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


Archaeological evidence of past activity.

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

The publication of the results of all the CT projects is at present pending. Tim Robey, who left the project in 1997, has written a considerable tome provisionally entitled 'The Book' but this has been deemed unfit for publication in its unfinished form and does not include a summary or conclusions and little detail of the CTAU excavations. However the findings have been incorporated into the guide book for the site and some of the early excavations summarised in 'Cressing Temple, a Templar and Hospitaller Manor in Essex'.

In the summary that follows the author has not attempted to go into the great detail of the phasing of the site which, failing a comprehensive finds report, cannot at any rate be achieved satisfactorily. From the point of view of this study, that is locating archaeological features by dowsing, the phasing is less important than the topography. It has already been stated that there will be no attempt to 'divine by date' or to dowse the past. Therefore the following features are grouped rather more loosely than would be expected in an archaeological report.


In BVAS IV in the middle of the monument, a hearth and a feature identified as a seething pit have both been dated to the Bronze Age and the people who used these cooking facilities were probably responsible for the landscape right up to the present day.

Cressing Temple has a series of drainage trenches running north-east to south-west which are attributable by pottery to the Bronze Age. One running under the Wheat Barn (CT23) and another running diagonally across the site of the Templar Chapel (BVAS IV) have been seen to be flanked with a line of stakeholes representing palisade fences to corral animals in the fields.

A third which runs under the fountain in the Walled Garden (CT8) contained Bronze Age pottery in its lower silting fills and Iron Age wares higher up indicating that the field boundaries were maintained for some centuries. Hunter maintains the current boundaries are in fact direct continuations of the Iron Age field system. (Hunter.J 1993).

Iron Age

Within the scheduled monument there have been no other discoveries in this period and the focus of the Iron Age settlement is in Dovehouse Field and is widespread. A large sub-rectangular enclosure exists in the north-west corner which was uncovered by the Car Park excavation CT3 and further explored by the Field School excavations CTDF 98 of 1998. This like CT3 recorded; 'Two phases of late Iron Age enclosure were identified. The first was possibly deliberately back-filled and passed out of use fairly quickly. The second showed a slight shift to the south-east but was clearly a direct replacement .......a likely 'ritual deposit' of pottery, loomweights and animal jaw bones was excavated in the terminal of a late Iron Age ditch which ran up to the corner of, and was associated with, the second phase of enclosure ditch.' (Atkinson. M, 1998).

The Field School excavations of this year, currently open as this report is prepared have revealed a second, very substantial Iron Age enclosure which again had been forcibly back-filled before another was dug further south.

Roman to Romano-british.

The Iron Age enclosures were expanded in the 1st to 2nd centuries AD and finally the ditches filled in and built over in the 3rd to 4th centuries. A rectilinear building with a hearth was identified in CTDF 98 overlaying the backfilled ditches. It could be assumed that the occupants were feeling secure enough not to need defensive ditches and so filled them in for other landuse. A discarded neo-natal was found near one of the filled in ditches (CT3) and in the Walled Garden (CT8), a decapitated inhumation was dated to the second century AD. Nearby was a latrine pit and a deep post hole indicating some kind of smallholding.


There is no evidence for any Saxon occupation. The few sherds that have been recovered are residual from imported soils. It is believed that after the abandonment of the settlement in the 4th century and the onset of the 'Dark Ages' following the invasion and the Saxon Authority the land simply fell out of use, the ditches silted up and the trees grew. Morant attributes the name Cressing to be Saxon in origin formed from Cperren and ing to mean Cresses field or pasture and this in itself implies the landuse up until the Norman Conquest and beyond. (Morant. P, 1768).

Templar Occupation.

When the land was granted to the Order in 1137 their first task would have been to clear the land, establish good drainage and set up some preceptory buildings. Post holes, timber slots, gravelled surfaces (BVAS IV) and deep latrine pits (CT29 T2) attest to their presence in the twelfth century. The buildings were no doubt more functional than comfortable and also temporary, for the order envisaged something more grand than a mere outpost.

A 'humble timber chapel' (BVAS IV/ CT29 T3), built after 1137 when a papal bull gave the Templars dispensation to build their own chapels and burial grounds, was replaced by a stone one built on heavy compressed gravel foundations and a second stone building was built to the south (CT29 T1/T2). These were linked by either the original or new timber buildings. A beautifully crafted well some 45 feet deep was dug and lined with Caen stone, an impressive engineering feat in itself. They also filled in some of the ditches in a landscaping exercise (CT7) and dug new ones (CT28/ CT30).

It was some seventy years before they put up the first of the two great barns. The Barley Barn is dated to circa 1205-35. (Tyers. I, 1993). However it should be noted that there is no archaeological evidence to show that the barn was on the site at this time as the floors have been sealed in concrete and excavations (CT24/ CT20) have offered no evidence. It has long been a point of interest that the Barley Barn may have brought to the site from one of the other Templar Barn Field's after the Poll Tax riots of 1381 and the moats redug to accommodate it. (Crouch. B. 1994).

The Wheat Barn however sits on a raft of puddled clay up to a metre deep (CT23) which was laid directly onto the Bronze Age features thus implying a scathing episode of ground clearance. Also a large tree hole attests to the felling of trees to make way for the building which is dated to 1259 -80 (Tyers. I, 1993, Hewitt. C, 1980). In the garden excavations (CT8), a huge rectangular quarry pit L7.0-10.0 x w4.2 x d1.7m was surrounded by several smaller conical pits all thought to be clay quarries for the floor of the barn. They were allowed to silt up before all being filled in one operation in the thirteenth century with smithying waste and pottery in the backfill.

As well as digging drainage and latrine ditches three large stock ponds were set out and excavated to the south of the site (BVAS II) and these remained open until the sixteenth century.

The Hospitallers

Cressing Temple, after being asset stripped by the king as attested to in the 1309 inventory, passed to the Hospitallers. It appears they did little to the site but the inventory of 1313 mentions a great many buildings. One building definitely attributable to this period was built where the current granary now stands and is witnessed by a tile hearth now visible in the floor (CT17). The granary itself incorporates many re-used timbers of the turn of the fifteenth century, a time when both the Great Barns were being repaired and remodelled probably as a result of the Poll Tax protesters efforts to pull down the buildings. (Dobson. M. 1970).

Significantly there have been no burn horizons found anywhere on the site to indicate the Hospitaller manor was indeed burnt down. (Robey. T, 1996).

The grounds of the chapel were bound to the north by a cindered path (CT8) with stepped planting trenches presumably to line the way with hedges and the smithy was placed nearby. Significantly 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.

The Greate House.

By 1532 Cressing Temple had been under lease to John Edmondes, Gentleman for some forty years.. The Hospitallers were dissolved and the property passed to the Neville/ Smyths who built the mansion house. It incorporated the hall and chapel (which was remodelled from apsidal to square) and expanded greatly upon them. Three brick cellars are known, along with a brick stair tower and comprehensive culverted drainage system, (BVAS IV, CT29 T1-3, CT14).

It is likely the stone built hall became the kitchen as it would have been the safest building to fulfil this function. A thin brick division was placed about halfway along its length and a waste chute was built into its east wall connecting straight into a large brick culvert that was probably fed from a sluice box built near the chapel. (CT29 T1/ T3).

The south-western corner of the complex had a very substantial brick pressure base with a rutted entrance way into the central courtyard adjacent, (CT29 T4). A brick frontage faced the road (seen in the remote sensing survey) and it is thought that a second building to match the granary (built in 1623, Tyers.I, 1993) flanked the approach from over a brick bridge, (CT4). The current farmhouse, originally two buildings was incorporated into the house to complete the quadrangle. (CT14).

The Walled Garden was built and bonded to the corner of the chapel and also probably to another extremity of the house to form a private refuge. (Robey.T, archive notes). The moats were landscaped and revetted and the sophisticated sluice system was built to handle the surface water and garderobe flushing. (CT29 T3). Balance drains were also laid in to prevent flooding across the farmyard. (CT19). The drains were updated throughout the course of their life (BVAS IV) and it was likely the cellars suffered flooding and subsidence especially that on the south face where the cellar had been sunk into the soft soils of the Templar latrines. (CT29 T2).

The loss of the Greate House.

After a succession of owners the Greate House was dismantled for its materials at the turn of the eighteenth century. There are no burn horizons to suggest a disaster which almost certainly would have been reported and the cellars have been robbed of their bricks and forcibly backfilled with clay and gravel. A few moulded stonework fragments were found (CT8) to suggest the style of the chapel but little of its building material, if any, survived.

Impressions of timber beams and of wattle and daub panels (CT29) indicate the building was at least in part timber-framed but barely any brick rubble was recovered. Domestic finds were negligible pointing to an abandonment of the site before its demise.

Up to the modern day.

The layout of the farm as witnessed in the maps and plans from 1794 has simply been corroborated by the archaeological program. No great surprises have surfaced and the project's aim has always been to discover the development of the site prior to the first estate plan.

17. Aerial photographic record.

Click to return to index.

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