"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

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Snowdrop Sunday at Temple Balsall

I first discovered the tranquil, timeless area of Temple Balsall a few years ago when I was visiting areas mentioned by Edith Holden in the "Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady". It really is one of those places that you occasionally find that has a very special atmosphere. Time seems to have stood still in this Warwickshire haven and it feels far removed from the stresses and problems of the 21st century.

D and I went along last Sunday afternoon as they were holding a Snowdrop Sunday with teas in the Old Hall.

Temple Balsall is a thriving Christian community offering hospitality to all who visit. In 1674 the then owner of the land, Lady Katherine Leveson, set up a foundation to teach children and care for the elderly - this work continues today.

Temple Balsall was given to the Knights Templar by Roger de Mowbray around 1146 and it became the Preceptory (Headquarters) for local Knights of the Temple. It controlled the farming activities of other Templar sites in Warwickshire. In March 1312 the Pope abolished the Order of the Templars transferring their properties to the Knights of St John (The Hospitallers) who were another fighting crusading order who also nursed the sick. There are not many records of the Hospitallers at Temple Balsall although they may have built the church. The Knights Templar had worshipped in a chapel attached to the Old Hall.

Temple House

Some of the almshouses adjoining the Breadwalk.

The churchyard is "managed" with wildlife in mind and part of it is kept as a wildlife area. 130 species of wildflower have been recorded in the churchyard and 50 species in the nearby cemetery.

I picked up a Warwickshire Butterfly Conservation Report for 2012 in the church and 17 different butterfly species were seen in the churchyard during that particular year. Yellow rattle is widespread in the churchyard which will help stop coarser grasses flourishing and thus encourage more wildflowers. Various conservation measures have taken place over the years to improve the habitat. For example, Alder Buckthorn has been planted to provide food plants for the caterpillars of Brimstone butterflies. Nettle patches are allowed to flourish, Orange Tips lay eggs on Lady's Smock and Devil's Bit Scabious has been planted. Buddleia attracts many butterflies particularly Red Admiral and Peacock and Ringlets appreciate the areas of long grass left unmown until late summer.

Snowdrops, Primroses and Winter Aconites were all in flower.

Snowdrops have a variety of lovely country names - Snow Piercer, Purification Flower, Candlemas Bells and February Fairmaids. The Genus name Galanthus comes from the Greek meaning milky flower and up to 20 wild species have been discovered. Winter Aconite which is also one of the first flowers to appear in the New Year is often called "New Year's Gift".

D went off to look at various other areas - there is a bog garden, pool, walled garden, woodland walk and stream whilst I had a quick look round the Church of St Mary the Virgin. I didn't take too many photos on this visit as its quite dark in the church and I am never very happy about using the camera flash in churches. The church was built around 1320/1330 and was originally the Chapel of the religious Knights Hospitaller. They left in the 1470's and the church may have fallen into disrepair at this time but additionally 70 years later saw the dissolution of monasteries and other communities under Henry VIII and the whole property was transferred to the Crown. The church was restored by the generosity of Lady Anne Holborne in the second half of the 17th century and further restoration may have taken place when Lady Katherine Leveson set up the Foundation. A full restoration took place in the mid 19th century under the guidance of Sir George Gilbert Scott and St Mary's became a Parish Church in the 1860's.

Corbel heads on the exterior of the church.

Rose Window

The East Window dates to 1907.

The Pulpit dates from the 1840's restoration.

Moss on the churchyard wall

The Old Hall also called the Templar House dates from the 13th century. The original timber framed building was restored in the 19th century and the original walls were encased in red brick. It is one of a small number of medieval aisled halls that still remain. It was originally used as The Senior Court for the Templars in Warwickshire.

The graves with crosses in the foreground are of 19th century Dames who lived in the Hospital. They used to walk down to the Old Hall where the bailiff of the manor then lived to collect their bread allowance. The path they walked along became known as "The Breadwalk" and its still called the same name today.

I'd never been in the Old Hall before as its only open occasionally so D and I went to have tea and cakes and then had a look round the museum which contains various artefacts found locally.

These heraldic shields were really interesting and have been dated pre-1540.

D took the shield photos above and also the one below of a Blue Tit waiting its turn at some nearby bird feeders.

The bridge with its superb zoom also came in very hand for taking a photo of this Green Man half way up a wall of the church.

I knew there was a Green Man somewhere at the church but many thanks to the kind gentleman who took the time and trouble to show me the exact location.

I shall certainly return to Temple Balsall again later in the year in search of more wildflowers and butterflies. Hopefully, a visit in the Spring and a second one in the Summer.


Temple Balsall 1150-1870 - a short history

Temple Balsall Snowdrop Sunday - Introducing Snowdrops Guide

The Knights of the Temple and of St John of Jerusalem and their Connection with Temple Balsall by FR Fairbairn

The Church of St Mary the Virgin Temple Balsall - a visitor's guide

Temple Balsall Churchyard Butterfly Report 2012 by Butterfly Conservation Warwickshire


Sarah Head said...

Several years ago when I was still working, I visited the Rev who was in charge of Temple Balsall Trust. He told me they had just sold the last of their buildings in Temple Street, Birmingham, that year. I was amazed (and shouldn't have been) that Temple Street belonged to the same organisation. I believe Temple Guiting, which is one of the seven parishes in the Cotswolds near where I grew up, was also administered by the Warwickshire Templars in the Middle Ages. I was really disappointed in St Mary's church when I visited some time ago. It has none of the ancient sanctity of St John's in Berkswell, thanks to the Victorian restoration. A friend and I did some amateur detective work at St John's and feel it is likely there were Templar connection since the dedication is to St John and there are traces of a possible octagonal structure around the nave which is also linked to Templar churches.

Margaret Adamson said...

The snowdrops are heavenly. Love the stain glass windows and the little Blue Tit.

Mrs M said...

Really interesting, thanks for sharing. I live only a few minutes away from here and have never been in the Old Hall, in fact my husband has lived here all his life (43 years!) and never been there either. Must rectify this!

Ragged Robin said...

Sarah Head - Hi Sarah and thanks so much for your very interesting comment. That is fascinating about Temple Street in Birmingham - I didn't know about that either. The gentleman who showed me the Green Man did mention that there were many Green Men on buildings in the "financial" district of the City Centre - I wonder if these are mainly in Temple Street? I don't go there very often but when I next visit the museum I will check! Very interesting too about Temple Guiting - I cut an article out of Countryfile Magazine ages ago that showed Templar places - one of these days I'll remember where I put it!

I agree about the church at Berkswell - it is very beautiful. The crypt is amazing and I have fun looking for the Berkswell mice :)

re: a comment you made some time ago on the isolation hospital in CdeB - when mentioning it to the family, I discovered that the insurance brokers my husband worked at at the time looked after Uni of B's insurances and he remembered the incident well - a small world!!

Margaret Adamson - Thanks so much Margaret - glad you enjoyed the post :)

Mrs M - Thanks so much for leaving a comment and I am glad you found the post interesting :) Looking at the website the Old Hall is open for summer teas Sunday afternoon from Easter Sunday, 5th April 2.30 - 4.30 - the little museum upstairs is well worth a visit and the cakes were delicious :)

Deb said...

What an interesting place to visit and so interesting. It's nice to hear that Lady Katherine's still continues today. love the little Blue Tit too. Thanks for sharing. :-)

Ragged Robin said...

Deb - Thanks so much - I am so glad you found it interesting :)

Simon Douglas Thompson said...

Fabulous looking place, lovely to see its maintained with nature in mind. The local cemetery is where I've been snapping the snowdrops and aconite.

Deb said...

Opps I didn't mean to repeat myself, I meant to say 'a lovely place to visit and so interesting' :-))

Ragged Robin said...

Simon Douglas Thompson - Thanks so much Simon. Churchyard and cemeteries can be great places for wildflowers and butterflies later in the year :)

Deb - Please don't worry - I didn't notice :) Sometimes I have the horrors when I reread my posts and see how I've repeated myself!!

Countryside Tales said...

What a fascinating post. I love the history with the place and all the stories.

Ragged Robin said...

Countryside Tales - Thanks very much - am so glad you enjoyed the post :)

Em Parkinson said...

I think I like the heads and the green man best but what a lovely post RR. Have a lovely weekend!

Ragged Robin said...

Em Parkinson - Thanks very much - glad you enjoyed. Yes I like the stone heads too - there's a lot round that particular church. If D hadn't done his usual disappearance act with the bridge camera I might have got more photos! Have a lovely weekend too :)

amanda peters said...

Another great post and how lovely to have a Snowdrop walk. It would be good to go back in the summer and look for wild flowers. The mosses are looking stunning at the moment.
Amanda xx

Ragged Robin said...

Amanda Peters - Thanks so much Amanda. Yes, I agree about the mosses - I find them and lichens very beautiful and interesting. I just wish they were easier to id!!

Caroline Gill said...

What a wonderful snowdrop+ post. I loved seeing the church and the wildlife garden. What a rich vein of history ... and natural history!

Ragged Robin said...

Caroline Gill - Thanks very much for your lovely comment. I am glad you enjoyed the post :)

Chris Rohrer said...

The only thing I know about Templars is from the video game Assassin's Creed. Pretty interesting characters. What a tidy area. And the Snowdrops are beautiful. I remember them growing in our garden back in Wisconsin. They were always a sign that spring was just around the corner. I think they were the first to come out of the ground.

Ragged Robin said...

Chris Rohrer - Thanks so much Chris. I have a couple of books on the Templars and they are v. interesting. I always look forward to the first snowdrop - a real harbinger of Spring, as you say!