contact  |  view basket view basket

17th and 18th century pottery finds from Temple Balsall

Temple Balsall and its heritage

A brief history of
Temple Balsall

Anglo-Saxon Balsall

The old name was simply Belesale or Balisale, from the name of the Anglo-Saxon landholder Bele or Bali and the old English word healh meaning 'angle' or a corner of land; the two together give Bele's healh, which eventually became Belesal or Balisele, the forerunner of the modern Balsall.

The Knights Templar

Crusaders set out from Europe in the 11th Century to expel the Turks from places in Palestine, which were holy to the Christians, and in 1199 ejected them from Jerusalem.

But pilgrims to the Holy Land were still liable to attack by Turkish raiders, and in 1118 nine French knights banded together to protect them. The knights were given a plot of land at the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem as their headquarters, and from this they became known as the Knights Templar.

They were soldiers first, but took vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, living the life of monks when not at war. They were inspired by the ideal of fighting for the Christian faith, and their reckless bravery in battle fired people's imagination. They soon won recruits, some from the most important dynasties in the land. As a consequence gifts of money and land flowed in.


The seal of Roger de Mowbray
The seal of Roger de Mowbray

Balsall given to the Templars

The rewards for the undoubted bravery of the Knights Templar in the Holy Land Crusades included gifts of land across Europe.

The Manor of Balsall was one such donation. The donor was Roger de Mowbray, son of Nigel d'Aubigny, a Norman Knight much favoured by Henry I, who granted him a great complex of estates in England. In 1185 a survey of the Templars' possessions in England was made, and it is in this that Roger was named as the donor of Balsall. It is shown as a fully developed manor, carved out of the Forest of Arden.

There is no evidence of how many people lived at Balsall when Roger de Mowbray made his gift, though it is possible that the two moated sites, Fen End Farm and Oldwyche House Farm, were already settled there.

But by 1185 we have a picture of a largely developed manor with 67 tenants with some 640 acres of arable parcelled out in virgates and irregular enclosed crofts, and with 'customs', those local bylaws that regulated the relationship between the lord of the manor and his tenants.

The Templars also received gifts of land at Cubbington, Harbury, Tysoe, Wolvey, Studley, Warwick, Chilverscoton, Sherbourne, Fletchampstead, Temple Herdwicke and other places. Temple Balsall, as it was soon known, became the Preceptory (or headquarters) for all of these. From here all day-to-day farming activities were controlled. Sheep were directed from Studley to Harbury to be fattened and at Balsall stockbreeding was undertaken and cider apples were brought to the press.

At Balsall there were nineteen full-time labourers on the home farm. Including two foresters, a dairyman, miller, studherd, a lad to make pottage for the labourers as well as the usual ploughmen and stockmen.

The Old Hall, a 12th century aisled hall encased in 18th century brick.
The Old Hall, a 12th century aisled hall encased in 18th century brick.

The most significant relic of the Templars is their Preceptory, now known as the Old Hall. This was the senior court for the Templars in Warwickshire. From here instruction and punishment was handed out in equal measure.

The original timber framed building was constructed in the thirteenth century, however it was much restored in the 19th Century by Sir Gilbert Scott who encased the structure in red brick. The Hall has one of the few remaining examples of timber aisle pillars, which support the original roof timbers.

The fall of the Templars

Corbel carvng of a knight in St Mary's Church Temple Balsall
Corbel carving of a knight in St Mary's Church Temple Balsall

In Palestine the tide of battle ebbed and flowed until, in 1244, Jerusalem fell to the Turks, followed by Antioch, Tripoli and finally, in 1291, Acre, the last Christian stronghold in the Holy Land.

The Templars had now lost the very reason for their existence, for pilgrimages were no longer possible, and they had been completely driven out of Palestine with other Christian forces.

Since their poor beginnings they had grown wealthy, had had privileges showered on them, grown arrogant and made enemies, especially in the church, for they were answerable to no one lower than the pope.

Their enemies, including the King of France, seized the opportunity and trumped up charges against the order. Templars in both France and England were suddenly arrested in 1308. They were held in prison for over three years, some of them eventually being tortured. Nothing was proved against them but their spirit was broken. Finally they were forced to plead for the mercy of the Church, as they did not know how to clear themselves.

Five Templars were arrested at Balsall, as well as Thomas de Walkington, Preceptor of Rothley Temple in Leicestershire, who was almost certainly acting as Preceptor for Balsall also. He was the only Templar to declare publicly that the few confessions had been extracted by torture. The order was suppressed and the Brothers were scattered to different monasteries to do penance for their supposed crimes.

A Knight Hospitaller
A 17th century depiction
of a Knight Hospitaller

Knights Hospitaller at Temple Balsall

In March 1312 the Pope abolished the order of the Templars and in May published a Bull transferring their properties to the Knights of St John (the 'Hospitallers'), forerunners of the modern Order of St John, which maintains the St John Ambulance Brigade. The Hospitallers were another fighting, crusading Order, who also nursed the sick.

An urgent programme of asset stripping began - the principal beneficiary being the King. John Mowbray, descendant of Roger, seized the land back, and the Hospitallers were unable to gain possession until 1322.

Few records have survived about the Hospitallers at Temple Balsall, although they possibly built the church, which after several renovations survives today.

Subsequently the Hospitallers combined Temple Balsall with their Preceptory of Grafton (later Temple Grafton). Two of the joint preceptors were raised to the office of Grand Prior of the Hospital of England - Robert Mallory in 1143 and John Langstrother in 1470, although the latter was beheaded in the following year, having taken the Lancastrian side in the Wars of the Roses and been captured at the battle of Tewkesbury.

The Hospitallers leave Temple Balsall

By 1470 the Hospitallers had left Temple Balsall and their property was leased to a lay tenant, John Beaufitz. Eventually King Henry VIII suppressed the Order of St John along with the monasteries and other religious orders and sequestered their lands and properties.

When the King's men came to value the possessions of Temple Balsall, they listed an old hall and parlour with lodgings over it, which appears to correspond with the 13th/15th century Old Hall still standing and in use today.

The Hospitallers' church dedicated to St Mary the Virgin also remains. However the lead was ripped off its roof and the building along with others allowed to fall into decay for over a hundred years.

Balsall in Royal hands

In 1543 King Henry VIII gave the manor of Temple Balsall to his sixth and last wife, Katherine Parr, as part of her marriage jointure.

Following Henry's death, Katherine married as her fourth husband Edward Seymour but died childless and the manor reverted to the crown.

The Dudleys and the Leighs

Subsequently Queen Elizabeth I gave the land to one of her favourites, Robert Dudley Earl of Leicester, who lived at nearby Kenilworth Castle. Leicester granted the reversion of the manor after his own death to his brother Ambrose, Earl of Warwick, for life, with a remainder (possession after the death of Ambrose) to Leicester's illegitimate son, also called Robert Dudley, by Lady Douglas Howard, Countess of Sheffield.

Young Robert married Alice Leigh of Stoneleigh and they had four daughters. He kept a low profile until the death of Elizabeth I in 1603, whereupon he started trying to prove his father and mother had been legally married. His position was to be recognised in 1620, but long before that he had deserted Lady Alice and their four daughters, fleeing to Italy with Elizabeth Southwell, where he fathered thirteen more children.

Two benevolent sisters

Lady Katherine Leveson - portait by Cornelius Jansen, 1625
Lady Katherine Leveson - portrait by Cornelius Jansen, dated 1625

Meanwhile the manor had passed to two of young Robert's daughters. Lady Anne Holbourne, widow of Sir Robert Holbourne, a noted lawyer and Solicitor General to Charles I, began to restore the church, and her will in 1663 left £500 to complete the work, with an endowment of £50 a year for a minister. Lady Katherine Leveson of Trentham Hall, Staffordshire, then bought up her sister's share in the manor.

Lady Katherine wrote a will, but in addition it had three codicils.

In 1668 her will left instructions for her burial and details of several legacies.

The first codicil, an unusually lengthy document, written in 1670 in her own hand, as well as numerous other legacies, includes instructions for the erection of 'an hospitale or almshouse'.

The second in 1671 details several legacies to members of the Lucy family.

The third in 1673 gives instructions for the minister to 'teach and instruct in learning twenty of the poorest boys of the inhabitants of Balsall Parish'.

Lady Katherine died in 1674 and the first almswomen were admitted in 1679.

The work she endowed continues to this day as Lady Katherine Housing and Care, the Lady Katherine Leveson C of E Primary School and the Parish Church of St Mary the Virgin.

We are grateful to the Executors of the late Eileen Gooder for permission to freely adapt extracts from her books:

Temple Balsall: The Warwickshire Preceptory of the Templars Temple Balsall: The Warwickshire Preceptory of the Templars Temple Balsall: The Warwickshire Preceptory of the Templars and their Fate, and

Temple Balsall: From Hospitallers to a caring Community 1322 to Modern Times

Both are available on-line, along with a series of informative booklets from the Temple Balsall Bookshop

Arms of Lady Katherine Leveson

The Foundation of Lady Katherine Leveson
Registered Charity no. 213618
Temple Balsall, Knowle, Solihull, West Midlands B93 0AN

contact us      site map

Sustainable Design - created to work