no buildings or ruins from Templar times, though.
Temple Mills is in Hackney, and is now part of Greater London. When the Knights Templars owned the site, it was a rural haven. They built water mills here to mill grain grown on their lands nearby, and also to full cloth (preparing woollen weaves to be made into clothes or blankets). Only the name remains.
The town of Baldock in Hertfordshire was founded by the Templars in the 1140s. Although it’s known for certain from documents that the Templars founded this settlement, there are no buildings remaining associated with them.
Temple Cloud, in Somerset, belonged to and is named after the Templars, but there are no buildings remaining from their tenure there.