TEMPLE BRUER

Remains of Knights Templar preceptory 

Open to visitors

Considering how bad things were during 2020, I managed to do a fair amount of travelling, and made several forays in to Lincolnshire. There was one place that I found so intriguing that I re-visited it a fortnight after the first visit; that being the tower at Temple Bruer. This was of so much interest to me, and I hope to you as well after reading this, that I am giving this one a full page on its own.

Temple Bruer is to be found six miles north of Sleaford, not too far off the busy A15 but beautifully isolated. Temple Bruer itself is just a scattering of farm buildings, with a tower sticking up above them. This is all that remains of what was once a large Knights Templar preceptory.

Knights Templars were an order of military monks, who were established in 1118, during the time of the Crusades. Their role was to protect and guard the Christian shrines in the Holy Land and to protect those pilgrims who were travelling to visit them. There was a Europe wide network of preceptories, administrative complexes, which were there to raise funds for this work to be undertaken, of which this was one; and an important one!

The Knights Templars were a powerful organisation for getting on for two hundred years, but they fell from grace and were accused of corruption and misconduct.  In January 1308, William De La More, the Preceptor of Temple Bruer and the Grand Prior of all England was arrested at Temple Bruer and imprisoned in Lincoln. The Templar order was suppressed in 1312 and their assets given to a similar organisation, the Knights Hospitaller.

These days, I daresay that most people will look at the Knights Templars in terms of various conspiracies and myths that still circulate to this day. One myth of interest, attempting to explain the origin of the Friday 13 superstition stems from events on Friday 13 October 1307, when hundreds of Knights Templar were arrested and burnt at the stake across France. It has also been suggested that the Templars buried treasure and religious items of great power and importance; which are still looked for today.

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The preceptory at Temple Bruer was the second wealthiest in England and further preceptories in the area were at Aslackby and South Witham. There is nothing left of either of these structures.

An example of a Knights Templar church can be seen in Cambridge, the church of the Holy Sepulchre, the round church. For the most part the Templars built round churches to resemble the church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.

A depiction of what the structure at Temple Bruer looked like in its prime shows two towers, connected by a kind of nave which led down to a circular chancel, which had a small circular tower on top. What we see standing today is what would have been the more easterly of the two towers. A building line is there; evidence of a structure being attached to the west.

The church structure itself would have been part of a larger complex; with several buildings surrounding the round church; with a gatehouse to the north, the complex surrounded by a defensive wall.  The estate owned a massive 4,000 acres and there was much farming going on here but it is also suggested that, with the Templars being a military order, there would have been military training going on here as well. They were treated as small independent states, free from the laws and taxes that applied to the rest of the country. This helped them to amass great wealth.

The tower is a four stage affair, with a red tiled roof. The complex itself dates from the 13th century but an engraving from the 18th century shows the single tower standing, part of the top in ruins with no roof. The tower was restored and the roof added in the early 20th century.

The first visit here was part way through a sequence of locked Anglican churches in Lincolnshire and Leicestershire, but this one was open. As we arrived, a couple were just leaving. It was good to see people visiting the place, and good that people were doing their best to get out and enjoy as near a normal life as possible whilst the pandemic had lessened its grip for a time.  We sanitised hands and went inside.

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Entry is through a small north door, with a small flight of modern steps leading up to this.. If we had turned around and looked to the north, we would have looked down the length of the interior that led down to the chancel. Interesting that Anglican churches are all aligned west to east but this one is aligned north to south.

The walls inside are decorated with what I assume you would call blind arcading, but without the vertical pillars. A stone bench covers part of the wall space. The ceiling above us looks to be original. Moving upstairs, up the tight circular staircase to the first floor; the ceiling above us is much more recent, from the time of restoration, and there is evidence that the walls close to the roofline were rebuilt at the same time.

There is a very weathered coffin slab against one wall. A cut out at the top allows for a carving of the deceased’s head to be depicted, resting on a pillow. Given that the structure still standing would have been a tower; logically one would think that this would not have been the place for a coffin slab to rest; it is more likely that this could have been in the chancel area, pride of place so to speak for someone who was obviously of importance. It is possibly reasonable to assume though that this may have sat outside for a considerable time before being moved in to the surviving tower.

There are several masons’ marks to be seen here, which would date back to the time that the building was built in the 13th century. These were marks made by the individual stonemasons, to identify the work that they had carved. This was necessary, as they were paid by what they did; piece work rate rather than a daily rate of pay. Each had their own mark.

One of the marks seen here is a cross, another is a letter M; another being an M that has rotated 90 degrees to the right. Another example is two triangles which are joined together at their tips. It is difficult here to see these marks sometimes in among the rest of the graffiti but the same designs can be seen throughout the interior.  Anyone interested in seeing mason’s marks could spend some time in Peterborough cathedral, when we are allowed to travel again, as there are lots in there.

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Above, left and centre, two masons marks which date back to the 13th century. Above right, RAF graffiti from 1919.

The amount of graffiti inside is staggering. This is mainly initials and dates; those tourists of long ago, and some not so long ago, who have stood here and left their mark. The earliest dated initials are from towards the end of the 17th century; with one I saw being dated 2020. We did not add to the initials whilst there!

For me, one of the joys of graffiti is in being able to place yourself in exactly the same place as the person who carved their names, whether it be someone from the 17th century, or Imogen who chalked her name in 2020 or someone like Annie Glasier who carved her name with a flourish in 1871. If Imogen’s chalk signature stands the test of time I wonder how many people will look at it and say, that was in the year of the pandemic; the same as I do now with signatures from the 17th century plague years!

Real people, most of them deceased many years, but real people who were enjoying the same building that I was enjoying. Standing in the same spot that I was standing! I thought that it might be an interesting concept to see if we could pick a name, and I chose Annie Glasier, and see if we could find out any details about her. I gave the name to Judy, a dear friend, who is good at tracing family history. This is what she has come up with.

Annie Glasier was born in Kingsthorpe, Lincolnshire in 1851, to parents John Glasier and Betsy Cartwright. She was baptised on August 19th of that year in the parish church at Apley, Lincolnshire. At the time of the 1861 census, Annie was visiting at Mavis Enderby, a church which is featured elsewhere on this site.

At the time of the 1871 census, she was living at Skirbeck, Boston, Lincolnshire. She was 20 at the time of the census and was either 20 or 21 years old when she carved her name in to the wall at Temple Bruer. It is roughly 25 miles from Boston to Temple Bruer and that was a fair journey in those days.

In the 1881 census, at the age of 30, Annie was in East Keal, another church featured on this site, working as a governess. She married in 1884, to George Frederick Robinson. They had four children together. Sadly, one of these Walter passed away at the age of five. One other, Mary, passed away in 1982 at the age of 96.

Annie herself died at the age of 83 in 1933, more than 60 years after carving her name at Temple Bruer. She died at Spalding, Lincolnshire, living her entire life in that county. A life long Lincolnshire yellowbelly! Just a name encountered, on a pleasant Sunday afternoon, out in a historic tower. A name with a history and a future, with hopes and fears and joy and sorrow, and it has been good to find out a little about her.

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 The same could be said about the other names here;  such as C Robertson, a joiner from Navenby a few miles away, or Thomas Lancester, who made his mark in 1827, his name carved in a mixture of block capital and small letters, with the ‘N’ in his surname carved the wrong way around. Also, the three RAF Pilots who left their initials here with a date of 1919.

The graffiti is a fascinating little time capsule. There is so much here that some of the older graffiti has been covered over with the new. The ground floor is literally covered with graffiti, with more to be found up the stone staircase and more still on the first floor.

One inscription part way up the staircase, close to a slit window, is worth noting. Immaculately carved, with lines drawn out to make sure the finished product was straight, this has a set of initials ‘AND’, and three successive years, 1789 through to 1791. Perhaps the same person or people visited here on three successive years and left their mark on each occasion. The ‘N’ here is reversed again. Perhaps this is a sign of semi literacy or perhaps, for whatever reason, this is what they did and we have just unlearned why they did this over the centuries!

This is the most graffiti that I have seen in one place and it kept me busy for some time. It was great to be able to visit this tower as Knights Templar structures still standing are very rare. The complex here was given over to the Knights Hospitallers; after the Knights Templars were dissolved and it remained with them until the dissolution of the Monasteries; a sign on the north door noting the fact that this came about here in 1541.

I found this a place of great interest, both on a historic front and on a personal front, with so many people leaving their mark here over the centuries, whether this is the stonemasons who built the place or simply visitors looking around at the ruins and leaving their mark.  One to visit if you are in the area; when all the current problems have blown over and we are able to travel again.

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