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The Knights Templar in Herefordshire

In 1187 Henry II granted 2000 acres of land in Archenfield to the Knights Templar. They built a church and farms in and around Garway.

An administrative centre, called a Preceptory, was set up to look after the farming and business interests of the order on their estates in Herefordshire. There would have been a knight, a priest and several serving brothers. Sometimes knights who were injured in the Crusades, or were old or ill, retired to one of the country estates.

The Templars held several other properties in Herefordshire, including a Preceptory at Upleadon, land in Bosbury, a chapel at Harewood and some smaller possessions.

It is not only historians who have to interpret sources - archaeologists too have to interpret findings and sites. In Garway, for example, the nave or main part of the church is in the usual rectangular shape. However, during excavations in 1927, the foundations for a previous round nave were uncovered. What did this mean? 

The churches of the Templars were round, such as the Holy Sepulchre Church in Jerusalem. It is said that the plan for the Garway Templar church is almost identical to that of the Temple Church in London. Archaeologists concluded that this site had once been the site of a Templar church, and the investigation of written sources backed up this interpretation.

There is also an impressive dovecote at Garway and other agricultural remains, such as fish ponds.

The End of the Templars

When Palestine fell to the Muslim forces, there was no longer any active military role for the Knights. The Order of the Knights Templar had become very rich and powerful, and both the King of France and the Pope felt threatened. In 1307 the Templars were accused of terrible crimes against the Church and arrested.

In England, for example, influential Templars were imprisoned in the Tower of London and tortured. Two Knights were arrested in Garway, Philip de Mewes and William de Pokelington. Philip de Mewes, the last Templar preceptor in Herefordshire, was tortured and charged with heresy. Both he and William de Pokelington admitted to false beliefs and publicly confessed. They were absolved and accepted back into the Church. However, the English Grand Master James de Molay was not so fortunate. He was taken to Paris and slowly burned to death over a charcoal fire.

All the Templar possessions and estates were confiscated and eventually the Pope decided that their rivals, the Knights Hospitaller, should take over these estates and churches. So in 1324 the Preceptory of Garway was taken over by the Hospitallers.

[Original author: Toria Forsyth-Moser, 2002-3]