Witham Preceptory

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The site of the former preceptory at Temple Hill, South Witham. It 'has been largely under pasture' since the Knights Templar left in 1308.[1]

Withham Preceptory, one of the smallest Knights Templar preceptories in England, was founded, before 1164, at Temple Hill, near South Witham, Lincolnshire, and was abandoned in the early 14th century.[2]

Founding and establishment[edit]

Margaret Percy and Hubert de Rie were 'great benefactors, if not founders' of the preceptory,[3] which began as 'a simple hall with outbuildings' before 1164.[2] Development in the early 13th century led to a 'regularly laid-out farmstead complex' comprising 'two halls, a chapel, kitchens and agricultural and industrial buildings'.[2] The site, which has the River Witham at the base of the hill, and the river's source, half a mile distant,[4] also included a water-mill, fishponds and 'other water-control features'.[2]

The Chapel[edit]

The rectangular chapel, constructed between 1200 and 1220, was unusual for a Knights Templar preceptory,[5] as the Templars typically built distinctive rounded churches, to resemble the Church of the Holy Sepulchre at Jerusalem, a practice which 'was unique in medieval England'.[6] Its size was around 12.8 metres by 5 metres, with a stairwell in the northwest corner, that may have led to a bell tower.[5] Two large footings, to the north of the altar, may be evidence of a Easter Sepulchre and a wall safe.[5] During 20th century excavations, burial remains were found within the chapel; to the south, a body that had once been in a wooden coffin, the coffin having disintergrated over time, and, to the north, a body in a stone coffin without a lid.[5] A possibly corresponding stone coffin lid, dated to 1250, had been used, from around 1550, as part of a nearby footbridge over the River Witham, before being moved to the church of St John the Baptist at South Witham in 1905.[5]

Late 13th century[edit]

In the late 13th century the hall and chapel were rebuilt, the farmstead complex was expanded and enclosed by a wall.[1] The preceptory, at its largest, was: "Set about a great court, they had included a gatehouse on the north, a fine range of barns on the west, a domestic complex with hall, chambers, chapel and kitchen on the south-east, and a workshop area, with its ovens and kilns on the east."[7] In total, foundations for eighteen buildings have been located, ranging in size from 4 metres by 8 metres to 10 metres by 24 metres.[1] Remains have also been found for what has been interpreted as a kitchen garden, and also a hall keep, 'intended as a place of refuge in times of crisis'.[1]

Disestablishment and Knights Hospitaller[edit]

After the arrest of the Knights Templar in 1308, and the sequestering of their lands by the Crown,[7] records show the preceptory was occupied by eight famuli, or farm servants,[7] twelve ploughmen, a bailiff and three shepherds, all paid from nearby Temple Bruer.[8]

The Knights Templar order was formally disestablished by Pope Clement V,[9] in 1312, and the Witham preceptory was completely abandoned by 1324.[2] The lands passed to the Knights Hospitaller, who, in 1338, held a messuage (dwelling of some kind), eight carucates (units of ploughland) and moiety, in this case half the endowment,[10] of the South Witham church,[9] but are believed to have left the former preceptory uninhabited, and eventually incorporated the landholding into their estate at Temple Bruer.[2]

Later history[edit]

In 1563, after the Dissolution of the Monasteries, the property, then known as 'Great Temple', was granted, by Elizabeth I,[3] to Stephen Holford in 1562.[4] It was then owned, with 'buildings as it stood', by Thomas, the son of William Wimberley, of South Witham, (originally of Lancashire), and remained with that family 'until 1761, or thereabouts'.[11]

The preceptory site, recorded as uninhabited in the late 18th century,[2] along with the Wimberley's 'mansion, the post-house, and other lands', then passed to Lord William Manners, younger brother of John Manners, 3rd Duke of Rutland.[11] From Manners, it went to a descendant, Lionel Tollemache, 8th Earl of Dysart, who held possession in the mid-1800s.[11] Describing the preceptory in 1837, Thomas Moule wrote that the 'foundation of the building only remains, and they extend over several acres'.[4]

During the 1960s, archeological excavations commenced, which, as it had mainly been used for pasture, meant that 'post-medieval disturbance' had 'been minimal'.[2] Items found during the digs included a gilded ring, knights head belt buckle, arrowheads and horseshoes.[5]

A second archeological excavation took place in the area, in April 2002, following preliminary work in December 2000.[12] Evidence from the 11th to 15th century suggest large scale ironwork and bread-making in South Witham to supply local religious houses.[12]

Lincolnshire preceptories[edit]

Until their disbandment in 1312, the Knights Templar were major landowners on the higher lands of Lincolnshire, where they had a number of preceptories on property which provided income, while Temple Bruer was an estate on the Lincoln Heath, believed to have been used also for military training.[13] The preceptories from which the Lincolnshire properties were managed were:[14]


  1. ^ a b c d Historic England. "MONUMENT NO. 325499 (325499)". PastScape. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Historic England. "Remains of Knights Templar preceptory, watermill and fishponds, Witham (1007688)". National Heritage List for England. 
  3. ^ a b Thomas Tanner; John Tanner (1744). Notitia Monastica. Society for the Encouragement of Learning. p. 272. 
  4. ^ a b c Thomas Moule (1837). The English Counties Delineated. Virtue. p. 195. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f "Knights Templar Chapel". South Witham Archeological Group. Lincolnshire County Council. Retrieved 2013-11-15. 
  6. ^ "Official Schedule Entry: Preceptory, boundary, two mounds, fishpond and dam at Beaumont Leys". Leicesters City Council. Retrieved 2013-11-15. 
  7. ^ a b c Paul E. Szarmach; Teresa M. Tavormina; Joel T. Rosenthal (2013-01-11). Medieval England: A Social History and Archaeology from the Conquest to 1600 AD. Routledge. p. 39. ISBN 978-1-134-79453-9. 
  8. ^ Norman Housley (2007-01-01). Knighthoods of Christ: Essays on the History of the Crusades and the Knights Templar, Presented to Malcolm Barber. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd. p. 204. ISBN 978-0-7546-5527-5. 
  9. ^ a b Page (Editor), William. "66. THE PRECEPTORY OF SOUTH WITHAM". A History of the County of Lincoln 2. British History Online. Retrieved 2013-11-15. 
  10. ^ B. Street (1857). Historical Notes on Grantham, and Grantham Church. S. Ridge. p. 57. 
  11. ^ a b c Sylvanus Urban. (1852). The Gentleman's Magazine -- Volume 38. p. 486. 
  12. ^ a b Kipling, Roger. "8 Church Lane South Witham, Lincolnshire: A Medieval Productive Site" (PDF). University of Leicester Archaeological Services. University of Leicester. Retrieved 2013-11-15. 
  13. ^ Ward, Penny. Dennis Mills (2nd ed.), ed. The Knights Templar in Kesteven (2 ed.). Heckington: Heritage Lincolnshire Publications. ISBN 978-0-948639-47-0. 
  14. ^ Page, William, ed. (1906). A History of the County of Lincoln. Victoria County History 2. pp. 210–213 'Houses of Knights Templars: Willoughton, Eagle, Aslackby, South Witham and Temple Bruer'. Retrieved 12 February 2011. 

Coordinates: 52°46′28″N 0°37′30″W / 52.7744°N 0.6251°W / 52.7744; -0.6251