South Witham lies in the county of Lincolnshire, just off the A1 road, approximately mid-way between the towns of Stamford and Grantham. The preceptory was situated just North of the village in a field now known as Temple Hill. Unfortunately there is nothing there to be seen, as you can tell from the picture below.
However this site has turned up a great deal of useful information regarding the Templar way of life. An archaelogical dig on the site in the 1960's unearthed a complete set of footings for the site. From these it was possible to determine the layout of the entire preceptory. Interestingly the site would seem to have been an odd choice, as it slopes away quite steeply toward the river Witham which runs across the bottom of the site. The site is opened only 2 days a year to the public, the rest of the year it is off limits. But twice a year is better than none! Usually on the August Bank Holiday weekend, the local Archaeological group in conjunction with Lincolnshire Heritage, mark out the outlines of the buildings and give guided tours. Along with the Templar display in the village hall on the same days, it makes the site worth visiting.
When in operation the preceptory was staffed by one Knight and one Sergeant, it is believed. The preceptory would I am sure also have had a chaplain or priest in residence, along with many lay workers, to attend to the running of the farm. The preceptory also owned a mill in the village, this would have been a water mill on the river Witham, as there were no recorded windmills in Lincolnshire at the time. It also had a half share in the income of the village church. There was a royal visit to the preceptory in 1296, though the identity of the visitor is unclear. This was possibly one of the last major occasions for the preceptory as it soon after control of the site passed into the hands of the knights at Temple Bruer. It is thought that this happened due to the death of the knight in residence and a lack of knights to replace him. After 1307 the preceptory passed into the hands of the crown and fell into disrepair. The site, as is usual in these cases, was raided of its stone for the building of properties in the surrounding villages, mostly one would assume in South Witham itself.
The village church, St John the Baptist, which belong partly to the Templars, today bears no evidence of Templar interest. It does however have a very interesting stone coffin lid, with a very unusual history. The first records of the lid say that it was fixed in a recess in the wall of the church, and that it was there until around 1550. It was then taken from the church and placed face down across the river Witham to act as a footbridge. (It gives you an idea of the size of the Witham at this point.) It stayed acting as a footbridge for 350 years! Until 1905 when it was rescued by the North Witham rector, Rev, Stedman Davies. It now lives behind the organ in the church of John the Baptist, usually half covered by flower arranging equipment. The origin of the lid is not certain, however there was evidence of a tomb that fits the measuremets of the lid at the Templar site. It has therefore been supposed by many to be of Templar origin. It is certainly an unusual design. The lid is approximately 6 foot 6 inches long, 2 foot wide and 8 inches thick. Whoever was buried in the coffin must certainly have been very tall. If the face on the lid is supposed to represent the person inside, then it has to be said it is unlikely to be a Templar burial, as the face is clean shaven with long flowing hair, whereas Templar knights had long beards and short hair. I , at this time, have no firm ideas on the subject, you can make your own mind up.
Artefacts from the archaelogical excavations at South Witham were put on display for one morning in the summer of 2001. Pictures of some of the finds can be seen on the Witham Finds page by clicking on the link below.
South Witham Finds
Source: Leaflet produced by South Witham Archaeological Group. No contact details.