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The Past Life of Cressing Temple
Cressing Temple, after being asset stripped by Edward II as attested to in the 1309 inventory, passed to the Hospitallers. It appears they did little to the site but the inventory of 1313 then recorded a manor house with two chambers, a hall, a pantry, a buttery, a kitchen and a larder. There was also a bakehouse, a brewhouse, a dairy and a smithy. The storehouse was full of timber and tiles and the granary was nearly empty save for some wood.
Working on the site at this time were two brother wardens, three other chaplains, a steward, a cook, a cellarer, two lads and two pages. In 1338 the Cressing estate comprised 800 acres of arable land and pasture for 32 cattle and 600 sheep so there must have been many retainers employed in the agricultural business of the farm.
1313 it was recorded that on the site there was:
Chapel- several vestments, service books, History of the Saints, Legend of the Templars, brass and pewter altar vessels.
Chambers and Hall- two tables, two forms, a ewer, a bell.
Pantry, buttery, kitchen and larder.
Bakehouse- breadmaking equipment.
Brewhouse- two coppers, eight large tubs and ten others, a lead cistern and four casks.
Dairy- equipment for butter and cheesemaking.
Cider Mill- cider press.
Smithy- Old carts, ploughs, harnesses, implements and tools.
Storehouse- Timber and 3000 tiles valued at £2.
Granary- old lumber.
Livestock- 25 bullocks, 18 draught oxen, 9 cows, 4 heifers and 5 calves. 572 sheep, a boar, 3 sows, 17 pigs and 36 piglets. 6 old geese, 8 goslings, a rooster, 6 hens, 2 peacocks and 7 peahens. A beehive.
Arable land- 601 acres: 252 sown with wheat, 16 with beans, 80 with peas, 25 with dredgecorn and 175 with oats. 53 lay fallow.
During the excavations in 1978-9, the remains of the Templar founded chapel were located. Built in the 13th century, the chapel remained in use for well over 400 years. The chapel was probably timber originally until the site was well established and a grander one was built in flint with dressed stone window and door frames.
The grounds of the chapel were bound to the north by a cindered path with stepped planting trenches presumably to line the way with hedges and the smithy was placed nearby. The path aligns with the west doorway in the wall of the Tudor Garden so it may be that this extravagant feature respected the older layout.
Some 36 graves have been excavated from in and around the chapel; so many burials together allow us to study the population rather than just individuals. Nearly all the skeletons were of adult males as would be expected in monastic communities like the Templars and Hospitallers.
The Knights were also warriors, yet none showed signs of violent death or serious injury. These must have been non-combatants or retired soldiers: those who were killed on crusade were buried where they died, far away over the sea. The plan shows 34 of the burials: the position of the others was not recorded.
The east wall was rebuilt in the 16 century, cutting some graves. We think that until then the chapel had an apsidal end. Most of the burials were difficult to date accurately. One, an adult female, probably belongs to the Tudor phase.
Another was buried in a grave lined with unusual roof tiles which were made in the early 15th century: this man must have been a Hospitaller rather than a Templar. He must have been an important individual. Most of the graves were within the walls of the chapel. Space was at a premium, and it is not surprising to find several graves that cut through earlier burials.
The Poll Tax Riots
In 1381 the Poll Tax was levied on every man, woman and child over the age of 15 by King Richard II. One of its supporters was Sir Robert Haile, the Master of the Hospital and Treasurer of England. Sir Robert must have forgotten his vows of aiding the poor and sick for he was also Preceptor of the Order of The Knights of St John here at Cressing Temple.
The riots started in Kent when Wat Tyler killed a tax collector by smashing his skull with a hammer because he had stripped Tylers daughter to see if she was of taxable age. An upsurge of rebellion soon meant that Wat Tyler had 100,000 men behind him and on the 10th of June they swept into Essex heading for Cressing Temple.
The 'Anonimalle Chronicle', an eyewitness account of the riots told how the mob came to Cressing Temple looking to murder Sir Robert Haile but finding him not there 'ate the food, drank three casks of good wine and threw the building to the ground, then burning it to the serious damage and loss of the said Master.'
They eventually caught him in London and killed him. King Richard II agreed to terms but Wat Tyler was treacherously murdered by the Mayor of London who stabbed him through the throat. Without his leadership the revolt collapsed, the King executed 1500 rebels and continued his repressive policies until he was forced to abdicate in 1399.
Significantly, there is archaeological evidence that both the Great Barns were repaired about 1420 and that the building preceding the Granary was built in its original form of an open hall. In the floor under the trapdoor is the original mediaeval hearth made of tiles set on edge. All around it were small holes for the feet of a cooking trivet.