"To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And eternity in an hour."

From "Auguries of Innocence"

by William Blake

Monday, 6 August 2012

A Warwickshire Village Steeped in History

Whilst visiting Temple Balsall Nature Reserve and surrounding countryside a few weeks ago I also had a look round the village of Temple Balsall itself. The village is steeped in 800 years of history and seemed almost timeless to me. It also gave the impression of a place where people and wildlife lived in harmony.

First of all a "potted" history of the village which hopefully will make the photos and text below make more sense!

The Manor of Balsall was given to the Knights Templar by Roger de Mowbray, the son of a Norman Knight. The Templars received other gifts of local land and Temple Balsall became the headquarters in this area. During the early 1300's the Templars throughout Europe had become very wealthy and made many enemies. These enemies, including the King of France, trumped up charges against the Order and Templars in France and England (including five Templars from Temple Balsall) were arrested in 1308. In England they were kept in prison for several years and eventually tortured. In 1312 the Pope abolished the Order of the Templars and their properties were given to the Knights of St John (the Hospitallers) - this organisation is now the Order of St John which maintains the St John's Ambulance Brigade.

By 1470 the Hospitallers were no longer in Temple Balsall and eventually their lands were sequestered by Henry VIII. In 1543 the manor of Temple Balsall was given to Henry's sixth and final wife - Katherine Parr. Following her death and, as she had remained childless, the property returned to the Crown.

Queen Elizabeth I gave the land to Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, one of her favourites, who lived close by at Kenilworth Castle. The manor eventually passed to 2 of his grand-daughters - Lady Anne Holbourne who restored the church and her sister Lady Katherine Leveson.

In her will Lady Katherine left instructions for the erection of an almhouse to look after the elderly and instructions for the church minister to teach 20 of the poorest boys from the parish.

Her work has continued up to the present day as the village is a thriving Christian Community with the seventeenth century Almshouses housing 56 people, a Church and Church of England Primary School.

On leaving the car park you take a path called the Breadwalk which leads from Fen End Road, past Gardens and almshouses to the church and Old Hall and then over a bridge crossing a stream to the Cemetery.

Temple House


The Church of St Mary the Virgin

The Church was built between 1320 and 1330 but it was not a Templars' church - they worshipped in a chapel in the Old Hall. St Mary's was built as the chapel of the religious Order of The Knights Hospitallers who took over the properties following the dissolution of the Knights Templar.

The church was restored initially by Lady Anne Holbourne and then in the mid nineteenth century a full restoration was carried out by Sir George Gilbert Scott.

The Seventeenth Century Lady Anne Holbourne Font

The pulpit dates from the Gilbert Scott restoration in the 1840's. Panels depict Christ surrounded by the four Gospel-writers

Lower West Window

Upper West or Rose Window

West Window, Tapestries and Carvings

The Sanctuary area of the church was alarmed so I missed some interesting features in that area.

There are stone carvings of knights and animals inside and outside of the church - I could have done with the telephoto lens - most of these are heavily cropped

I also discovered (after my visit unfortunately) that there is a Greenman carving somewhere around the church.

The churchyard is managed for wildlife with lots of wildflowers and "wild" areas and is part of the Living Churchyards Project. Around 130 species of wild plants have been recorded.

Since first finding out what this plant is called I am still seeing it everywhere I go - Fox and Cubs

"Wilder" areas of the churchyard - quite a few butterflies flitting about although too far away to identify let alone photograph

The Old Hall

This twelfth century aisled hall was the Preceptory (or Headquarters) or the Knights Templar Order and the building has remained in use ever since. The original timber framed building was restored by Sir Gilbert Scott who enclosed the original building with red brick.

I understand the Hall serves teas on Sunday afternoons when you can probably get a glimpse of inside this fascinating building.

Garden of the Old Hall

The Breadwalk continues past the Hall over a bridge

to the Cemetery which again is a haven for wildflowers and insects

It really was a lovely walk around an area that time seems to have forgotten!


The Church of St Mary the Virgin Temple Balsall - a Visitors Guide

Temple Balsall 1150 - 1870 - a Short History

Website: www.leveson.org.uk/templebalsall

I am not sure how many local people read my blog but there is a Heritage Weekend at Temple Balsall 7 - 9 September with guided tours, special displays in the Templars' Old Hall, Art Exhibition, Concert etc.


Rohrerbot said...

Now don't laugh but I do play video games once in awhile....and specifically a game called Assassin's Creed. It is here in this game that I had to face off against the Knights of Templar....which then made me research this fascinating organization. This is another great find. History is such a wonderful thing. What a treat:)

Ragged Robin said...

Rohrerbot - Thanks so much Chris. Glad you enjoyed. I remember once being hooked on a game called Tomb Raider!! A long time ago mind :) The Knights Templar organisation is fascinating and I just love history so the village was a great combination :)

ShySongbird said...

Hi Caroline :-) What a fascinating post! Your words and photos really do it justice. I read it last night and have just enjoyed reading it again. It looks and sounds like a lovely place to visit, I'm sure I would like it.

The history was very interesting and all the stained glass windows, carvings etc. in the church are so beautiful. The churchyard looks interesting too as does the walk over the bridge and the cemetery. Obviously lots to explore, I suspect it is a village well worth more than one visit.

Ragged Robin said...

ShySongbird - Hi Jan - Thanks so much for your really lovely comment. I am so glad you enjoyed the post. Sometimes I suspect I am a bit self indulgent with the words and photos! so it was great to read your comment :)

Its a lovely village - not too many miles from Baddesley and Packwood. TBH I did have to go back to the church to take some more photos as on my first visit my battery finally gave up completely having flashed "low battery" ever since I first arrived :( But I will go back again one day because it is such a peaceful place and no crowds :) I wouldn't mind going to their Heritage weekend to have a look at the inside of the Old Hall but I suspect it will be rather busy!

Thanks again. All the best Caroline

Pete said...

great post Caroline!!

getting the hang of the glass!

Ragged Robin said...

Pete - Many thanks :)

Not sure about getting the hang of the glass - LOL!!!! I won't tell you how many I deleted!

Cliff said...

May I congratulate Caroline on an extremely good report about Temple Balsall. I am a member of the St Marys congregation. This year is our 34th Tea and Cake Season. Each Sunday, April - September we serve Tea and Cakes in the Old Hall 2.30 - 5.00pm. The Heritage Weekend will be well supported - as always, A fair, Art Exhibition, Stalls, FREE admission, FREE Guided Talks. You will receive a warm welcome whenever you visit, be it any day, Sunday afternoon or Heritage Weekend - 12..00 - 5,00pm Sat and Sunday. Best wishes, Cliff Morrey

Ragged Robin said...

Cliff - Many thanks for your very kind comment. I found the whole Temple Balsall area very beautiful with such a peaceful atmosphere. Its wonderful to hear that the Tea and Cake Season is in its 34th Year. I will try and come along to the Heritage weekend as I would love to learn more about the history and see the fair, stalls and art exhibition. Thank you so much again. Best wishes Caroline