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Kent Archaeological Review extract

Whitfield Preceptory --
A Report on the Excavations from 1964 to 1966.
by F L Page (?).
(the DYRMS Archaeological Society.)

Editor's Note -- This article which was found in Dover Public Library has never, to my knowledge, been published. As it was unsigned I visited the Duke of York's Royal Military School where I was informed that the author was probably the late F L Page, BA. I would be grateful to hear from anyone who may have knowledge concerning the whereabouts of finds, pottery, section drawings, etc. connected with the site.

Thanks to the generosity of Mr Broadley and Mr Hadfield, the two farmers on whose land the site lies, the School Archaeological Society has been able to conduct excavations of the Templar and Hospitaller Preceptory at Temple Farm, Whitfield, for three seasons.

DRAWING: Plan of Whitfield Preceptory.

A plan of Whitfield Preceptory, 1966.
Plan of Whitfield Preceptory: The Big Picture (65k)

The work has revealed the remains of a substantial complex of mediaeval buildings, which formed probably only a part of this Preceptory. The plan shows the area so far investigated.

In an area extending over a total of 100 feet by 150 feet, lie seven rooms and an entrance lobby orientated to the four main points of the compass, and on the same orientation a passage and an open ended area. In addition a series of oblique walls form a large irregular polygonal room which contains a structure that appears to have been a drain, and two open ended areas, one L-shaped, the other sub-rectangular. This complex is of certainly three and perhaps more periods of construction, and dates from the last quarter of the twelfth century to the second quarter of the sixteenth.


A late XIIth century Hall, very solidly built in flint and mortar, with chalk foundations. Ashlar (Dressed stone) of Caen stone (and occasionally green sand) was used to square and reinforce external corners, while internal corners were squared with large chalk blocks carefully dressed to the correct angles. Interior wall surfaces were plastered. Doorways and window frames were of dressed Caen stone. The roof was tiled, the floor probably earthen. It is unlikely that the Hall had two storeys, but the remains of what appears to have been the base of a staircase (probably mainly of wood) leading up towards the west end of the Hall suggest the existence of a gallery or balcony at the west end. This possibly served as sleeping space for the more important members of the community. At this time, it is thought, there was only one door, a little off centre in the north wall of the building.


During the thirteenth century the south-east angle of the Hall was demolished to allow the addition of a complete wing of rooms on its south side. At the same time a passage was made across the Hall just east of the main doorway by the insertion of two thin walls. Doorways were cut at each end and in the east wall of the passage to allow access to the new wing and also to the eastern sub-division of the original Hall. Probably also at this time a door was inserted into the south wall of the western end of the Hall, giving access to and from the open ended area of the new block. To this door a porch was added. The North side of the Hall was at about the same time also modified. A large room, some 50 feet long was added. Whether this is precisely contemporary with the south wing is uncertain, but it is certainly earlier than the oblique walls of the IIIrd Period, and may with reasonable confidence be assigned to Period II.


The narrow corridor or entrance lobby along the north east side of the Hall, which provided shelter and draught protection for all the doors on the north side of the Period II complex is perhaps contemporary with the rest of Period II but it seems to have been built at a different time from the large room to the north of the Hall, and though it is definitely earlier than Period III, it is not possible to establish exact contemporaneity with Period II. Rather than stipulate a fourth major phase of construction and modification, it seems reasonable to consider it as a sub-phase of Period II. It has therefore been assigned to Period IIB. It had probably a door in its eastern end. As it encloses the remains of the supposed stairway base, it is likely that the gallery in the Hall continued in use, or perhaps was even extended to form a complete upper floor.


The oblique walls to the north-east of the original Hall were added. The purpose of the room and the two open ended areas thus formed is not yet known, but the room, on the evidence of the drain it contains, was probably put to domestic uses.


As yet only portions of the Period I Hall and the entire south wing have been fully excavated. The use of rooms in these areas is partly known, but a full picture must inevitably depend on the extraction of fuller information by complete excavation of the other parts of the whole complex.

The Hall itself, in spite of the fact that no pottery whatever was found in it, was undoubtedly the original area of occupation. The lack of domestic remains is explicable by the hypothesis that in the second period it was used for non-domestic purposes and that for this reason a thorough clean-up was made. The floor, being of earth, was possibly cleaned by being dug out down to a clean level, all remains of its former use being thus removed.

The Open Ended Area at the west end of the south wing was a kitchen area or scullery. Large quantities of pottery fragments (sherds) have been found here, dating from later XIIth to late XVth centuries. Possibly, therefore, it was here that the rubbish from the cleaning of the Hall was dumped, with a covering of dean day laid over it. A drain in this area, with a very large flow capacity, suggests that here too was carried out the washing of clothes as well as dishes. An alternative possibility is that the original Hall had a wooden lean-to kitchen area in this same place, and that the doorway in the south wall of the Hall must be assigned to Period I, along with the porch which is associated with it. This alternative, however, would necessitate the assumption that the wooden kitchen, in being replaced by the Period II structure, was completely obliterated. On the whole it seems more likely that the lack of remains of an earlier structure is to be explained by the supposition that no earlier structure existed.

The Chapel lies at the east end of the south wing. It is very small (only 15 feet square). Against its east wall stood an altar, in front of which was a chalk based altar rail extending the full width of the chapel. A narrow doorway led from the chapel into the room(s?) to the west. The chapel floor was originally of earth and rammed chalk west of the rail, and of pebbles, possibly mortared, to its east. Later (XVth century) a tiled floor was laid, at least partly consisting of decorated tiles with fleur-de-lys pattern, made most probably in Canterbury. At least one painted glass window existed in the chapel. Fragments of glass from this window have been found in profusion. They are much decomposed, a fact which strongly suggests that the glass was transparent, since the clear glass of medieval craftsmen was made to a formula which gave a very unstable product. The chapel walls were plastered to a very smooth finish.

Of the two small rooms between the chapel and the kitchen less can be said. The existence of internal plastering of a quality not inferior to that of the chapel, and the discovery of a lead seal ('bulla') of Pope Alexander IV, strongly suggest that the room immediately adjoining the chapel was the Chapter House, where the official business of the Preceptory was transacted.


Some indulgence is craved for the frequent use of such terms as "possibly", "probably", "it is thought", "it seems likely", and "perhaps". Their repeated appearance is not caused by the use of more or less inspired guess-work instead of firm conclusions. It stems, rather, from the fact that as the excavations on this site are as yet in a comparatively early stage, a complete factual account cannot be delivered with any high degree of certainty. What has been found is certain. What it means is not yet certain, but no suggestion has been advanced, and no hypothesis put forward which does not fit the known facts. New evidence will doubtless lead to a modification of the conclusions so far drawn, and new conclusions will be thought out to fit such evidence. On one point there can be no compromise:

All the suggestions put forward in this interim report have been legitimately drawn from the evidence so far available. The limited phrases and clauses have been inserted as a precaution against the later arrival of evidence which makes them no longer supportable.


The brotherhood known as the Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ was founded in 1110 by two French knights, Hugo de Payens and Geoffrey de St Omer. The function of this organisation was to protect from Saracen molestations the pilgrims who, after the recapture of Jerusalem in 1099, flocked in vast numbers to the Holy City. Small in numbers and supported by no financial assistance save the scant charity of casual donors, the brotherhood grew in manpower, financial resources and repute. In 1118, Baldwin II, King of Jerusalem, gave them the headquarters from which they were to acquire their better known title. These headquarters were in the Royal Palace, close to the site of the Temple of Solomon, on Mt Moriah. The title of the fraternity now became The Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of The Temple of Solomon, a long and complex name which soon found itself abbreviated to "The Templars".

In 1128, in the month of January, the Council of Troyes, at the urgings of the redoubtable St Bernard, and presided over by Pope Honorius II, recognised the Templars as a Regular Monastic Order of Military Monks. The Rule, based on the Cistercian Rule, was given approval by the Council, which Hugo de Payens attended, the dress of the new Order was determined and the functions of the brotherhood were confirmed. Exhortations were sent to all the Kings of Europe to assist the growth and development of the Templars and hard on the heels of the Council's messengers came Hugo himself to enlist support. His success was remarkable. The countries of Europe presented vast gifts of money and (even more acceptable) of land, which under the feudal system was even better than ready cash because it assured future revenue.

The aims of the Templars were gradually expanded as the Order grew in manpower and wealth. The protection of routes to and in the Holy Land was still the primary function, but in order to do the job effectively the Templars built many massive castles at strategic points and maintained not only permanent garrisons for these forts but also a standing field army, which rapidly became the backbone of the Crusaders' field forces, renowned not only for its courage (which commodity was never in short supply in the Crusades) but, more remarkable for a medieval force for its discipline and capacity for concerted action. In addition, they ran their own transport system between Europe and the Near East, both by land and by sea. These travel facilities, originally intended for ensuring the safe arrival of the Templars' own recruits, supplies and money at the area of active operations, were eagerly taken advantage of by pilgrims (who could rely on the protection and honesty of the Templars) and for the same reasons by lay military leaders for it was apparent that the Templars offered the best possible chance of reaching Palestine unharmed and in secure possession of one's belongings. Before long Kings, Emperors and Barons were asking the Order to convey and guard their personal monies and treasures.

These activities created for the Temple immense wealth and an enormous military reputation. These benefits brought also the envious glances and jealous hatred of rulers less wealthy and less successful in the field. The final loss of the Holy Land in 1291 removed from these feelings of jealousy and hatred the restraint which was imposed by the knowledge that the Templars were doing a difficult, necessary and effective job, for their job has ceased to exist, and they failed to find other tasks equally important into which they could channel their energies. Kings now saw them as a threat to their own power, and as a private Papal army ready to enforce Vatican control over the rising Nationalist elements in Europe. In 1309 Philip le Bel of France after a masterly propaganda campaign against the Order, arrested every Templar in France, charging them individually and collectively with every imaginable perversion and heresy. The trials of the Templars lasted until 1312, when, on April 3rd, the Order was dissolved by the Council of Vienne, under Pope Clement V.

The property of the Temple passed at once by outright seizure into the hands of the national Kings. They were compelled, however, to disgorge it by a Papal Bull of 1332, which allocated it, as Church property, to the other Military Order, the Hospitallers.


Although the Preceptory lies within the postal district of Whitfield, it is, and anciently was, part of the Parish of Temple Ewell.

The Estate belonged at the time of Domesday to Odo, Bishop of Bayeux and Earl of Kent. After his final downfall and disgrace in 1088, it reverted to the Crown, and was gifted between 1154 and 1164 by Henry II to his brother William and William de Peverell, Constable of Dover Castle. These two, some time before the King's brother died at Rouen on January 30th, 1164, gave it to the Templars.

In 1185 the Templars listed it among their possessions in Kent as being a Preceptory, with an estate something in excess of 300 acres and valued at slightly under 12 per annum. In their possession it remained for some 150 years, and at least one King of England is known to have stayed there. In 1213 King John, on his way to meet the Papal Legate, Pandulph, at Dover, lodged at Ewell Preceptory and in fact it was there that he signed the Deed submitting his Kingdom to the authority of the Pope. The Deed itself, now in the Public Records Office, is addressed "at the House of the Temple, near Dover". As the King had been in Kent since towards the end of April and the Deed was signed on May 15th, it is probable that he remained at Ewell for at least two weeks and possibly three.

In 1309 Court records of the interrogations and trials of the Templars show two members of the Order as resident at Ewell, Ralph de Malton, Preceptor, and Robert de Sawtree, Brother. On the Dissolution of the Templars in 1312 the estate was seized by Edward II, but was handed over by the Crown to the Hospitallers after the issuing of the Papal Bull "Ad providum Christi vicarii" of May 2nd, 1312. A report of the estates in the hands of the Hospitallers in England in 1338 states that Ewell Preceptory had been leased by them to a lay tenant, Hamo Godchep and his wife, for life at an annual rent of 26.13s.4d. The Hospitallers remained the owners until they too suffered the fate of Dissolution, this time in the General Dissolution of Henry VIII about 1535. The estate once more reverts to the Crown.

The next reference to Temple Ewell is in the fifth year of the reign of Edward VI, when the King gave it to Lord Clinton and Saye. He, however, in a few months reconveyanced it to the King, who then granted it to Sir William Cavendish. Of its history between then (1552) and now we in the School Society know nothing, since we have not yet done the research necessary to fill the gap.

At present the Preceptory buildings lie in two fields the one belonging to Mr Broadley, the other leased to Mr Hadfield. To both these gentlemen we owe a considerable debt of gratitude for their readiness to lease between them over an acre of crop for an indefinite number of years, and to put up with the twice weekly invasions of their land throughout the digging season. Mr Broadley in particular has been most helpful in allowing us to store our equipment, park our bus and occasionally pitch our tents on his property. We can only hope that the valuable information which we manage to extract from the site is some measure of compensation to our two benefactors.

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