Remains of Knights Templar preceptory, watermill and fishponds


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:


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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

South Kesteven (District Authority)
South Witham
National Grid Reference:
SK 92815 20556

Reasons for Designation

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 important.

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.


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 trackway.

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 paving. 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.

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


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

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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 Author: Publisher: Surveyor: Lincolnshire Archives ref. P.C.Dep.7
Title: Enclosure Plan Source Date: 1794 Author: Publisher: Surveyor: Lincolnshire Archives ref. P.C.Dep.7


This monument is scheduled under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 as amended as it appears to the Secretary of State to be of national importance. This entry is a copy, the original is held by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

End of official listing

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