The main attractions

THE BARLEY BARN

This is the earliest of the two great Cressing barns . Tree-ring dating indicates that it was built after 1205 but probably by 1235. (The absence from the timbers of the outermost rings, in the form of the sapwood, means that the date when they were felled has to be estimated). Today it is about 118 feet (36m) long and 45 feet (13.6m) wide internally, being divided by the trusses into five equal bays with half bays at each end. The barn has been much rebuilt. An unusual and distinctive feature of its timber frame are the trusses with strainer beams flanking the entrance at the midstrey. In c. 1420 the side walls were rebuilt making the barn slightly shorter and narrower. The existing crown-post roof is an alteration of the 16th century which saw the loss of most of the original passing braces. In the late 17th or early 18th century, the east wall of the barn was rebuilt and the midstrey or porch was constructed.

Careful examination of reused timbers in the barn has made it possible to deduce how it was originally built. One interpretation is that the roof was originally braced longitudinally with purlins clasped by struts, and that there were two outer aisles with side walls only about 4 feet high. Archaeological investigation indicates that the walls rested on sole plates set in slots on the ground. The arcade posts did not stand on sole plates tied in to the side walls as they do today but instead on pad stones or short lengths of timber.

THE WHEAT BARN

This was built about 50 years after the Barley Barn. Again, lack of the sapwood or outermost tree rings means that it has only been possible to obtain an estimate of 1257-1280 for the date of its construction. It is of five bays with cantilevered ends, and is about 130 feet (39m) long and 39 feet (13.4m) wide internally.

Being the less altered of the two barns, it affords a better opportunity to appreciate the 13th-century carpentry with its soaring straight timbers. The passing braces in fact are made in two pieces, to overcome the problem of finding timbers 36 feet (11m) long. (The Barley Barn passing braces would have been about 42 feet (12.8m) long). Some very long timbers do however occur in the barn: the eastern end aisle top plate is 44 feet (13.4m) long.

The roof construction is remarkable for the use of side purlins clamped between the collars and rafters by short uprights or ashlar pieces. Additional strength was provided by sub-trusses consisting of collars and soulaces (or under braces) located half-way between the main bay intervals marked by the arcade posts and tie-beams. The early use of side purlins and sub-trusses is very unusual in the buildings of Essex and the South-East where from about 1300 the crown-post roof became standard.

Grooves in the timbers show that the walls of the barn were made of boards. In c.1420 the west half of the barn was extensively repaired. The walls were rebuilt with more closely set studs and infill of wattle and daub. The sole plates on which the arcade posts stand, and the braces between these posts and the sole plates, were also inserted, and the porch was added at the same time. The brick nogging or infill between the wall studs, today such a feature of the barn, probably dates from the later 16th century, with the exception of the west wall where the bricks are datable to c.1700.

THE GRANARY

The Granary is a timber-framed building ten bays long (32m or 105 feet) and two storeys high. The date “1623” on a plaque in one of the gables of this building has been confirmed by tree-ring dating. Typical features of its post-medieval carpentry are face-halved scarf joints, the butt purlin roof, and the presence of reused timbers. Tree-ring dating has shown that all the reused timbers came from a building or buildings erected c.1420 and probably demolished at the time the Granary was built. Originally the Granary had an undivided ground floor, a first floor partitioned into two, and four gables instead of two on its west side. On this side there were also windows at regular intervals at both storeys. Where these survive, they have mullions with ovolo mouldings, whilst a rebate cut in the frame indicates that they were glazed.

When the Granary was restored in 1991, excavation inside the room at its northern end uncovered a hearth made of roof tile set on edge belonging to an earlier building. A stone and brick cistern was also found partially sunk into the floor. This showed that the building had once been used as a malting. Barley would have been steeped in the cistern and then spread out on the ground floor to germinate. Once the grain had begun to sprout, it would have been dried in a kiln. This was probably located in what is now the adjacent toilet block, the oldest parts of which are built of Tudor brick. A description of Cressing Temple in 1669 mentions two buildings, a malting with a granary above, and a stables and coach house with a granary above. It is probable that the Granary was the malting and that the two buildings flanked the approach to the Great House. When the Great House was demolished in the 18th century, the coach house and stables became redundant and shared the same fate. The malting however survived. In the first half of the 19th century it ceased to be used as a malting and the ground floor was divided up into stables and a chaff room.

THE GARDEN

The walled garden was built c.1550-1600 as a formal pleasure garden situated to the rear of the Great House. When the Great House was demolished, the garden was retained to serve as a kitchen garden for the farmhouse. A wall was built at its south-west corner blocking an opening which had given access to the Great House. Adjacent to the garages on its west side, the garden wall survives to its original height of almost 10 feet (3m) with its coping intact. It is in general well preserved, though a large portion of the east side was rebuilt in the 19th century. In the early 20th century, the existing brick terrace was built along this side of the garden.

Little has been found of the original layout of the garden beyond the remains of brick paving on its north, west and south sides, and a brick wall running the full length of the east side which retained a terrace which was rather wider and higher than the existing 20th-century one. The garden which was laid out and planted in 1994-95 is therefore entirely modern but based on historical principles. It contains elements that can be seen in representations of gardens to be found in 15th and 16th-century illuminated manuscripts and early printed books.

The central feature is a brick fountain with four spouts symbolising the rivers of Paradise, source of all the world’s waters, an eastern tradition dating back to the description of the Garden of Eden in the Book of Genesis. Beyond it is a knot garden. Its formal patterns marked out with box hedging and paving materials of different colour is best appreciated from the viewing platform, which has been built to the height and width of the original Tudor terrace . To one side of the knot garden is the arbour or walkway covered with climbing plants, a feature perhaps derived from the monastic cloister and revived in modern times as the pergola. Other compartments within the garden include a flowery mead, a nosegay garden with scented plants, beds with medicinal plants, and a potager, a formal vegetable garden. The species planted in the garden are all ones that are known to have been available in late medieval and Tudor gardens. Several trees have been retained from the garden inherited by the County Council from Mr. Cullen, notably the fig, the walnut, the medlar (blown over by the 1987 gale but still thriving), two twisted quinces, and the mulberry.

A tour of the garden

THE CARTLODGE

Later agricultural buildings at Cressing are represented by this very good example of a cartlodge. These utilitarian buildings were a typical feature of the farmyard in south-eastern England. They vary considerably in size and shape, depending on individual requirements. Some were intended to provide a covered working area as well as storage for vehicles and equipment. Some were built incorporating a hay loft.

The Cressing example is of eight bays and was probably built around 1800. With the exception of the roof, it is built of reused timbers which clearly came from a variety of sources. The carpentry is typical of the period. The walls have ‘primary bracing’ in which the studs butt up to long triangulating straight braces that were fitted first. Some studs are mortised to the wall plates, without the use of pegs; others are nailed. The roof is of side-purlin construction, and ‘hanging knees’ or solid timber brackets are used to brace the tie-beams to the posts.

The cartlodge has been restored twice by the County Council. The 1990 gale blew it over into the adjacent pond, and it had to be rebuilt a second time. The rethatching has been done in the traditional Essex fashion using long straw and with a flush gable.

THE 18TH-CENTURY BARN

This building belongs to a farmyard which was laid out at the back of the Granary after the demolition of the Great House in the 18th century. It has been almost totally rebuilt as well as widened on its west side since the last war, and little remains of the original fabric beyond the elm arcade posts and the sole plates they stand on. It is however clear that it was a late example of an aisled barn and that the central nave was enclosed, probably with weatherboarded walls. As such, it does not belong to recognised building types and is an unusual structure. The use of elm rather than oak is a common feature of late timber framing.

THE FARMHOUSE

This has an L-shaped plan, the two arms of the ‘L’ having originally been separate buildings. It comprises a cross-wing, tree-ring dated to c.1620, at the base of the ‘L’; and at right angles and to the north of this a wing which has been tree-ring dated to 1603. Since the timber-frame beneath the plaster has not been exposed, it has not been possible to work out precisely how the building has developed, but certain things are clear. The northern wing was originally built as a separate three-bay unit. Lacking any partitions at the ground and first floors, it was probably used as a granary. Not very long after its construction, however, a chimney was inserted and it was converted to a ‘lobby-entry’ house of the standard post-medieval type in which the entrance is opposite a central chimneystack.

The cross-wing is thought to be associated with the remodelling of the Great House in the early 17th century. Beneath it is a brick cellar which shares the alignment of another which has been excavated on the lawn to the south of the walled garden and which belonged to the Great House. When this was demolished, the cellar and the timber-framed wing above it survived and was eventually joined up to the lobby-entry house to serve as a residence for the tenant farmer.

Today the appearance of the house is typical of many throughout the county. Although the various exterior features range in date from the 18th to the late 19th century, the overall retention of Georgian proportions and details gives the building a calm sense of unity. Particularly characteristic are the sash windows. Those on the south front with their large panes are typical of the late 19th century whilst those on the east side have the small panes of the late 18th century. The use of pentice boards to weather the junction with the plaster above the windows, and the reduction in size of the upper chimney stacks, are all practical features which enhance the appearance of the house. More overtly ornate, yet within the vernacular tradition, is the early 19th century porch with its Tuscan columns.

THE PRESENT AND THE FUTURE

Since 1987 the County Council has restored and refurbished all the buildings on the site, making them structurally sound and conserving their historic fabric and original appearance whilst equipping them so that they can be used for a variety of purposes. An exhibition located in one half of the Wheat Barn explains the history of the manor and the Templars, how the barns were built and how they and the other buildings at Cressing fit into the wider context of the regional timber-framed building tradition. The Granary has lecture and meeting rooms at the ground and first floor, and one of the stables houses the contents of a wheelwright’s shop abandoned in 1929 and brought here in 1993. The farmhouse is still a dwelling but half of it is now used as offices. The open west side of the 18th-century aisled barn is used as a demonstration area and the central nave as a workshop. The visitor centre houses a cafeteria, and a conference room. Being purpose built and heated, it enables conferences and large meetings to take place at Cressing winter as well as summer.

 

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