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


13. Documented history of the site.

The following has already been published on the web on the site under 'Documentary History of CT'.
It has been subject to some editing but here is presented as written in 1999.

The documentary evidence relating to Cressing Temple has been reviewed in some detail (Hope 1986, Ryan 1993) and this has been summarised by Tim Robey who was the site archaeologist from 1990-1997. The following synopsis is a further refinement and an updating of his work which is currently unpublished in the Essex County Council Archive.


The manor of Cressing reputedly belonged to King Harold prior to the Norman conquest (Morant. P 1768). After the Conquest the land became the property of Eustace of Bologne and then of his daughter Matilda, the wife of King Stephen. In 1137 Matilda granted the manor to the Knights Templar (Lees 1935), a donation confirmed and expanded to include Witham by Stephen a decade later. Although the Templars headquarters were established in Holborn, London this is the oldest documented grant of land to the Order in Britain. Cressing is thought to be one of the three original Templar properties in the country, with the Old Temple in London and Temple Cowley in Oxfordshire.

Relatively little documentation exists to cover the period of the Templar and subsequent Hospitaller establishment at Cressing. The inquisition of 1185 into the English possessions of the Order (Lees 1935) indicates the size of the Cressing and Witham donation by Stephen to be 120 hides, (the size of a hide being variable but normally 120 acres), whilst the extent of 1309 gives it as 1,287 acres (Gervers 1982, 54-56) and also describes the buildings. These included a mansion house with associated buildings, gardens, a dovecote, a chapel with cemetery, a watermill and a windmill although where some of these were is still undiscovered.

After the suppression of the order in 1312 Cressing Temple was given to the Order of the Knights of the Hospital of St John at Jerusalem commonly called the Knights Hospitaller. An inventory 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. The Great Barns known from dendro-dating to be built around 1206 and 1256 (Tyers, 1993) were not listed probably because they were empty.

Following pressure from Phillipe le Bel of France, who for his own reasons, dismantled the Order of the Knights of the Temple of Solomon on charges of heresy, Edward the Second of England felt obliged to close the Order in this country. Unlike Phillipe who arrested them all on the same day and had many put to death, including the Grand Master of the Order, Jaques de Molay, Edward was more predisposed towards the Templars. He simply closed the Order by confiscating their lands and pensioning them off into other Orders including that of the Knights of St John. (Runciman. S, 1968).

The report of Philip de Thame in 1338 lists the Hospital's holdings as 1400 acres and that a brother warden lived there with twelve staff. Cressing Temple also features in the Anonimalle Chronicle, an eyewitness account of the Peasants' Revolt of 1381, in which Sir Robert Hale, the Master of the Hospital and Treasurer of England, was hanged by the mob. The manor was attacked by the rebels on July 10th, who looted food and wine and 'threw the buildings to the ground, then burning it to the serious damage of the said master.' (Dobson 1970).

Extensive repairs were carried out to both barns in the first half of the 15th century (Tyers 1993) and the re-used timbers in the building now called The Granary indicate the construction of a major building or buildings at much the same time (Andrews et al 1994). In 1515 Cressing Temple was leased by the Hospital to John Edmondes. Whether this was the first time the property had been let document is not known but certainly the Order had been letting some of its holdings since the early 15th century.

The lease passed to Sir John Smyth in 1539, who obtained the title to the land two years later when the Hospital was suppressed by Henry VIII for whom he served as Baron of the Exchequer. The Smyth family, related through marriage to the Leicestershire Nevilles, held Cressing for over a century during which time they extensively remodelled the buildings on the site. The chapel continued in use and in 1626 was described as being 'in lengthe about tenne yards and in breadth sixe yards and more' (GLRO DL/C 342, f201).

The Granary was built in 1623, as one of a pair of buildings believed to flank the manor house, replacing an earlier timber building with a tiled hearth. (Robey 1993b, Andrews et al 1994). The Tudor Walled Garden also dates from this period (Andrews 1993) and was linked to the chapel and manor house.

In a 'Particular of Cressing Temple' dated 1656 is written "the Temple farm with a good dwelling house, 2 great barns, stables malthouses corne chambers and all other conveniences...." (ERO D/DAc 96;App3) and a second document concludes with 'Besides all this the Mannor House with the gardens and orchards, dovehouses and fishponds and all conveniences....' (ERO D/DAc 101) indicating that as well as the manor house there is a farmhouse as well.

In another particular endorsed 'CressingTemple 1669, mention is made of "The Greate House with yards, gardens and orchards and 30 acres of pasture" (ERO D/DAc 97). The hearth tax returns for 1671 and 1673 show a diminution of the site as the number of hearths falls from twenty to eighteen. (ERO Q/RTh 1,5,7).

In 1703 the site passed to a dutchman Herman Olmius and by 1794 when the earliest surviving map of the site was made the Greate House was no more. Archaeological evidence (expanded upon later) indicates it was systematically dismantled, its huge brick drainage system dug up and its cellars filled and levelled almost certainly to sell the materials for architectural salvage.

The site passed to Lord Waltham and his descendants and between 1758 and 1842, the Grimwood family maintained a stable tenancy. After 1842 when the property passed to WFH Stuart, great nephew of Drigue Billiers Olmius, Lord Waltham, the site saw a transformation with several stock buildings being erected in the barnyard as evidenced between the Tithe map of 1842 and the first OS map of 1876.

A number of tenants took the site until the estate became the property of Frank Cullen, a local seed merchant in 1913. He modernised the farm, brought in electricity, piped water and a telephone. He built a garage and meticulously maintained the current buildings for which we owe a great debt. Upon his death his inheritor allowed the neglect of the farm and in 1987, the farm was divided up for sale. The Scheduled Area and Dovehouse Field was bought by Essex County Council to safeguard the future of the barns (known as the two largest Templar barns in Europe) and the other fine buildings and garden.

14. Topology of the site from maps.


Click to return to index.

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