BBC Leeds ran an interesting article on its website about the Knights Templar in Leeds – maybe not a place you would automatically associate with the Order. Leeds is a large northern English city that grew to its current size on the back of the industrial revolution. But if we went back a few centuries previous, we’d find it was home to a large Templar preceptory founded in 1155.
The evidence is scattered all over Leeds in various names that reference the Templars. Templar Street, Temple Row and my favorite – Templegate Drive (sounds like a Suzi Quatro number). Temple Moor school sits on former Templar property and Templar crosses could still be seen on many old buildings in the city at the start of the twentieth century.
Temple Newsam was the heart of the Templar community in Leeds though you’d be hard pressed to find much evidence now. A lot of medieval remains were swept away during the industrial age or by kitsch landscaping in the eighteenth century.
The farmlands around the Jacobean mansion that now dominates Temple Newsam (built three hundred years after the Templar Order was supressed) were landscaped by Capability Brown – an expert in creating perfect forests, articifical lakes and many of the romantic notions we have of the English countryside.
The BBC repeats an old speculation that the fictional Temple Stowe in nineteenth century author Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe was based on Temple Newsam. If you’ve read the book, you’ll know that Scott depicts the Templars as all round baddies – a very distorted though enjoyable depiction of the Order.
In 1311, the preceptory was shut down and became the property of King Edward II. You’ll recall he’s the king supposedly killed by having a red hot poker placed inside him – I’ll spare you the details. In a previous blog I mentioned the Templar hating bishop who rejoiced in Edward’s downfall. But before that happened, Edward profited himself from the end of the Order.
However, an inventory from the time doesn’t reveal glittering treasures at Temple Newsam but a well run and thriving agricultural community. It was in the fleeces and hides of sheep and cows that the Temple generated the wealth to fund their crusade in outremer.
As I say then, not much to see above ground in Leeds but the heritage is there – and the city has plenty of other charms.