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Temple Bottom and the Last Templar

Updated: Feb 23

The view down towards Temple Bottom

For me, the Knights Templar were an intriguing and enigmatic group of warrior monks. They have been surrounded by so much myth and legend that it is difficult to establish fact from fiction. Rumours of heresy linked to the monks abound and even though many of the accusations laid against them were likely trumped up, some stay associated with the order to this day. There was also the idea that the Knights possessed a great treasure. Perhaps this was because around the same time the order came into existence many of the Grail myths were written. The Templars somehow became linked to the hunt for and perhaps the finding of a physical grail and other such relics including something that might have tested their faith. What the actual truth of the matter is no one entirely knows.

The order of the Knights Templar was founded in 1118. They were tasked by Rome to protect the Holy Land and pilgrims who wished to visit it. Their headquarters was initially in Jerusalem but as time went on, and as rich pilgrims donated handsomely to the order for their safe keeping, the Templars expanded their land and property across many areas including the United Kingdom and Ireland. It is said that they even invented the first form of banking. However, they were to become unpopular, and after finally losing all of the Holy Land their reason for being came into question. Their perceived amassed wealth and the failures in the Middle East were eventually to lead to the Templars’ sudden and dramatic downfall. The rumours and myths surrounding the order aiding the Inquisitors in their evidence against them. The order was dissolved early in the 14th century and in England most of their property was given to the Knights Hospitaller, an order that many of the remaining Templars joined. However, there still existed the idea that the Templars had some remaining treasure, some to this day believing it to be a relic of some sort such as the Holy Grail. So, I wondered was there evidence of the Templars in Wiltshire and were any Wiltshire Templars linked to their so-called “treasure”? Well, the answers to these two questions are yes and possibly yes.

British History Online states that the Templars were given land in Durnford, Farley, Neveravon, Berwick Bassett, Lockeridge and Rockley. Seemingly, the only evidence remaining being the name of Temple Bottom at Rockley where a Templar farm or perhaps even a preceptory was believed to have existed. Back in the summer we decided to visit Temple Bottom and the local area. We might not have found much evidence of Templars, but we enjoyed a stunning walk along the Marlborough Downs.

View from the Ridgeway near Hackpen Hill

We parked at the Hackpen Hill car park and were immediately struck by the outstanding views. All around the sense of history from even the early times was palpable. We arrived quite early as the car park is popular and were surprised to see that someone was already parked there. As usual with the summer this year, the skies were cloud laden and unpromising giving the views a slightly silver-grey foreboding appearance. As we were setting off the occupant of the other car appeared, he was returning to get his coat before setting off again. A sign of the English summer this year and I thought of the contrast between our relentless cold wet weather and the relentless heat of our near neighbours on the continent mainland. A difficult one to decide but I think I prefer the rain.

Rural view from the upper footpath

Having exchanged the usual discussion on the weather with the man we headed off towards Temple Bottom. After a few paces along a road we turned right and then immediately left, choosing not to take the main track but instead to head along the footpath that keeps to the higher ground and allows the wonderful, far reaching views to remain in sight for a bit longer. However, after what was initially a fairly easy walk, as we often find when heading on the path less well trodden, we were to encounter difficulties in following the path. First we found a gate was locked on what appeared to be the route, and then an area where the path no longer existed. However, undeterred and perhaps a little foolishly we continued on. The ant hills and steep terrain meant the going was difficult, and we believed that as we were making our way uneasily down hill to Wick Bottom Farm at least one of us would severely injure ourselves. Happily that didn’t happen, perhaps the Templars were looking after us. Although I don’t think I would risk it again and would probably recommend taking the main track if you decide to visit the area.

View from Wick Bottom back towards the upper path

Once we had made our way to Wick Bottom Farm, we found the going a lot easier and continued on our way at a renewed pace. As we headed towards Temple Farm we noticed a couple of signs with crucifixes, perhaps a reference to the religious order or maybe there are still Christian connections to the area? Having always seen these associated with churches, it did seem quite curious to see them in what appeared to be the middle of nowhere.

The crucifix signs seen in the area of Wick Bottom and Temple Farm.

We continued on and at the bottom of the hill we turned onto the much anticipated Temple Bottom. Walking past Temple Farm we wondered briefly if perhaps there might be angels talking to us. A disembodied voice was calling, “welcome” albeit in an, unexpected but not out of the question, American accent. However, our wonderment was quickly abated as the voice went on to tell us that we were under surveillance. Understanding that this was most likely a security system for the farm and not necessarily a warning from the Heavens, after an initial hesitation, we continued on.

The manor house on Temple bottom

The walk along Temple Bottom was tree lined and pleasant but there was no real evidence of the Templars. There were a number of sarsen stones on the route some appeared to be in use as markers and gate posts, including the gate to the new manor house, but nothing looked contemporary with the 12th-14th centuries. A Hidden Wiltshire contributor, John Barrett, has mentioned that this area has a carved sarsen that is known as the Templar’s bath. So, it might be possible that this was carved by the Templars and other relics remain, but we did not find them on our visit and we continued our walk simply enjoying the location.

Sarsen stones along Temple Bottom

As we headed away from Temple Bottom, we found more evidence of the earlier inhabitants of the area than we did the Templars. So, with tumuli, blue butterflies, wildflowers, sarsen erratics and the wonderful views now opening up again there was plenty to see and enjoy as we made our way along the Ridgeway back to Hackpen Hill and the car. The Templars at Temple Bottom remaining as much a mystery as when we started our walk.

Common Blue butterfly seen along Temple Bottom.

So, what of the mystery of treasure and heresy? Is there a link to this to be found in Wiltshire? Well tentatively yes. At the end of the Templar era, there was a high ranking English Templar, Stephen de Staplebrigg (amongst other spellings) who had links to the area (most likely what is now Stalbridge in Dorset). He is believed to have had relatives in high places in Salisbury who might have harboured him from being rounded up and imprisoned when the Templars were disbanded. Sadly, however (on two occasions) he was found in Salisbury and arrested. De Staplebrigg’s story is interesting as before his arrest he is thought to have travelled to Ireland possibly with a treasure. In prison he confessed to the heresy of spitting on the cross (or in his case next to it) and I feel sure there is more to tell here. De Staplebigg lived long after the Templars were disbanded ending his days as a novice in the priory of Christchurch, where it is thought his tomb still exists. So, it is possible that he was the very last of the Knights Templar.

The tomb stone in Christchurch Priory believed to be that of a Templar most possibly Stephen de Staplebrigg.

De Staplebrigg’s confession is intriguing as he mentions two initiation ceremonies. Could there have been an inner circle of the Knights Templar? Nothing has been proven, but it seems there might be more to find out about the Templars in Wiltshire.

Route Map of the walk courtesy of OS maps


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