Cressing Temple

by Colin Peal

I was lucky enough to be offered the opportunity of dowsing at Cressing in 1990 by the late Mike Wadhams, at that time Historic Buildings Adviser to Essex C.C. Mike had used dowsers before and his offer followed a geophysical survey of the site which had produced disappointing results – at considerable expense. I did’nt have a great deal of dowsing experience at the time and I knew even less about archaeology, and it was a heaven sent opportunity to learn the hard way, under the beady eyes of professional archaeologists. After a cautious welcome I was given every support and encouragement but challenged every inch of the way as we should be. Barry Crouch joined the team as Assistant Site Archaeologists in 1991 and caught the dowsing bug from me. After the archaeology office was closed in 1997 Barry went to County Hall in Chelmsford as Senior Technical Officer, something of a roving commission, but without direct responsibilities in archaeology. For his post graduate diploma in Field Archeology in 1999 Barry took ‘Dowsing Archaeological Features – an empirical study’ as his thesis. I hope that he will be able to spend some time with us on 5th October.

The Manor of Cressing was held by King Harold prior to the Norman Conquest. It was then granted to Eustace of Boulogne, and in turn to his daughter Matilda, wife of King Stephen. Matilda granted the Manor to the Knights Templar in 1137. A decade later Stephen added the Manor and half hundred of Witham.  This is said to be the oldest documented grant of land to the Order in Britain, making Cressing one of the three original Templar properties with the Old Temple in London and Temple Cowley in Oxfordshire.

Following the persecution and disbandment of the Templars, Cressing Temple passed into the ownership of the Knights Hospitaller and remained in their hands until the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 16th century. It was then sold and remained in private hands until 1987 when it came on the market. It was acquired by Essex County Council with grants from English Heritage and Brussels in order to ensure the restoration of the two great barns and  other buildings, their preservation  for posterity, and to make the site readily accessible as a centre for recreation, study and research.. An archaeology office was set up on site under Tim Robey. M.A. and remained in being until 1997.

Cressing Temple is a Grade One Historic Monument by virtue of  it’s two magnificent barns. Both were built in the first half of the 13th century and are said to be the best preserved timber framed agricultural buildings of their age.

In addition to the site itself  the property includes the field to the southeast known as ‘Dovehouse’ used  for car parking and activities of various kinds. A series of summer school digs by the Field Archaeology Unit in Dovehouse field has uncovered a mass of evidence indicating more or less continuous settlement from the early Bronze Age. There is, nevertheless, a vast amount still to be learnt about the site and it’s surroundings and it offers plenty of scope for  dowsers to develop their skills. Gardening enthusiasts will be interested in the Tudor walled garden which has been painstakingly recreated by Andy Mugford, a graduate of Kew, and stocked with varieties correct for the medieval and Tudor periods.

There is an excellent Visitor Centre offering meals and snacks, toilet facilities etc.

© 2003 Colin Peal & BSD EEG