Knights of the Temple (Part 2)
By Brian Hoggard
(Originally published at Lughnasa 1996)
In Knights of the Temple in the Beltane issue of White Dragon I outlined the rise and fall of the Knights Templar and looked at some of the evidence for their heretical activities. In this article I will focus on the Templars in the county of Hereford and Worcester (convenient for me as I live in Worcester) to try to give some sense of how these internationally spooky dudes were well and truly grounded in little old rural England. Some of the sites have physical remains worth visiting, some have nothing at all or have been replaced by more modern structures, but it is still worth knowing about them if you are interested (as I am) in connecting up with them on a rather less physical plane. Following this I have compiled a list of some of the key Templar sites worth visiting beyond the bounds of my home county - though this list is not intended to be all-inclusive. I have not done a thorough search for Templar sites beyond Hereford and Worcester and I expect that people reading this have knowledge of some sites that I do not (in which case I would be grateful to hear about them c/o White Dragon). Some of the sites mentioned in this article lie on private property, so please make sure that you have permission form the relevant landowner before visiting - it's good karma, maaan.
Of the fourteen sites in Hereford and Worcester that I know to be connected with the Templars, only five have anything Templar-related worth seeing; they are Garway, St Giles (Hereford), Bosbury, Upton-Upon-Severn and Pershore - but it's important to know about the other sites too. Before I describe them all I should point out that there is one Knights Hospitaller site worth seeing, where a chapel and impressive grave slabs of the Order remain. The place is Dinmore Manor, which is on the site of the chief Commandery of the Hospitallers in Herefordshire (1). The Great Hall of the manor (which has some very spooky vibes) there is some comparatively recent stained glass depicting a Knight Templar - this is probably just a reference to the fact that the Hospitallers took over most of the Templar properties after 1312 - and there are other Templar images about the place for the discerning eye to discover. It is worth visiting Dinmore as it is a very interesting and beautiful place, but it is likely to be far more rewarding to try tuning-in to the Templars at the following locations (provided access is allowed of course). Let the Temple-tour begin...
The Templars in Mercia
Pershore and Upton-Upon-Severn are both nice little riverside market towns and are the odd ones out on my list of Templar things to see in Hereford and Worcester. Neither of them are recorded as being Templar preceptories or manors, but they both contain the graves of Templars.
In the picturesque remaining part of Pershore Abbey reclines the effigy of Sir Harley the Templar - minus his lower legs (ancient vandals). He is wearing chain mail overlaid with a belted surcoat, in his right hand is a hunting horn, on his left arm a shield and by his left site a long sword. Towards his feet is a hare - supposed to represent his name, Harley - and his legs are crossed because that was the fashion of the time (it is not a Crusader-specific feature). The effigy dates to c1280ce. (2) In the south aisle of the abbey there are two historical windows representing the history of Pershore Abbey which were installed in 1870 as part of some restoration work. (3) One of them shows Harley being knighted in Jerusalem by Godfrey de Bouillon (4) who was none other than the first King of Jerusalem (then a Crusader state) (5). Although this means that the dates of the monument and the event don't reconcile (Godfrey was king in the 1090s, not 1280ce which is the correct date for this effigy) it is nice to see a Templar in stained glass. The other window shows Harley's ancestor rallying the Pershore locals and defeating Svegen the Danish invader in 1013ce. (6)
In Upton-Upon-Severn there is a large church tower standing alone by the river (its unusual top was added in 1769-70) (7). This is the tower of the medieval church founded by Sir Boteler who is described in the official town guide as a Crusader, but in the heritage centre (actually housed in the church tower) he is described as a Templar, and this is the most up-to-date verdict on him. The medieval church was demolished and rebuilt in 1754, then demolished (except for its tower, of course) in 1947 because it was falling into disrepair and the new Victorian church served the town better. At this time the effigy of Sir Boteler was transferred to the new church where it resides to this day. Apart from being founded by a Templar, the church's other occult claim to fame is that no less than Dr John Dee held the lay rectorship there from 1553 onwards, though exactly what the famous alchemist-astrologer's connection with the area was other than this is not known. (Was he a fan of the Templars, too?) (8) The name Boteler crops up again in local history as the name of one of the Knights who fell with Simon de Montfort at the Battle of Evesham in 1265; could it be the same knight? (9)
In Lower Broadheath which is just outside Worcester, there is a place called Temple Laugherne. Laugherne is the name of a brook which runs though the area and the prefix Temple is the obvious clue that it was once a Templar preceptory. In this case the Master and Brethren of the Temple are known to have purchased the Manor for £100 in 1249ce from William, son of Miles. It passed to the Hospitallers in 1311 as part of Temple Balsall in Warwickshire, the preceptory to which it had become attached. (10) The nearby site in St John in Bedwardine actually relates to a house mentioned as belonging to the 'passheon's'. (11) As there are no extant records of the order of passionists in Worcester, and the other possible translations of the word relate to 'passage' or 'ferry', John Noake speculates in his The Monastery and Cathedral of Worcester (among other possibilities) that it might have been a reference to a sub-house of the Templars at nearby Temple Laugherne (12) (pilgrims often travelled in Templar ships). It remains to be established whether or not this is the case.
At Flyford Flavell there is a reference of 1297-8 to 'the wood of the Knights Templar' indicating either their ownership of presence on the site. (13) This may have been connected with their properties further north in the county. In medieval times there was a large area of woodland called Feckenham Forest. This stretched all the way across to Worcester's city gates, hence the Foregate (a corruption of Forest Gate), which was the city's north gate. At Feckenham village which was once deep inside the forest there is a place called Temple Ardley which was also owned by them and is probably the most important Templar site in Worcestershire alongside Temple Laugherne (Lower Broadheath). This was given to the Templars at Temple Balsall in Warwickshire which was the nearest major preceptory (14), and the land was probably administered from there as were the other north Worcestershire sites. (15) The Templars are described as having built a 'fair court' at Temple Ardley and for some reason had built a huge ditch 100ft long, 20ft broad and 12ft deep. Special forest courts existed in medieval times to prosecute people who damaged woodland or hunted without permission, and in the time of Brother Geoffrey the king's almoner this 'damage' caused by the Templars was 'reserved for further discussion'. (16) This lack of enthusiasm to prosecute was probably due to the Templars' power; they were known as a 'Church within a Church and a State within a State'. (17) Exactly what practical purpose the ditch served is not known. At nearby Bromsgrove they are noted as having contested a claim by Edward I for the advowson of the church there - they said that their Order had held it in the time of Richard I (18) (an advowson is the right to appoint a member of the clergy to a vacant position and was used as a form of patronage). Hanbury was another substantial property of the Templars and was once a forest village like Feckenham. (19) Within the parish of Hanbury there is a place called Temple Broughton and the Templars were in possession of it at least as early as 1220-1 by the gift of Sir Hugh Pantulf. It seems that they owned this site before the site of Feckenham were two and a half acres had been given to them in 1237 by Henry III. (20)
The sites of Herefordshire are much more important, archaeologically speaking. This county has one of the smallest human populations in England, so it stands to reason that the impact of humans on the environment and the fragile remains of the past will be less than in a relatively populous county such as Worcestershire. Three of the six Templar sites in Herefordshire have remains worth seeing. Of them, Garway is the most important in that it has one of the very few still-used Templar churches in England.
Lying in a remote corner of England, hidden from view from just about everywhere (I got lost on my first visit) is the rather unusual looking St Michael's church at Garway. The reason is looks unusual is that the strong tower (on the Welsh border, towers were often build separately from churches so that they could be defended in the event of an armed raid) has been joined to the main body of the church by a small passageway. It is most unlike a conventional parish church.
It was founded as a preceptory of the Templars between 1185-88 and was the most important house of the Templars on the Welsh borders. The round nave no longer exists but its foundations are still visible, having been uncovered in 1927. (21) In the grounds of the farmhouse next door to the church (private property) there is a large dovecote built in 1326 by 'Brother Richard'. This was built after the preceptory passed to the Hospitallers in 1312 but it is well known that this order absorbed many Templars at their dissolution. The reason I point this out is that the dovecote has no fewer than 666 nesting places set out in 19 rows (a bit spooky for the doves, don't you think?) (22). The farmhouse is built on the site of the preceptory (a sort of manor adjacent to the church where the Templars lived and worked) and part of the foundations were still visible in 1844, but these were removed to build the farmhouse. (23)
There are several other interesting points to make about this church. In the churchyard there is a holy well (24) and on the exterior of the building there are many roughly carved symbols. These include a swastika, 'the hand of God' emerging from the clouds, two heads showing life and death and some cross variation. (25) Inside the church there are some really interesting images. A carved head in the church has been unconvincingly described as a Green Man. (26) It seems to me to be a horned head on top of a cord.
Readers of my article in the last issue will recall the Templars' association with head-worship and their adoration of the sacred cord of the Cathars. As it is a head without a body, it could represent John the Baptist (which would reaffirm the Mandean heresy connection - see my previous article) or indeed it may be the face of Baphomet himself. Above the piscina (a washing point for the priest) there is what appears to be a winged pyramid with a holy grail and serpent. All of the engravings inside and outside of the church can best be described a rough graffiti - except for the horned head. The Templars are well known to have had excellent stone-masons in their employ so these engravings don't really fit what we know of them. However, at Royston Cave in Hertfordshire there are some carvings of a similar roughness which may also be the work of Templars (27) - so it may be that it was not unusual for the Brothers to do their own carvings when the mood took them. If this is the case, then it is not possible to rule out that a 'non-stone-mason' Templar may have carved them, but sadly it is equally not possible to rule out that some local mad nutter carved them. Until they can be firmly dated, which would rely on finding a mention of the carvings in some ancient document, the truth behind them will remain somewhat elusive. Of the other five Templar sites in Herefordshire, three can be dealt with fairly quickly.
In 1900, The Woolhope Naturalists' Club (which lists Alfred Watkins, discoverer of 'ley-lines' among its past presidents) paid a visit to a site above St Wolstan's farm in Welsh Newton to check out a reference to the remains of some buildings there. One of the remains (for there were several) was described in their reference as being west to east about 30 yards long, but when they visited the site there were only scattered stone remains. This is all that remained of the Manor belonging to the Knights Templar of Garway. In 1313 (when a survey of Templar properties was carried out) the Chapel of St Wolstan, a dovecote, garden and houses under the custody of a bailiff were all recorded at the site. (28) To my knowledge, there is nothing to see at the site any more.
The site at Rowlestone is described as being a limb of Dinmore (the Hospitaller Commandery) but formerly belonged to the Templars. (29) Harewood Park near Llanwarne is thought to be on the site of another preceptory of the Templars. The house that is there now is modern but incorporates medieval and 16th century features. (30) For those readers interested in seeing what a real Templar looks like this is a good place to be as "The ghost of a knight carrying a spear is said to ride from Harewood Park to a wood in the west. Horses' hooves are heard in the park at midnight, and a circle of trees near the main road is said to have been a place where knights fought." (31)
In 1927 the chapel of St Giles (which sat at the corner of the Ledbury Road where it meets St Owen's Street in Hereford) was demolished because it obscured the view of the road ahead and was regarded as a hazard. In excavating the ground beneath it, the foundations of a round church belonging to the Templars was discovered. (32) It may be that this church had important patronage in Hereford as it is thought that Bishop Cantilupe (later St Thomas of Hereford) was Provincial Master of the Templars during the years 1275-82. (33) Alfred Watkins managed to persuade the right people that it was important to preserve at least the outline of the church, and part of a curved wall still exists with a plaque on it indicating the Templars' presence there. Set in the wall of the adjacent almshouses is the carved tympanum of the church which was uncovered during the excavation. This is regarded as a good example of carving by the "Herefordshire School", the same masons who worked on the famous chapel at Kilpeck. (34) In a niche in the westernmost tenement of the hospital of St Giles (almshouses) is a moulded head which may date from the fourteenth century - this was also from the excavation (I have not seen this however). (35) One wonders how many more of their sculptures once existed at this site and if any of them were as overtly pagan as those at Kilpeck or as blatantly weird as those at Garway.
The final site to deal with in this article is at Bosbury. Just outside the village there is a place marked on Ordance Survey maps as Temple Court which was once an important preceptory of the Templars. The house currently on the site dates mostly from the 18th century, but incorporates some 17th century work and may include some of the original Templar building in its north wing. The moat once completely surrounded the house in a circular form but part of it was filled in to make way for a tennis court. The Templars first occupied the site between 1217-19 and it passed to the Hospitallers in 1312. (36) During the trial of the Templars both Thomas de Tholouse who was preceptor of Temple Court, and Thomas de Chamberlayne who was one of the Brethren were temporarily imprisoned in the Tower of London. (37) Maybe as a result of this, there are two incised slabs bearing the Maltese Cross set in to the floor of the chancel of Bosbury church. (38) And so ends this resumé of the Knights Templar in Hereford and Worcester - tune in at your own risk.
The Templars Further Afield
The following is a list of Templar sites that I know of (hence not all-inclusive) with remains worth seeing beyond Hereford and Worcester. This includes some round-naved churches which are still standing (the round nave is in imitation of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem). These churches are by no means exclusively linked to the Templars - where the site has not been conclusively shown to be the work of the Templars this will be indicated. Many Templar round churches, instead of being maintained and repaired, were rebuilt as ordinary rectangular churches but retain elements of the original Templar building. Some of the churches mentioned below are of this type.
Avon Temple Church, Bristol - ruined church with leaning tower as a result of WWII bombing. Foundations of Templar round church discovered which are still visible. (This is an English Heritage site). Temple Cloud - there is a Templar church in this village.
Cambridgeshire Cambridge - there is a round church c1130 here. Mentioned as being built by one of the Crusading orders (but which one? Templars or Hospitallers?). Apparently there are carvings of demons and Norman warriors on the walls. Denny Abbey - the remains of a 12th century Benedictine Abbey which at different times also housed the Templars and Franciscan nuns. (English Heritage site)
Derbyshire Temple Normanton - there was an important preceptory here, so the church may be worth exploring.
Gloucestershire Temple Guiting - there is a Templar church in this village.
Greater London Temple Church - this is the most important round-naved church in Britain. (The Templars had their first church at Holborn)
Hertfordshire Temple Dinsley - there was an important preceptory here, so the church may be worth exploring. Royston Cave - beneath a busy Royston street is a bell-shaped cavern which was accidentally discovered in 1742. No-one really knows what it was for. It has religious images of the saints and other mysterious symbols carved into the walls and may be the work of the Templars.
Kent Temple Manor, Rochester - the 13th century manor house of the Templars. Templar Church, Dover - standing across the valley from Dover Castle are the foundations of a small circular 12th century church (These are both English Heritage sites)
Lincolnshire Temple Bruer - there was a Templar preceptory here, founded during the reign of Henry II. The restored tower of the 13th century church can still be seen. Aslackby - there was a Templar church at this site too.
Northamptonshire Northampton - there is a round church c1110 in the town, though it is not indicated as a Templar building.
Oxfordshire Temple Cowley - there was an important preceptory at this site so the church might be worth exploring.
Shropshire Ludlow - in Ludlow Castle is the ruin of a round church, though this has not been shown to be a Templar church.
Tyne and Wear Hartburn (Newcastle upon Tyne) - the 12th century church of St Andrew has Maltese crosses and daggers above the door, indicating its links with the Templars.
Warwickshire Temple Grafton - there is a Templar church here. Temple Balsall was an important preceptory - a chapel survives, as does the Great Hall (although encased in red brick and divided into dwellings) - see Temple Balsall by Eileen Gooder.
West Yorkshire Temple Newsham - the house here was built on the site of a preceptory. People who were tenants of the Templars often displayed a Templar cross on the property to be exempt from certain taxes. Three of these crosses, from Templar Street in Leeds, are in display in the museum.
1. Murray, Richard Hollins - Dinmore Manor and the Commandery of the Knights Hospitaller of St John of Jerusalem , 1936, privately printed, p2