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Templar Knights and plastic chairs
Cressing Temple Barns (Braintree, Essex)
Member Name: Fritzthecat
Cressing Temple Barns (Braintree, Essex)
Date: 13/05/06, updated on 13/05/06 (3078 review reads)
Advantages: Some very interesting very old buildings to see, lots of events going on
Disadvantages: Looks a little bit untidy in places, very expensive gift shop
As we have moved to Essex only last summer and haven't had that much time yet to explore the area, we don't have to drive too far to find places that are new to us.
So when we were presented with a particularly sunny day last week we decided to grab the chance visit the Temple Barns in Cressing.
None of us knew much about the place before and as it was a bit of a last minute decision I didn't get the chance to look it up in the net before either, so all that we did know was, that they have quite a lot of events going on such as Easter Egg hunting, Medieval Markets and Murder Mystery Evenings.
Of course we could also guess that it would have something to do with old farm-buildings and Templar Knights.
How to get there :
If you come from the M 11 then you'll have to take the exit at Stansted and turn into the A 120 in direction of Colchester.
You have to take the second exit of Braintree, at the big and very busy roundabout, and turn into the B 1018 towards Witham. There are the familiar brown signs that always lead you to places of interest and you can just follow them.
The B 1018 leads you through the small village of Cressing, which seems to be build alongside the road and is, probably, much longer then wide, as it takes quite a bit until you are through.
Shortly after Cressing you will find a sign that shows that for the Cressing Temple Barns and Silver End you will have to turn left.
Do so carefully as you will straight have to turn right again to reach the Temple Barns, the entrance is right next to the two little cottages at the turning.
If you go to fast you might miss your sign, like we did , and end up in the village of Silver End. A place that isn't quite as nice as the name suggests and whoever came up with the name for this place must have either had a very lively imagination or very poor eyesight as this is one of the most dreary villages in North Essex I have come across so far.
No offence to the people of Silver End...
If you manage to take the right turning, the narrow road will lead you straight to the parking lot of the Cressing Temple Barns and you'll be able to have a first glimpse at the barns from the road.
We have been there on a week-day and, apart from us, there were only 4 more cars and the parking lot seemed very big to us, but I have no idea how it is with the parking facilities if there are any events going on at a weekend, as we have been told that it can get very busy then.
The Visitor Centre :
The entrance is via the visitor centre. It is home to a small gift shop that sells all the usual paraphernalia that you would expect to find in places like this.
We spend a few minutes looking around but found that their products were much too expensive, although I was very tempted by a jar of Essex Honey.
This was on sale for a mere £ 5.40 for a glass of 100 g and it didn't take my husband, who can be a bit stingy at times, long to convince me that this was rather extortionate.
I still think that the little porcelain bee on the top looked very cute though...
They had a quite good and interesting selection of books about the Templar Knights and old buildings and heritage sites in Essex and there were some which I really would have liked to read, but the expensive honey put me off a bit and I guess you'll be able to get the same books somewhere else for a fraction of the price.
What we did buy is a guide for the site which they sold us for a very modest £ 1. This is surprisingly cheap and I am glad we bought it, as it holds a lot of information and is very well made up.
The only problem with it is, that it is much to much to read while you are on your trip - at least for us with two small children who don't have that much patience - and I would have loved to read this before our visit.
They do have a very good website and I would recommend to have a good look at it before a visit.
The visitor centre also houses the restaurant (more later) and a conference room that can be rented by anyone who is interested.
It is also home of the only entrance to the site, which means, that you will also exit from here. They probably have hopes that a visit will have sparked your interest and that you might feel like buying one of their books to find out more.
Well, it didn't work on me. I was still to annoyed because of the over-priced glass of honey with the cute little bee....
The Site :
18th Century Barn :
This is the first of the buildings that you will pass from on your trip as it is right next to the visitor centre.
Now, don't think that I am ignorant, but buildings of this kind are not exactly rare in this region of the world and you often see them delightfully converted into luxury homes.
This one though doesn't quite look like a crash pad for the well-off.
It is open to one side, it's interior measures wouldn't be sufficient for a luxury home even if we would see over the fact, that one outside wall seems to be missing and the old thresher that stands in one corner wouldn't be such a nice feature in a 20th-century home either.
I am not that interested in old farm machinery and leave it to my husband to study the explanations that are given on the wall concerning the thresher and take the kids to some other pictures I have spotted on the other side of the barn.
These are all about Prince Charles, who must have visited a few years ago, and show him admiring the site and talking to some school children.
Oh, to think that my feet are walking over the same ground as his once did...
...I am not impressed !
Neither is my husband. Not by the barn and even less by the one piece of machinery that is on display. We are both wondering if this place will be worth the £ 7 we have paid for the entry and the girls beg us to keep going as " this is boring"
They are right...
There are some other buildings on the opposite side which we decide to keep for later and follow the way that leads up to the right.
This gables in front of a big lawn and we decide to take the one to the right.
It leads us along a small river which is safely fenced of and there are warning signs that the water here is very deep.
It doesn't look deep, but this can be deceptive and I am glad there is a fence as the girls have taken the chance to run up front. There is no danger for us - it isn't that hot yet.
The way finally makes a turn and leads us to a huge, obviously very old, barn.
The Wheat Barn :
You enter this through a huge door and will be surprised to see another one on the opposite side that is much less high.
When this barns were used to stock crops in here, the carts were entering - heavily loaded - from one side, being unloaded while being inside and then left - much less in height - from the other side.
So these doors could be seen as a kind of very old traffic sign - if the cart fits it' s the entrance, if it doesn't , you've come from the wrong side. Clever, isn't it ?
When entering to the barn, you will be struck by its size - it is massive - and it's height.
It is so high, that it reminds me of some old cathedrals, not only in size, but much more because of the height and the shape of the roof. It seems very majestic for a building that has been constructed to store wheat and I feel as if I would have to lower my voice in here.
Whatever doubts I'd had after seeing the first barn are gone, this is marvellous !
To the left there is a small exhibit with wax figures that explains how the barns where build, how the Templar Knights were inaugurated and how the corn was divided from the crop in old days.
You can also view this from above via a see through bridge that can be accessed over a flight of also see trough stairs.
This whole construction is very modern and doesn't go that well with the general feel of the place. I also have to say that I am terrified of heights and see-through stairs and balconies are a nightmare for me. I tried it, as I was really interested, but was back down within seconds.
The barn dates back to the 13th century, that's what scientist have found out after "reading" the rings of the wood that has been used to build it. Probably it has been build between 1257-1280.
It has been altered over the centuries and was extended to the sides, but the height, about 42 feet, is still the same as when it was build first.
If you think about the simple methods that have been used at his time to build a house, then you can't help but feeling awestruck at the result of this one. To build something that big and that high with such little knowledge and inferior - to today - techniques, that survived over nearly a thousand years is just awesome.
I can't help myself, I just have to touch this massive wooden pillars again and again - thinking that they have been standing here for 800 years.
I can be a bit sentimental at times.
We leave through the other, less high, door and make our way to the Barley Barn by following the road to the left.
The Barley Barn is the older one of the two Templar barns and is believed to have been erected somewhere between 1205-1235. Again this barn has been changed over the centuries, but even these alterations have happened that long ago, that it doesn't make it any less impressive to me.
This barn is totally empty and therefore seems even bigger then the other one.
Which it isn't, they are nearly the same size.
There are some plastic chairs stacked up in a pile in a corner and they do seem to be very much out of place ! We found out that you can hire both barns for functions, hence the chairs, but I think they should have come up with another idea where to store them if not needed !
The Walled Garden :
Ever since visiting Hatfield House 2 years ago I am a massive fan of these and from the moment on , that I found out that there was a former kitchen/pleasure garden here, I was looking forward to see it.
The garden doesn't go back in history quite as far as the barns, but it was originally built in the late 1500's as a formal pleasure garden for the Smyth/Neville family, who had a Great House on the site.
Sadly the Great House and the old chapel have been destroyed in the 18th century and all that remains of this period is the walled garden and the granary.
After the destruction of the Great House the garden ,which is surrounded by a 3 m high brick wall, served as a kitchen garden for the farmhouse until it was remodelled in 1994 .
As soon as we enter through the small wooden door my hopes are puffed out like a balloon that has been punctured with a needle...
I understand that this is probably the wrong time of year to visit a garden and that I cannot possibly expect it to be in full bloom, but what is bothering me much more is that it looked unkempt.
To the right is a big lawn area and here the grass hasn't been cut in ages, branches and twigs from the few trees around are poking through the knee-high stalks as a reminder to clean up.
Not a very pleasurable sight !
Some of the flowerbeds display more weeds then flowers and the overall outlook of the place is more dreary then delightful.
We still made the full circle around, admired the brick-build star shaped fountain whose four spouts symbolize the four rivers of paradise and climb on the viewing platform right behind it, which is supposed to give you the chance to admire the garden as a whole and not only as the segments which you are passing from at the moment.
On the way we are passing from a stone-wall on which a very colourful, wooden Humpty Dumpty has been placed and ,sad to say, he was the only really colourful thing that could be found around here. Needless to say, that he looked more then a bit out of place - I haven't found out yet which is Humpty's connection with Tudor gardens - and not even our girls stopped to have a closer look.
As I said, it might be the wrong time of year for this feature and as we already have decided to come back we'll give the garden another chance in a few months time.
The Well House:
This small, timber framed building was built in 1920 and contains the well which once used to provide the farm and the two little cottages next to the road with water and electricity.
The well itself is a 45 ft deep hole whose origins date back to the times of the Templars. It is lighted up with some very strong lamps, so that you can get a very good impression about it's depth when you look down.
As I've already mentioned, I'm not very good with heights, and one glimpse into the well is enough to send the hole in front of my eyes spinning.
While my husband and the girls spend some more time with it, I had more then enough time to inspect the few other items on display here, which include an old pump, some tools and a collection of very old keys.
The Farmhouse has an unusual Z-shape as it contains two separate buildings which have been connected, and extended, over the years.
The oldest part goes back to around 1603, the last additions have been made during the 19th century.
As the house is plastered over, so that it is impossible to see the old timber frames, and isn't for public access, the only room that can be visited is in one of the newer annexes which contains the Bakehouse (bakery).
There is an old bread-oven and a huge stone sink with work-space, as well as some old kitchen utensils.
After seeing this, I would have loved to explore the rest of this unusual building, but it is not to be, as the doors are firmly shut and have clear "private" signs on them.
By the way, the garden that is attached to the farmhouse is very well stocked and looked after, although neatly fenced off.
Here we went first upstairs and this is so far the first part of the site that wouldn't be accessible for wheelchair-users.
The first thing to catch our eye was a set of old school-banks or church pews on one side with a desk and plastic chair on the other.
For what reason they are standing here escapes my imagination as the room under the roof off the granary doesn't look as it is very suitable for lessons or sermons to be held here.
In another room that leads from this one you can see the wooden boxes in which the grain must have been stored.
There are no explanatory plaques here, so it is up to your own knowledge - or imagination.
The downstairs room has it's own entrance.
Here we find a small display of very old artefacts that date back to the Bronze Age and the Romans which have been found on the site during either archaeological excavations lately or just the normal course of farm work longer ago.
The 2 show-cabinets would have been even more interesting if it would have been a bit more easier to access them.
Unfortunately they have been placed right under the staircase to the upper floor - an area which is also been used to store several crates of items from which I do not hope that they are the remaining artefacts that haven't been put on display yet.
These crates seem to hold quite a big amount of stone jugs and jars and other items which are covered by a simple piece of cloth.
If someone could guarantee me that they are as old as the other things in the room I'd go back tomorrow - with a huge shopping back...
The things that can be seen contain some old bones, teeth, tools and coins.
The Old Forge:
This is the second part where wheelchair-users might face a problem as it is accessed via a very high step and no ramp is provided. At least not on the day when we visited.
The room is kitted with original equipments that mostly date back to the early 20th century but part of them might be as old as 200 years old.
You can get a very good idea here how the forges of this time used to work and they must have hundreds of tools there.
There is also a wheelwrights winch and the sharpening wheel of a knife-grinder and we tried as good as we could to explain to the kids how they had been used.
In other rooms here you can see some horse-grooming equipment and an old plough and several other farming essentials.
The Restaurant :
As we had eaten before our visit we didn't pay too much attention to the menu, which seemed to exist of sandwiches mostly, and went straight for the cakes to have some proper afternoon coffee.
The girls and me decided on chocolate cake while my husband wanted to try the walnut cake. The cakes seemed to be home-made and we were presented with the biggest slices I have ever been served since my grandma passed away. Thankfully they were as delicious as they looked and a real treat.
We also had 2 cups of coffee, two orange juices and one bottle of water and all together we paid just over ten pound which is more then reasonable.
As it was late afternoon and we were by then the only remaining visitors on the site I guess that our portions were a little bit more generous as they might have been on other occasions but the price they charged us is still very cheap.
The restaurant itself is totally and utterly without any charm.
It is very modern, with a very high ceiling, which makes it very bright and airy.
The walls are mostly bare but there must have been some paintings from local artists before.
Unfortunately they must have been good enough to sell and all that remains are the price-tags, which make a rather unusual decoration.
All in all the restaurant resembled the canteen in my daughters school quite a lot and there was even a dodgy mural on the wall over the entrance to accomplish this look.
Call me fussy, but in places like this I'd like to see an old-fashioned tea-room, full of quirky little accessories, the drinks served in a china coffee-service, the milk warmed up and home-baked cakes and cookies on the menu.
Well, 1 out of 4 is not that bad !
Would I recommend it ?
Despite the few drawbacks that made the whole place look not to well looked after (surely there would be another place to store all those chairs and other items that were standing around and distracted from the feel of the site quite a bit ?) it was still a very interesting afternoon and I would certainly recommend a visit.
If you are interested then make sure to come on a sunny day, as it involves a bit of outdoor walking and the surrounding scenery is nice enough itself.
Apart from one set of stairs and the entrance to the forge I see no problems for wheel-chair users and there are disabled toilets, as well as baby changing facilities, on the site.
They do have a lot of events going on and it would be worth to check their web-site before as the place might be very crowded, which would be extremely annoying if you are not interested in the event itself and they ask higher admission fees during these.
There is a medieval market, called Templars Fayre in may which I would especially like to visit.
For all those who are not so familiar with the Templar Order and who have wondered so far, what this was all about a quick introduction.
The Templar Order was founded in 1119 during the Crusades to protect the pilgrims on their way to the Holy Land.
They were so-called warrior-monks, which meant that they were not only highly qualified soldiers, but also living under a rule of conduct that committed them to a live in poverty, chastity and obedience.
Probably you'll have seen their robe, which was white with a red cross, to be used in movies that deal with knights.
In 1139 they were granted exemption from tax which made it easy for them to become extremely wealthy and very powerful.
They held over 7000 estates all over Europe and had their own military and merchant fleet.
Later on they developed an international banking organisation and the influence they gained by being lenders and bankers to kings and other leading personalities of the time made them practically the rulers of Europe.
This, of course, brought them soon enough into a lot of trouble and in the 14th century they were suppressed by Pope Clement V - by instigation of King Philip IV of France.
Blasphemy, idolatry, heresy and devil worship, as well as witchcraft were the accusations.
In 1307 the French Templars were arrested and in 1314 the last Grand Master of the Templars, Jaques de Molay, after years in prison and torture, was burned on the stake and the fortune of the French Templars fell in the hands of the king, who, very conveniently, had his massive debts annulled with the erasure of the Templars. So much about witchcraft ...
The English king Edward II treated them a bit better. He did take all their possessions, but at least spared their lives.
Open daily from 10 am - 5 pm (01.March-31.October, during the winter months only grounds, garden and gift-shop open to public)
Thanks for reading this, Sandra
Summary: If you can see over the downpoints a very interesting place
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