Leeds and The Knights Templar by Chris Nickson

What did the Knights Templar have to do with Leeds? Chris Nickson tells us more.

Temple Newsam. Templar Street. The Templar Hotel on Vicar Lane. Yes, there’s a theme. They’re all connected with the Knights Templar, a name probably familiar to anyone who reads historical fiction. And the Templars had a connection with Leeds that still resonates today.

By Thomas Andrew Archer, Charles Lethbridge Kingsford - The crusades; the story of the Latin kingdom of Jerusalem, p. 176, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11921154The Knights Templar, or the Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon, or the Order of Solomon’s Temple, were a Catholic military order founded in 1119, and very active in the Crusades. But most members did no fighting; they managed the gifts given to the order by noblemen. Individual Templars took a vow of poverty. They became powerful across much of the then-known world – and rich, perhaps the first example of a global corporation, with fingers in banking, property and much more. So powerful that their wealth became very tempting for others. In 1307, King Phillip IV of France, who owed money to the Templars, ordered the arrest of the head of the Order, and many other Templars on trumped-up charges. Some were burned at the stake. In France, Templar property was transferred to another order, the Knights Hospitallers, after Phillip took much of their wealth. In England, the property passed to the Order of the Hospital of Saint John.

But what does this have to do with Leeds?

Well, the Templars were landowners here. They’d been granted the area of Newsam in 1155, where they built a preceptory, which included the first fulling mill in England. Included in their lands were the villages of Colton, Halton and Osmondthorpe. In addition, they owned other property much closer to the town of Leeds, all of which passed to King Edward II once the Templar order was dissolved.



Houses on their land all bore the distinctive Templar cross, which exempted those living there from having to grind their corn at the King’s Mill on Swinegate. At one time, you could find six of these crosses on the lower Headrow and 10 more on Templar Street, and you can still see a couple on houses close to St. Mary’s Church in Whitkirk. Quite famously, there was a Templar cross for many years on the back of the Pack Horse Inn on Briggate.



The Templars might have been gone for seven centuries now (in 2007 the Vatican finally declared that the order was never heretical), but the history lives on here and there, remembered in the crosses, but even more in the names that linger around the city.

Banner image: Depiction of two Templars seated on a horse (emphasising poverty), with Beauséant, the "sacred banner" (or gonfanon) of the Templars, argent a chief sable (Matthew Paris, c. 1250). By British Library Royal MS 14 C VII, fol 42v (bl.uk), Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7436641

Chris Nickson is the author of several historical crime novels set in Leeds. The Tin God  is the long awaited sixth novel in the Tom Harper series. The Tin God can be ordered here.

Leeds, England. October, 1897. Superintendent Harper is proud of his wife Annabelle. She’s one of seven women selected to stand for election as a Poor Law Guardian. But even as the campaign begins, Annabelle and the other female candidates start to receive anonymous letters from someone who believes a woman’s place lies firmly in the home.

The threats escalate into outright violence when an explosion rips through the church hall where Annabelle is due to hold a meeting – with fatal consequences. The only piece of evidence Harper has is a scrap of paper left at the scene containing a fragment from an old folk song. But what is its significance?

As polling day approaches and the attacks increase in menace and intensity, Harper knows he’s in a race against time to uncover the culprit before more deaths follow. With the lives of his wife and daughter at risk, the political becomes cruelly personal.


Fiona Gell

Fiona is a lifelong reading enthusiast and book lover. Her career started as a bookseller and has never really veered away from the written and spoken word. It was a dream for her to be a founder member of The Leeds Big Bookend and the Northern Short Story Festival. She continues to be its Director.

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