Cressing Temple is a must-see site to visit. Packed full of history, shown off by magnificent 13th century barns and other buildings along with exhibitions highlighting the history of the site, it’s a fascinating place. On site are an Elizabethan granary, farmhouse, wheelwright shop, well house, cartlodge, and 16th century restored walled garden. A Brief History of Cressing Temple
The site was given to the Knights Templar by Matilda, wife of King Stephen, in 1137. The Knights Templar, a group of warrior monks, was created in 1119 to protect crusade pilgrims. They became very rich and powerful in a short time and owned 50 manors in England alone. Thus the name Temple in Cressing Temple. The land here was the first granted to them in England and became the most important of their holdings in Essex. It was run as an estate farmed for profit with monies going to the crusades.
Buildings would have included a chapel, hall, bakehouse, brewhouse, kitchen, dairy, granary, smithy and others needed to run a self contained estate. From this past time only two buildings, a barley barn and a wheat barn, survive today, along with a stone well. It is these two huge thirteenth century barns that are the showpieces of the site. Their sheer size and the skill of the work, done by hand by medieval craftsman, is stunning.
At the beginning of the 14th century Pope Clement V suppressed the Templars due to their wealth and power. In 1307 in France they were arrested and tried and convicted of corruption, charges king Philip made stick as he owed them vast amounts of money. The pope gave all their properties to the Knights Hospitaller. Edward II took over their assets in England.
The Knights Hospitaller continued running Cressing Temple as a profitable estate. During the peasants’ revolt in 1381 the rebels burned the buildings at Cressing Temple except for the barns. The Hospitallers repaired burned buildings and built new ones. In 1540 they, too, were suppressed, this time by Henry VIII. In 1539 Sir John Smyth leased part of the estate. This Neville-Smyth family stayed until just after the Civil War. They were the builders of the Great House. Owner Henry Neville supported the Royalists in the Civil War and was forced to sell the estate to pay a large fine. Others carried on with the estate, building the garden and granary.
The estate passed through a number of owners in the succeeding years including a former Lord Mayor of London. A coach house and stables were demolished along with the Great House in the 18th century. The estate eventually became a tenanted farm. In 1987 Cressing Temple was split up, with the farm buildings and surrounding land purchased by Essex County Council.
Excavations have uncovered the site of the original Great House and 13th century chapel of the Templars. The chapel existed for 400 years, the first being constructed of timber; a later one was built in flint. Thirty six graves were excavated in its vicinity.
A Tour of Cressing Temple
The Barley Barn: the earlier of the two barns, built between 1205-1235 by Templar servants; 118 ft (36m) long and 45 ft (13.6m) wide; originally longer and wider; five equal bays divided by trusses with half bays at end; rebuilt several times—side walls being done c1420 and crown-post roof alteration of 16th saw removal of original passing brace roof construction and replacement with crown post roof with collars and purlins; east wall rebuilt in late 17th/early 18th century, porch added at same time.
Wheat, peas, corn, and oats were stored in the barn by the Templars for later sale. They used the midstrey between the two doors as a threshing floor. Wagons entered through one door and out through the other side of the barn. Seed was stored in hoppers, sacks, and wicker baskets. In the early 20th century animals were stored in part of the barn. It is used today for civil weddings, concerts, craft fairs, and exhibitions.
The Wheat Barn: example of style of carpentry that ended c1300; less altered of the two barns; built 50 years after barley barn (estimated time 1257-1280); joints held in place with wooden pegs; five bays with cantilevered ends; 130 ft (39m) long and 39 ft (13.4m) wide; west half repaired c1420 with infill of wattle and daub and porch added; brick infill between wall studs dates from approximately late 16th century; exhibition exploring the history of Cressing Temple; viewing platform up a set of stairs allowing closer inspection of the timbers, one of which is 44 ft long; roof construction uses side purlins clamped between collars and rafters with short uprights. Allow time to take in the construction and read the details about how it was all done in the excellent information boards.
The Farmhouse: built in an L-shape; northern wing originally may have been a granary; converted to a “lobby-entrance” house: a central brick chimney stack in front of which is the entrance and to the rear are the steps up to the first floor. It was modernised in Georgian times with sash windows added; other exterior features date from 18th-late 19th centuries, example of which is the porch with Tuscan columns. Parts are dated 1603 and others c1620; construction is plaster over timber frame; the cross wing of the house thought to be part of the original Great House.
The Granary: timber framed, ten bays long (105 feet/32 metres) and two storeys high; built in 1623 by William Smyth as a malting with first floor granary partitioned into two parts; ground floor originally undivided, later converted to stables; reused timbers date from c1420; some of the windows on both storeys survive; 1991 restoration discovered hearth made of roof tile from earlier building, also stone and brick cistern for steeping barley.
The Cartlodge: constructed of reused timbers c1800 with eight bays; roof of side-purlin construction, timber brackets brace tie-beams to post; traditional Essex style thatched roof. The building has been restored twice—in 1990 it was blown by gale force winds into the pond beside it.
The 18th century barn: after Great House was torn down, this building was constructed as part of a farmyard in back of the granary; rebuilt on west side since 1940s; aisled barn with enclosed central nave; elm timber framing.
The Walled Garden: present garden dates from 1994-95 but historically correct; the first garden was built c1550-1600 as a formal pleasure garden; wall on west side is original dating from c1550-75, the rest is rebuilding of 19th and 20th centuries. Used as a kitchen garden when the Great House was demolished; contains brick fountain with four spouts, knot garden with box hedging, wooden viewing platform (on site of original Tudor brick terrace), arbour, flowery mead, nosegay garden, beds with medicinal plants, formal vegetable garden. Plantings true to Tudor times. In the bronze age this area was farm fields—pottery dating from this time was unearthed here.
The Garden Fountain and Pool: reflects examples shown in paintings. Four spouts are symbols of the four rivers of paradise, an eastern tradition; fountain heads are of green boys and girls spewing water sprout leaves of Essex trees: hornbeam, field maple, small-leafed lime, and oak. Star-shaped pool a reflection of designs in eastern carpets. Water from pool flows into the fish pond.
The Well House: timber framed building built between 1913-20; 45 foot deep (to water level) well is lined with Reigate stone, dates back to Templar times. In the well house is a display on the history of the Essex seed industry. The businesses dated back to the late 1700s with the companies located in Coggeshall, Kelvedon, and Colchester. Essex was the country’s largest seed growing center by 1900. Seeds included corn, turnips, sugar beets, peas, beans, and others.
The Wheelwright Shop: located in the 18th century barn; displays and information on making wooden spoked wheels, which was a skilled craft using specialised hand tools and early machines. The shop was two storey and a winch lifted carts to the upper floor where a paint shop was located.
Essex, CM77 8PD
On the B1018 a couple of miles south of Braintree and three miles north of Witham
Telephone: 03330 132738
Open: daily, 10:30am – 4pm; special events sometimes change open times so phone first.
Essex County Council is in charge of the site. Small shop area; self-serve restaurant with light meals and snacks. Large car park
Website: Cressing Temple
Insider Tip: Plan to spend 2-3 hours minimum; allow time to read all the interesting information provided.
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