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.
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.
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