The Buildings at Cressing Temple

The Barly 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 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 Centary 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.