House of Knights Templar: Preceptory of Cressing

Pages 177-178

A History of the County of Essex: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1907.

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The manor of Cressing with the advowson of the church was granted to the Knights Templars by Maud, queen of Stephen and heiress of the counts of Boulogne, by a charter dated at Evreux in 1136, and confirmed to them by a charter of Stephen near the close of his reign. The same king and queen and their son, count Eustace of Boulogne, also granted to them the manor and half-hundred of Witham by charters which are witnessed by Gilbert, earl of Pembroke, and can therefore be assigned to the years 1138-1148. The church of Witham was, however, excepted, having been previously granted to the church of St. Martin-le-Grand, London. This preceptory, which is generally spoken of as Cressing, but sometimes as Cressing and Witham, was therefore among the very earliest of the possessions of the military orders in England. It is placed first in the detailed list (fn. 1) of the lands of the Templars, with the names of donors and of tenants, which was drawn up in 1185.

Stephen granted to the Templars a market at Witham as it had been held in the reign of Henry I; and Henry II confirmed the grant. John on 16 July, 1199, confirmed to them the manor of Witham with the half-hundred and market and various liberties. He confirmed to them the land of Berecholt on 14 July, 1199, and the land of Newland on 8 June, 1214; and on 23 September, 1213, he granted a market on Thursday and a fair of three days at the Decollation of St. John the Baptist at the new town of Wulnesforde in the parish of Witham.

Peter de Rossa, parson of Rivenhall and lord of the manor, who assumed the dress of the Templars a little before his death in 1255, (fn. 2) granted to them over a hundred acres of land in Rivenhall; and in return they maintained a chaplain to pray for his soul in their free chapel at Witham. They also maintained three chaplains to pray for the souls of other benefactors in their chapel at Cressing; the first celebrating on three days of the week for John de Staundone and on four days for the founders, the counts of Boulogne, the second for Peter de Toppesfeld, and the third for Peter the clerk.

Under Edward II the Templars were suppressed (fn. 3) and their possessions given to the Hospitallers. By inquisitions taken on 20 April, 1309, it was found that the manor of Witham was worth in all £40 10s. 11d. yearly, from which deductions were made of 9d. for rents and £4 6s. 8d. for the chaplain and chapel, so that the net value was £36 3s. 6d. They had there a market on Tuesdays and fairs at the feasts of St. Laurence and the Decollation of St. John the Baptist. The hundred of Witham was worth 100s. yearly. The manor of Cressing was worth £43 16s. 9d. yearly, with a net value of £29 12s. 9d., the deductions including 5 marks for each of the three chaplains, 20s. for lamps and wax candles for the chapel, and 52s. for alms. The chapel was dedicated to St. Mary, and there was a cemetery attached to it. In consequence of this change of ownership the charters and other documents relating to Cressing and Witham are entered in the chartulary (fn. 4) of the Hospital.

An inventory of the goods, cattle and crops at Cressing and Witham was taken on 13 May, 1313. (fn. 5)

In the report (fn. 6) of the possessions of the Hospital in England made by Prior Philip de Thame to the Grand Master in 1338, a full account is given of Cressing. There was there a manor with a garden worth 13s. 4d. yearly, a dovecote worth 5s., rents there and at Witham amounting to £60, 800 acres of land worth £33 6s. 8d., pasture for 20 oxen and 12 cows worth 64s., and pasture for 600 sheep worth 50s.; at Witham, a messuage with a garden and a dovecote worth 20s. and 400 acres of land worth £16 13s. 4d.; at Rivenhall, 120 acres of land worth 60s. and 40 acres of meadow worth £4; pleas and perquisites of courts worth 60s.; profits of underwood worth 40s.; and 120 acres of land at Little Cressing worth £4. The yearly profits thus amounted to £133 12s. 4d.

The expenses consisted of £6 6s. for 42 quarters of wheat for baking bread, 32s. 9d. for 9 quarters and 6 bushels of meslin, 52s. for 26 quarters of malt for brewing ale, £7 16s. for the expenses of the kitchen, £3 9s. 4d. for robes, mantles, and other necessaries of the warden and brother, 40s. for the robe and fee of the steward prosecuting the business of the house, 40s. for the robes of the baker, cook, and claviger, and one mark each for their stipends, 21s. 4d. for the stipends of two grooms at half a mark and two pages at 4s. each, 40s. at the visitation of the prior for two days, 60s. for the stipends of three chaplains, 60s. for the repair of the houses, 10s. 3d. for oil, wax and wine and other neces saries for the chapel, and 20s. for the repair of five mills. The total of the expenses was thus £40 5s. 8d., so that 140 marks remained to be paid into the treasury. Hugh de Cumberton, chaplain, was warden and William the tenor of Ripon, chaplain, the brother.

The prior of the Hospital was one of the chief persons upon whom the popular vengeance was wreaked in the insurrection of the peasants in 1381; and so it is not surprising to find that Cressing suffered. In the assize taken after the insurrection the jurors found (fn. 7) that a number of people attacked Cressing Temple on 10 June, Monday the morrow of Holy Trinity, and carried away armour, vestments, gold and silver, and other goods to the value of £20, and burned books to the value of 20 marks.

The manors of Witham and Temple Cressing were leased by the Hospital to John Edmonde for twenty-four years from Michaelmas, 1515, and to John Smyth for twenty-nine years from Michaelmas, 1539. He was to find a secular priest to minister within the chapel of each manor on three days in the week. (fn. 8)

The Hospital was dissolved in 1540, soon after the last monasteries, and on 8 July, 1541, the king granted (fn. 9) the manor and lordship of Temple Cressing and the half-hundred of Witham to Sir William Huse and John Smyth, one of the barons of the Exchequer, and the heirs and assigns of John.

Preceptors Of Cressing

William del Estre, in 1255. (fn. 10)

Roger de Norreis, in 1309. (fn. 11)

Hugh de Cumberton, in 1338. (fn. 12)

John Bertelby, in 1375. (fn. 13)

John Luterell, in 1381. (fn. 14)


  • 1. Exch. K. R. Misc. Bks. No. 16. Partly printed in Dugdale, Mon. vii, 821.
  • 2. Inq. p.m. Hen. III, File 19, No. 2.
  • 3. The account of the inquiry into the charges against them, which was begun on Monday, 20 October, 1309, is printed by Wilkins in the Concilia, ii, 329, etc.
  • 4. B. M. Cott. MS. Nero E. vi, 289-304.
  • 5. Exch. K. R. Inventories, 1, 11.
  • 6. Printed in The Hospitallers in England (Camden Soc.), 168.
  • 7. Trans. Essex Arch. Soc. i (New Ser.), 217.
  • 8. Land Rev. Misc. Bks. 57, f. 25.
  • 9. L. and P. Hen. VIII, xvi, 1056 (38).
  • 10. Inq. p.m. Hen. III, File 19, No. 2.
  • 11. Wilkins, Concilia, ii, 347.
  • 12. See above.
  • 13. Chartul. f. 302. Called lieutenant.
  • 14. Pat. 5 Ric. II, pt. 1, m. 28 d. Called master or warden.