Thursday, 8 March 2012

Knights Templar among us

Knights Templar, even if a real order founded during the Crusades, seem to belong to the murky conspiratory make-believe world around the edges of the scholarly and religious circles depicted in the novels of Umberto Eco and Dan Brown. However, the templars were among us during the Medieval period and had granges in many parts of England.

What I thought to be our nearest hill fort, Castle Hill at Beaumont Leys, is not a hill fort but a rectangular enclosure, earthworks that that belonged to a Preceptory, a monastery house of the Knights Templars. Locally the humps and bumps are considered Iron Age but when we finally visited the country park were the site lies I was puzzled by the rectangular form and with some later earthworks and different brick structures.

When back home I checked the City Council’s Scheduled Monuments list and the ADS archsearch over the Internet and found out about the true nature of the earthworks. Sadly, during the 19th century the area was used for sewerage purposes by the City of Leicester and this use damaged the preserved monuments. Already in the Medieval times the site had passed to Knights Hospitallers after the Knights Templar were dissolved. The Hospitallers exchanged the site in 1482 with the King and received the Rectory of Boston in this transaction. Soon afterwards the site fell into disuse and was for a long time pasture before the sewerage, evidenced by the brick structures.

The site has never been excavated but the University of Leicester has mapped the area. The archaeological map of the City shows that apart from the Medieval site the area has revealed a possible Roman field system and Neolithic and Bronze Age find concentration. There are also Roman and Medieval pottery finds from the area south and west from the rectangular enclosure. The site of the Preceptory has a dominant position and there is intervisibility with the Old John hill. The Brook passing the area between Anstey and Cropston on one side and Beaumont Leys on the other is not the worthy of the Soar itself but it is still a natural devide. The brook facilitated the use of the area as a sheep farm by the Knights Templar, as has been suggested. Nothing conspiratory in that land use – the revenues were needed in the operations in the Holy Land. Castle Hill was just one of many similar money-making sites for the Knights in the East Midlands (see Lewis 2006: 214).

Lewis, C., 2006. ‘The Medieval period (800-1500)’, in N. Cooper (ed.), The Archaeology of the East Midlands: An Archaeological Resource Assessment and Research Agenda, Leicester Archaeology Monographs.
Note: The Archaeological map of City of Leicester works best with IE.

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