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Remains of Knights Templar preceptory, watermill and fishponds

A Scheduled Monument in South Witham, Lincolnshire

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Latitude: 52.7745 / 52°46'28"N

Longitude: -0.6255 / 0°37'31"W

OS Eastings: 492816.95356

OS Northings: 320545.942509

OS Grid: SK928205

Mapcode National: GBR DRW.4MZ

Mapcode Global: WHGL8.CJCB

Entry Name: Remains of Knights Templar preceptory, watermill and fishponds

Scheduled Date: 20 June 1994

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1007688

English Heritage Legacy ID: 22611

County: Lincolnshire

Civil Parish: South Witham

Built-Up Area: South Witham

Traditional County: Lincolnshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Lincolnshire

Church of England Parish: South Witham St John the Baptist

Church of England Diocese: Lincoln


The monument includes the remains of the preceptory of the Knights Templars at
Temple Hill, South Witham, founded before 1164 and deserted in the early 14th
century. It was one of the smallest preceptories in England and by 1309 was
already in decline. In 1312, after the suppression of the order, the property
passed into the hands of the king; it was completely deserted by 1324 when it
passed to the Knights Hospitallers, who left it uninhabited and finally
incorporated it with their estate at Temple Bruer. In 1563, after the
Dissolution of the Monasteries, the property was granted to Stephen Holford;
in 1794 it was still uninhabited, and has since been largely used for grazing.
Extensive archaeological excavation of over half of the monument, carried out
between 1965 and 1967, demonstrated that the preceptory began as a simple
hall with outbuildings, developing in the earlier 13th century into a
regularly laid-out farmstead complex with two halls, a chapel, kitchens and
agricultural and industrial buildings, including a water-mill; further
expansion and re-building took place in the later 13th century. The monument,
which lies on heavy soil on the banks of the River Witham, includes the
earthwork remains of the preceptory complex and watermill together with those
of associated fishponds and other water-control features, closes and a

At the centre of the monument is a roughly rectangular area of low, irregular
earthworks representing the back-filled remains of the preceptory farmstead
excavated in 1965-7. In the south east quarter of this area are the remains
of a range of domestic buildings including halls, kitchens and a chapel. The
main hall, which stood near the centre of the farmstead, was found to have
been a two-storeyed structure of the late 13th century, partly overlying the
remains of two earlier halls. To the south of the hall, and linked to it by
the remains of a walled passageway, are the foundations of a stone chapel of
the early 13th century incorporating reused grave and altar slab fragments.
The chapel stood at the centre of a small walled courtyard in which human
burials were discovered. Along the south east wall of the courtyard were
found the remains of a smaller hall of the early 13th century which had been
destroyed before the construction of the main hall. To the east of the main
hall stood a range of domestic buildings first established in the early 13th
century including a kitchen complex of five ovens and a number of hearths. To
the west of the main hall was a garderobe pit and the remains of a fortified
structure of the early 13th century which was found to have been stone-built
with access at first-floor level. Finds of stone slates and decorated
ridge-tiles in the area of the domestic buildings indicate that they were not,
like the agricultural buildings on the farmstead, thatched.

In the western part of the excavated area are the remains of a number of
agricultural buildings ranged around an open yard to which each was connected
by a cobbled path. In the extreme south western corner of the site are the
remains of an aisled barn; adjacent to it on the north east, near to the
domestic range, were two small buildings, one containing animal stalls and the
other the stone base for a forge. These are considered to represent the
remains of a smithy and associated stabling. Leading out from the western side
of the small yard shared by this group of buildings were the remains of a
metalled way composed of unworn cobbles and cut into by a north-south drainage
ditch running along the outside edge of the farmstead. This way is considered
to represent an original early 13th century entrance to the farmstead which
was immediately abandoned due to drainage difficulties. To the north of this
early entrance was another, larger, aisled barn in which traces of
agricultural produce were discovered. Attached to the north west corner of
this barn was a smaller building with a large, sheltered porch. This building
stood on the south side of a second metalled entrance-way, constructed soon
after the first and used until the late 13th century when it was blocked by a
stone wall. Adjacent to it, in the extreme north west of the excavated area,
were discovered the remains of a small rectangular building with a large
exterior drain and connected on the east to a third aisled barn containing
further remains of agricultural produce. In the yard immediately outside the
barn, to each side of its cobbled entrance, were two depressed areas of stone
In the north-eastern quarter of the excavated area are the remains of three
further ranges of early 13th century buildings, connected to the domestic
range in the south east and the agricultural range in the west by a later
13th century stone wall. At the centre of the north wall of the farmstead is
the preceptory's main entrance-way, flanked on the west by a small fortified
building with first-floor access and on the east by a larger, subdivided
building considered to be the preceptory guesthouse. A metalled path
formerly linked these buildings to the domestic quarters in the south across
an open area containing depressions. In the extreme north eastern corner of
the farmstead were a pair of small, rectangular animal shelters. To the south
of these, across an open yard, was a complex of industrial workshops
established in the early 13th century and including the remains of a number of
superimposed furnaces. Finds made in this area indicate that lead- and
iron-smelting, tile-making and corn-drying took place here.

To the north east of the farmstead complex, overlooking the present course of
the River Witham, are a group of earthworks including the remains of the
preceptory watermill and associated water-control features. Approaching from
the south is a long, linear depression representing the former medieval course
of the river; at its northern end are the remains of a stone-lined millpond.
On the north east side of the pond are the earthworks of the mill dam, which
measures over 45m by 20m, and are aligned east-west. Running along its south
side, which was also found to be stone-lined, is a shallow linear depression
considered to represent an overflow channel. On the north west side of the
millpond is another mound on which the foundations of a large rectangular
millhouse were excavated. Adjacent and to the east are the earthworks of the
millrace, from which the waterlogged remains of the wooden waterwheel and
sluice gates were recovered. To the north of the mill are the remains of
another pond and, running northwards on its eastern side, another linear
depression representing the tail-race.

In the south eastern corner of the monument, and connected to the mill complex
by the medieval river channel, are the remains of a large oval pond. Together
with a smaller, rectangular pond on the north side of the mill-dam, these
earthworks are considered to represent part of the preceptory's system of
fishponds. There is a further depression on the west side of the tail-race in
the north eastern corner of the monument.

The large fishpond, mill dam and both the medieval and modern courses of the
River Witham enclose a flat, low-lying area considered to be a former flood
meadow. North of the farmstead is another close, bounded on the north by a
ditch, on the west by a linear bank, on the south by a trackway and on the
east by the tail-race. The trackway is a broad embanked feature running from
the present road in the west and along the northern edge of the farmstead to
the mill in the east. On the west side of the monument it divides two
incomplete fields containing the remains of ridge-and-furrow cultivation.

All fences and pens are excluded from the scheduling but the ground beneath
these features is included.

The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

A preceptory is a monastery of the military orders of Knights Templars and
Knights Hospitallers (also known as the Knights of St John of Jerusalem). At
least one preceptory of the Knights of St Lazarus is also known to have
existed in England. Preceptories were founded to raise revenues to fund the
12th and 13th century crusades to Jerusalem. In the 15th century the
Hospitallers directed their revenue toward defending Rhodes from the Turks. In
addition, the preceptories of the Templars functioned as recruiting and
training barracks for the knights whilst those of the Hospitallers provided
hospices which offered hospitality to pilgrims and travellers and distributed
alms to the poor. Lazarine preceptories had leper hospitals attached. Like
other monastic sites, the buildings of preceptories included provision for
worship and communal living. Their most unusual feature was the round nave of
their major churches which was copied from that of the Holy Sepulchre in
Jerusalem. Indeed their use of such circular churches was unique in medieval
England. Other buildings might include hospital buildings, workshops or
agricultural buildings. These were normally arranged around a central open
space, and were often enclosed within a moat or bank and ditch. From available
documentary sources it can be estimated that the Templars held 57 preceptories
in England. At least 14 of these were later taken over by the Hospitallers,
who held 76 sites. As a relatively rare monument class, all sites exhibiting
good survival of archaeological remains will be identified as nationally

The remains of the preceptory at Temple Hill, South Witham, survive well as
earthworks and buried features. The site has been largely under pasture since
the preceptory was dissolved and post-medieval disturbance has thus been
minimal. Over half of the monument has been archaeologically excavated down
to earlier medieval layers, the architectural remains of the preceptory being
left in situ, to survive as earthworks, and underlying layers remaining
largely undisturbed. In the process of excavation the high level of survival
of below-ground remains, including artefactual and environmental material, was
demonstrated. The preceptory at South Witham is the only monument of its type
in this country to have been extensively excavated; it is thus very well
understood and important to the understanding of other Templars sites in
England. In addition, the direct relationship of the preceptory to other
aspects of the medieval landscape, including a watermill, fishponds, trackway
and field system, survives intact.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Knowles, D , Medieval Religious Houses: England and Wales, (1971), 293,297
Page, W, The Victoria History of the County of Lincolnshire: Volume II, (1906), 212
Whitwell, J B, Archaeological Notes for 1966, (1967), 43-4
Whitwell, J B, Archaeological Notes for 1966, (1967), 43-4
Mayes, P, 'Current Archaeology' in South Witham, (1968), 232-7
Title: Enclosure Plan
Source Date: 1794
Lincolnshire Archives ref. P.C.Dep.7
Title: Enclosure Plan
Source Date: 1794
Lincolnshire Archives ref. P.C.Dep.7

Source: Historic England

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