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18 June 2014
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Myths and Legends
Hertfordshire's Templar mystery

Hertfordshire and the Templars

In Hertfordshire, the Templars had settled at Dinsley, which became known as Temple Dinsley, and built a Preceptory (something between a monastery and a manor). This became the most important in South-East England, and the national Chapters of the Templars, or in modern terminology, their AGMs, were commonly held there. It is known that there was a chapel with a priest, and that at least six Knights lived there at any one time, with a much larger staff of servants and tenant farmers who were obliged to provide services to the Templars.

Temple Dinsley, Hertfordshire
Temple Dinsley where the original Templar Preceptory was built
© Princess Helena College
Temple Dinsley firmly enters the historical record in the Domesday Book in 1086, when Deneslai is recorded as a manor previously belonging to King Harold. King Stephen granted two mills there in 1142 to the recently formed Order of the Knights Templar, and various other grants of land were subsequently made to the Templars in the area, the biggest being in 1147 by Bernard de Balliol, a crusader whose effigy can still be seen in Hitchin St Mary (the foot of this effigy was found at Temple Dinsley, so it seems likely that the effigy was kept there until the Dissolution, when it was moved to Hitchin).

At the time of the disbandment of the Order, the estate was given to the Hospitallers (the Knights of St John) for their use until, at the time of the Reformation, King Henry VIII appropriated it and gave it to his loyal servant Sir Ralph Sadleir.

A Knights Templar grave slab, showing the floriate cross.  The slab itself is of light grey Purbeck "marble" from the famous quarries on the Isle of Purbeck in Dorset.  It is likely that the slab was made to order and the crosses carved at the quarry itself poss 13th century. It is probably a part of the tomb of the Preceptor of Temple Dinsley.
Part of the tomb of the Preceptor of Temple Dinsley.
© Princess Helena College
The Tudor house was demolished and a new one built just to the east in 1714 for a Mr Benedict Ithell. In 2000, a radar survey of the Rose Gardens at Temple Dinsley by the Temple Dinsley Archaeological Project [TDAP] indicated that underground remains of the Elizabethan house may survive. Ithell’s Queen Anne Mansion still survives as the central block of the Princess Helena College, and it preserves a fine Tudor fireplace from the old house.

The wings and outbuildings were added by the famous architect Sir Edwin Lutyens for the Fenwick family in 1909-22 and the house has been partly converted to serve as the College since 1935. It is now a listed as a Grade II building by English Heritage in recognition of its exceptional architectural importance, including its fine gardens designed by Gertrude Jekyll.

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Your comments

1 Dr Terence Knapp from Hawaii - 14 January 2004
"I would love to know what is known about the Templar Church and community in Hackney "

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Grand Priory of Knights Templar in England and Wales
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