Cressing Temple - Barns built by the Knights Templar.

Updated: Mar 28


Knights Templar Cressing Temple Barn built around 1138 a.d.

Cressing Temple is located in North Essex and the two surviving Medieval barns have never been out of use since the 13th Century when they were built under the Knights Templar military Christian order who at the time took part in the Crusades. Because they have been constantly used for farming and have been updated along the way, at least in part, the barns have simply stood where they have always been for only two centuries short of one-thousand years! It began as the ‘Preceptory of Cressing’ – the word used for a headquarters ‘base’ of the Templars.

The Templars began to decline as the 14th century turned due to the finincial interests of King Phillip IV of France who outlawed them as ‘heretics’, sometimes burning them at the stake. The Hospitallers; another crusading Christian order, took dominance. During the late 14th Century, after the country was broken by the Black Death, the Peasants’ Revolt broke out and ransacked the estate for its unpopular wealth, which was now owned by hospitaller Sir Robert Hales.

In the Tudor Era many of the buildings on the site were demolished including the central quarters of the Templars because Henry VIII was anti-Catholic. He dissolved the monasteries to favour protestantism so that he could divorce, meaning Catholic-orientated properties such as Cressing Temple was taken over as a manor. The Smyth family took ownership of the estate; Sir John Smyth was a Baron of the Exchequer. The ‘Great House’ was a mansion built at this time as a result of the English Reformation forming the centre of the Estate. It was demolished in the 18th Century but the Tudor farmhouse, granary, wagon lodge, and stable yard, all still stand. The brick walled garden with ornate fountain was built in the Elizabethan Era.

Skeletal Frame of the Cressing Temple Barn built by the Knights Templars

It passed between owners right up until 1971 when Frank Cullen gave up ownership and passed away around this time. He was the last farmer to own the estate and bought it initally in 1913. His nephew Anothony Cullen kept the estate until 1987 when the estate was split up and purchased by Essex County Council for its hisotric interest.

Apart from its age, how is Cressing Temple of so much interest?

We were guided around the site by Helen Gibson who was very knowledgeable on the site and the barns, to whom we thank for our understanding of Cressing Temple brought to you in this article. She truly believed the barns were a worldwide relic, and considering they are the oldest timber-framed barns in the world it isn’t difficult to understand why.

Because stone was usually found up north in palces like Yorkshire, the barns had to be made from local materials instead due to the diffculties in transporting heavy stone across the country in the 1200s. Essex was dominantly a wooded area back then, with places like Hadleigh being royal hunting grounds full of wolves, boars, and even aurochs – now extinct! Local trees were used to make the barns but this meant they were unlikely to last as long or be as stable as stone barns which were more common of the time. However through painstaking mathematical planning the Medieval craftsman who designed and made the barns were able to produce an impressive duo of structures that have stood up until the present day, withstanding a great gail of 1887. It was her husband Adrian Gibson who researched and uncovered the extent of the planning that would’ve gone into the design of the barns; triangles, circles, and even pythagoras’ theorem were all used to ensure the barns stood up.

The timbers were incredibly large carved from single trees used as ‘passing braces’ running the height of the barn, much larger than the more intricate work of the 1400s Hospitallers who added supports to the upper of the barle