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Cressing Temple is an ancient monument situated between Witham and Braintree in Essex and was founded in 1137 by Matilda of Boulogne, the wife of King Stephen. It was the headquarters of the first grant of land given to the religious order of the Knights Templar in England.
The two barns and the templar well which exist on the site, originate from this period. The Wheat Barn and the Barley Barn are the two finest Templar-built barns in Europe while the Barley Barn is recognised as the oldest timber-framed barn in the world.
In 1310 Cressing Temple was handed over to the Knights Hospitallers who built new stone buildings and expanded the site. Following the Reformation, in the late 16th Century there was a mansion on the site, now called the 'Great House', but it was demolished in the 18th Century and only the farmhouse, granary, wagon lodge and stableyards remain. The Tudor brick garden also stands and has been developed by Essex County Council who acquired the barns for the people of Essex in 1987. Extensive archaeological investigations were carried out as part of a programme of improvements and updates in the 1990s.
Cressing Temple is open to the public and is host to many conferences and events throughout the year. The website gives extensive details of the history and archaeology of the site. Cressing Temple can be seen on the right hand side of the road driving from Witham to Braintree.
Cressing was the largest and most important of the Templar Knights' landholdings in Essex. Such an estate would have been in the charge of a preceptor accompanied by two or three resident knights or sergeant-at-arms, together with a chaplain, a bailiff and numerous household servants. The estate would have employed agricultural labourers and craftsmen and thus functioned as a large estate farmed for profit to help the Order pay for the war effort in the Holy Land.
Relatively little is known about the Templar buildings on site as only the two great barns and the stone well survive. The inventory of 1313 gives the clearest picture of the buildings. This mentions a chapel, two chambers, a hall, a pantry, a buttery, a kitchen, a larder, a bakehouse, a brewhouse, a dairy, a granary and a smithy.