Dowsing Archaeological Features;
An empirical study at Cressing Temple, Witham, Essex.

11. The site of Cressing Temple.

11. Map showing the topographical location of Cressing Temple close to the centre of Essex.

12. Topology and geology. (Figure. 11)

Cressing Temple was a manorial farm established in the twelfth century by the Order of the Poor Knights of the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem, commonly known as the Knights Templar. The farm is located 15km (10.4 miles) north-east of Chelmsford in Essex, on the B1018 between Braintree and Witham. It lies 2 km (1.2 miles) from the village of Cressing, in the extreme south-east of the parish.The parish of Cressing stretches between Witham and Braintree and adjoins with Rivenhall to the north and east, and the Notleys and Faulkbourne to the south and west.

Three Roman roads enclose the area surrounding the site. To the north, Stane Street, now the A120, runs between Braintree and Marks Tey, whilst to the south-east the A12 runs from Chelmsford through Witham and Marks Tey en route to Colchester. The third road, now the A131 and called the London Road, runs north from Chelmsford through Braintree to close the triangle at the centre of which is located Cressing Temple.

The landscape is better defined by its drainage which is towards the east into the Blackwater Estuary at Maldon. The River Blackwater meanders in a great loop between Braintree and Witham. The enclosed area is drained by the River Brain and an unnamed stream, both of which flow into the Blackwater just east of Witham. The district is well provided with springs and ponds, dug to mettle the roads, demarcate the old field boundaries. Four large ponds on the site itself are the remains of a system of enclosing drainage thought to have been formed by enlarging the ditches to emulate moats.

The farm (TL799187) sits upon the 50m contour on the south-western edge of a low ridge between the River Brain and the unnamed stream. To the north the ridge levels out, reaching 54m above OD before dipping again towards Rivenhall and Silver End.

The subsoil across the whole site is a yellow chalky boulder clay deposited during the last (Anglian) glaciation which weathers to a heavy reddish-brown silty clay loam, the topsoil of the prehistoric and Romano-british periods. The boulder clay is dotted with periglacial stream beds and shallows filled with a similar reddish silty loam or more rarely a coarse yellow sand. Aerial photography clearly shows the polygonal deposits and large area magnetic scanning reinforces this picture. Since the medieval period at least, the reddish soil has been subject to improvement resulting in the modern topsoil, a lighter sandy silt loam with a characteristic dark brown colouring.

Geological mapping shows the boulder clay overlies several metres of flint gravels which in turn cover London clays, occurring here at a depth of around 15m. Immediately adjacent to Cressing Temple a borehole recorded a point where the gravel is absent and the boulder clay lies directly on the London clay only 5m down. There are gravel workings some 300m to the south-west which are reputedly ancient and the remains of brick-firing clamps south of the unnamed stream. To the west of the site a prehistorically silted river bed forms the base of the valley and this was identified in early County Council excavations (CT1) and modern drainage works.

Flint is the only commonly available building stone and there is some scarce septaria and large chalk nodules and these with the historically abundant local timber available attested to by the 'lee' fields, form the most common building materials of the region.

13. Documented history of the site.

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Barry Hillman-Crouch. MSt PA, Dip FA, BSc, HND. Written 1999 Published on the web June 2005.