Thanks to the Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown and the Knights Templar are almost synonymous. So who were the Templars? And what have they got to do with me?
A quick glance at the history books tells me the Templars were a political powerhouse back in the 12th century. Formed to escort pilgrims to Jerusalem after its capture in the first crusade, they probably started the international banking system.
I’m not sure if that’s a plus or a minus, but it certainly affects me.
Apparently pilgrims could pay money in at the start of their trip and withdraw it once they reached their destination. Maybe rich nobles used the Templars to carry mail the way early Americans used the pony express.
That’s all very high faluting and historical, but I needed something closer to home. Time for me to declare an interest.
I love Temple Newsam House in Leeds. The name’s a bit of a clue.
Back in the day, Templars lived in a preceptory. That’s a combination of a monastery and farmstead where the knights came to hone their fighting skills and pray. Rich nobles would give them the land. Around 10 centuries ago, Henry Lacy gave the land around Colton to the Templars for “the salvation of my soul.”
Even the street names suggest the Templar’s presence. We have Templegate Drive, Temple Row, and even Temple Moor High School. Being a tenant of the Templars came with perks. Everyone except you had to pay to have their corn ground in the King’s Mills. To mark their tenants as exempt, the Templars marked their buildings with a cross.
You can still see this one on the outside wall of the Pack Horse Pub in the town center. (The pub was established as early as 1130 and the cross is one of only two in the country surviving in situ.)
Enough of the facts and figures, and back to Temple Newsam. Leeds City Council own the estate and Tudor-Jacobean mansion that sits there now.
Every historic mansion has its ghost, but Temple Newsam has more than most. The blue lady is the best known here, having a room named after her. Other entities reportedly include a monk in brown robes, a Knight Templar, a small boy who climbs from out a cupboard, and a nondescript misty form. Screams have been heard from the South Wing, as have the sounds of something or someone heavy being dragged across the floor.
I’m glad the Knight Templar made it in there.
There are 1500 acres of ground and parkland landscaped by Capability Brown. They're famous for the rhododendron walk.
The stone wall in the photograph is known as a Ha-ha. It acted as a fence to keep cattle off the gardens without spoiling the view. If you fell down it, then people went Ha-ha.
The original preceptory stood to the south, near the river Aire. Now a Tudor Mansion sits atop the hill and enjoys an excellent view of the countryside. It houses artwork, Chippendale furniture, a collection of silver, and prime examples of Leeds Pottery.
There are knot gardens and fountains, along with the National Plant Collections of Delphinium, Phlox and Astor Novi-belgii.
There’s also a working farm with rare breeds. I wonder if they farm the same animals the Templars did 10 centuries ago?
There’s even a temple, but it was added by Capability Brown. Leeds City Council plans to restore it to its proper grandeur in the new year.
For history buffs, the estate has another claim to fame. Lord Darnley, loose living husband of Mary Queen of Scots was born there.
I love to wander the grounds or feed the ducks on the lake. I’m lucky to have so much history on my doorstep.
And why the interest in the Knights Templar?
That one’s easy—and really personal.
My next book, Knight’s Vampire comes out on 20th January 2015, and he was once a Knight Defender. (An organization I invented and based loosely on the Templars)