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Knights Templar Chapel, Onneley

An Article about the Knights Templar Chapel at Onneley and its murderous Chaplain


A Medieval Pilgrimage Site 

To the south of Nantwich near the Shropshire Village of Woore, just over the border in Staffordshire, a chapel linked to the medieval military order of the Knights Templar existed. It was situated in the township of Onneley, in the parish of Madeley. There are records detailing this chapel between the late 14th century right up to the early 17th century.

The Knights Templar were a military order set up in the late 11th century, and endorsed by the Catholic Church around 1129. Their full name was ‘The Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon’. Their existence came about due to the Crusades in the Holy Land, at first to protect Pilgrims and later to try and take back the Holy Land from Muslim Conquest. They became the most prominent, powerful and wealthy military order of Christian Europe.


Extract from Speed’s Map of Staffordshire (1611)


Support for the Order faded when the Crusades failed, and the King of France, Philip IV, instigated an attack upon the military knightly order. He was massively in debt to the Templars, and spread rumours about their secret ceremonies, and hence had members of the Order arrested on Friday 13th October 1307 in France, tortured into giving false accounts and executed some of the warriors as well as burning some of the warriors at the stake. Philip pressured the then Pope Clement V to disband the order in 1312.

In England, Edward II didn’t believe the accusations of heresy that Philip IV of France had claimed, at first, but then Pope Clement V, along with Philip, pressured the English King, and the King ordered English Templars to be arrested on January 8th, 1308, although only a few knights were actually arrested and tried, many were released upon acknowledgement of the Order’s Master’s claimed heresy. Hence in England, their wealth, lands and assets were taken away, and either given to the King, the Church, local aristocrats, but mainly to the Knights Hospitaller / The Order of the Hospital of Saint John, whom many of the ex Templars joined after their Order was disbanded, or other monastic orders.

Scotland and Portugal gave foreign members of the Order refuge, and there is often speculation about their links with the finding of the New World, amongst many other legends and mysteries, and hence they have become fabled in legend and speculation, with films, television and books being written about the mysterious Order of the Templars.

Onneley too, passed from the Templars to the Knights Hospitaller, but fell into ruins in the 16th / 17th century, after Henry VIII and the Reformation. Now only an earthwork remains of the site of this Chapel, which was part of the holdings of their preceptory (commandery) at Keele.

Henry II granted lands to the Order in Keele, presumably between 1168-9AD, where their preceptory (like a monastic grange / hall) was built in the early 13th Century, and the first recorded preceptor in place by 1271AD. It is recorded in 1308 that they held land in Nantwich, Cheshire; Onneley and Newcastle under Lyme, Staffordshire; and Stanton, Shropshire; from their base at Keele in Staffordshire. When the order was disbanded, in that same year, the estate was taken by the Lord of Newcastle under Lyme, but later forfeited to the King, whom granted the land and its holdings, after holding it till 1314, back to the Lord of Newcastle, until his execution in 1322, when it was finally granted to the Knights Hospitaller in 1324AD. They then ruled the Keele Estate from their preceptory in Halston, Shropshire. In 1352 the Hospitallers, who had inherited the land holdings, also held rents in Balterley in Staffordshire.

There are other records which indicate that the Keele Estate also held land elsewhere in South Cheshire, because a field in Barthomley was recorded as ‘le Hospitelerscroft’ in 1355AD. 

The site of the Keele preceptory is thought to have stood to the south-east of the church at Keele, and is thought to be recorded in later records as the ‘Old Hall’. The Sneyd Family of Keele later acquired the Knights Hospitaller Keele holdings.

Some of the Preceptors of the Commandery at Keele were Roger de Boninton, 1271; Henry Damary, 1292-3; and Ralph de Tanet, 1308.

The Chapel at Onneley was dedicated to the Virgin. Early County Maps of Staffordshire, namely Saxton’s Map of Staffordshire (1577), and Speed’s Map of Staffordshire (1611), show that the Chapel still existed at these times. It is quite likely that the chapel was built of stone or timber-framed. A number of Templar chapels were round with a rectangular chancel built to the east, copying the circular Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, examples of which may be seen at Garway St Michael’s Church (now only the foundations of the circular nave exist), in Herefordshire and possibly the Chapel of St Mary Magdalene inside Ludlow Castle, see below.

Ludlow Castle Chapel Templar Crosses (above)

Ludlow Castle Circular Templar Chapel (right)


It is thought that the Chapel was a pilgrimage destination, and that is one reason for its survival into the 17th century. It is recorded as being served by chaplains from Keele in the late 14th century, and it most probably survived as a place of worship and pilgrimage well into the Tudor Period, because the area was quite remote and had little population, the actual parish church being located at Madeley. It would have served the local population, though, and the Order would have brought in revenue from their land holdings surrounding Keele and Onneley, in Staffordshire, Shropshire and Cheshire. 

The Chapel is thought to have existed where an earthwork raised platform exists next to a field named ‘Chapel Field’ off a lane which is now mainly defunct and exists as a dead end road. This road did extend northwards, where now it exists as an old green lane that travels toward Wrinehill and Betley, through the site of the old Wrinehill Hall. The route still exists as an earthwork but also as a public footpath and as above, a green lane, passing the ancient survivor of the Forest of the Lyme, namely ‘Wrinehill Wood’. This road would have connected Wrinehill with Onneley Hall, and would have passed the site of the Templar Chapel, which further reinforces that it was also used by local people for worship as well as a pilgrimage chapel, but not as a Chapel of Ease, for baptism, marriage or burial of the people of Madeley Parish. However the odd baptism must have taken place as Madeley Parish Registers record that a Roger, son of William and Alice Whittakers was baptised on July 19th 1696 at ‘Onneley chappel’.


The Onneley Chaplain and Murder 

As we have seen above, In England, Edward II didn’t believe the accusations of heresy that Philip IV of France had claimed, at first, but then Pope Clement V, along with Philip, pressured the English King, and the King ordered English Templars to be arrested on January 8th, 1308, although only a few knights were actually arrested and tried, many were released upon acknowledgement of the Order’s Master’s claimed heresy.

It appears from the 'Kalendar of Juries, 35 Edward I', in Staffordshire Historical Collections, Vol. 7, Part 1, ed. George Wrottesley (London, 1886), pp. 172-181 http://www.british-history.ac.uk/staffs-hist-collection/vol7/pt1/pp172-181 [accessed 19 June 2015], ‘Pleas before the same Justices at Stafford on the Monday after the Quindene of Holy Trinity. 35 E. I.’, that:

“John de Bagesovere Chaplain of Honyleye, had killed Hugh de Hales his clerk at Hampton, and had fled. To be outlawed, etc.”

This record indicates that ‘John de Bagesovere’, the Chaplain of Onneley Chapel, had killed his clerk Hugh de Hales at Hampton, whose ancestry most likely stems from the Norton in Hales area, which exists to the west of Onneley, in Shropshire, and had fled.

The record also certainly means that John was a knight of the Templar Order, as well as a Chaplain, a priest of the Order.

If we look at the three terms of the 35th year of the reign of Edward I, we find that this year in the ‘Kalendar of Juries’, equates to the year 1307, and does overlap into the reign of Edward II, which is the year of the persecution of the Knights Templar in France. However the date of John’s sentence of outlawing, by the Justices of Stafford in mid June 1307, precedes even the Knights Templar persecution in France, so it may be that he had not murdered his clerk, to evade persecution, unless he had had the foresight of the near future, but maybe because John had quarrelled with his clerk and then decided to cut Hugh down with his Templar blade, or Hugh had tried to attack him, and John killed him in self defence.

Whatever the truth, this record of John de Bagesovere is intriguing, and for him to be a Chaplain too, then Hugh’s actions must have warranted in John, a good enough reason to murder him, whatever the truth, we may never know, but it certainly adds colour and history to the site of the Templar Chapel.


The Bagesovere Family 

We can find where ‘John de Bagesovere’ originated from, because in other records of the Bagesovere family, one of which is detailed in the Shropshire Archives, we are told in a Quitclaim relating to the Manor of Badger in Shropshire, dating to 1279-1291 (Shropshire Archives Reference: X513/2/1/1/6), that a:

“William de Hempton quits to Philip de Bagesovere all his right to 40 s[hillings] rent which he bought of[f] Ralph Noel to hold to Philip and his heirs with all escheats and homages rendering yearly due service to the chief lords of the fee 2 s[hillings] at Richards Castle at the feast of St Laurence for all services. For this Philip gave 1 [pound] 16 s[hillings] [and] 8 d[pence].”

This quitclaim is also witnessed by a “Richard de Bagesoure.”

The village and parish of Badger is located six miles north-east of Bridgnorth in Shropshire, and was held by William de Bagesovere in the mid 12th century, and his heirs, held it for another two centuries.

The surname ‘Bagesovere’ is actually taken from early spellings of the village and manor of Badger, as it has been known as ‘Beghesoure’ in the 1086 Domesday Book, and as ‘Beggesoure, Baggesour, Baggesoure, Baggeshouere, Baggesouere, Baggesovere, Begesaur', Begesour', Baiesovre, Bagesoure, Bagesour', Bagesovere, Bagesover, Beggesor', Baggesore, Baggesor, Baggeshore, Bagesore, Bagisore, Baddeshovere’, throughout the Medieval Period, and therefore places the origin of this surname and family, definitely here.

Interestingly, the parish church at Badger is dedicated to St Giles, which may be linked with the Knights Templar, as well as the family that originated from there, certainly were, because their Western headquarters in Europe was at Saint Gilles du Gard, in southern France, and its abbey, dedicated to the saint, and a few other sites linked with the Order are also dedicated with St Giles, some of which are located in Shropshire as well as Herefordshire, as well as the saints Lawrence and Nicholas.

These three saints were often the dedication of medieval monastic hospitals as well, and the town of Nantwich in Cheshire, where the Knights Templar of Keele held property, had two medieval hospitals dedicated to St Nicholas and St Lawrence.

Of course by far their favourite dedication was to the Magdelene, with many many examples across Europe.

This record therefore suggests to us that the same John de Bagesovere, who was the Chaplain at Onneley, was a descendant of the Bagesovere’s of Badger, Shropshire, who held land at Richard’s Castle, a village just south of the Shropshire town of Ludlow, which was transferred from a William de Hempton, linking the clerk he killed, Hugh de Hales, at ‘Hempton / Hampton’, to this area of England, as Hampton exists to the south of Bridgnorth in Shropshire.

It is also revealing that this area, as much of the English and Welsh Marches is full of Templar history, for the Church at Richard’s Castle is also a known Templar site and existed within the confines of a Motte & Bailey medieval castle.

The Church of St Bartholomew used to be a town church, situated next to the castle, which served Richard’s Castle, a borough, and a small market town, and in 1300 it had 103 burgages, although now it is a picturesque north Herefordshire village, situated on its border with Shropshire. The north transcept within the church is known as ‘the Chapel of St John’ and is thought locally to be a chantry chapel built for the Knights Templar, which had its own arcade screen, and controlled from their local headquarters at Dinmore near Leominster.

Next to the church, which is open to the public, and maintained by ‘The Churches Conservation Trust’, as it is now defunct as a place of worship, is a square squat stone tower, whose purpose is most likely of defence, and these towers do exist at other Knights Templar and Hospitaller sites, such as another example, which is built at a different angle to the St Michael’s Templar and Hospitaller Church at Garway, to the south-west of Herefordshire.

A book entitled ‘Stemmata Botevilliana: Memorials of the Families of de Boteville, Thynne, and Botfield, In the Counties of Salop and Wilts. An Appendix of Illustrative Documents. By Beriah Botfield, 1858’, includes reference to ‘Philip de Bagesovere’, and details him as a Forester of the King, of the Hay of Schirlet, with two members of the ‘de Bottesfeld’ family, William and John, as his under foresters. This record also tell us that:

“The Inquisitions of Hundreds in 1255 exhibit Philip Lord of Beggesovere in various relations; viz., as holding half the manor of Cleobury-North under Robert de Haluchton; as holding four virgates in capite at Bardeley; as Forester of the Fee in the King's free Haye of Schyrlet, where, says the record, "he has under him two foresters, viz. William De Bottefeld and John his brother, who give the said Philip 20. per annum for holding their office; and they make a levy on oats (fields sown with oats) in Lent, and on wheat in autumn; and the aforesaid Philip hath in the said Haye of wind-falls as much as seven trees, and likewise the dead trees which are wind-fallen: the jurors know not by what warrant except by that of ancient tenure." The Forest of Shirlet was situated near [Much] Wenlock, and the adjacent Long-Forest extended to the Longmynd, embracing the line of country in which Botfeld is situated.”

This record reveals to us that Philip de Bagesovere was a high ranking official and that he held land in other Shropshire places, from his base at the manor of Badger.

From a Calendar of Inquisitions Post Mortem, in the reign of Edward III (See: G. Edw. III. File 103. (8.) 360., at: http://www.mocavo.co.uk/Calendar-of-Inquisitions-Post-Mortem-and-Other-Analogous-Documents-Preserved-in-the-Public-Record-Office-Volume-9/442945/325), we find that a:

“William de Bagesovere, de Baggesovere or de Bagessore. Writ, 20 August, 23 Edward III. Salop. Inq. taken at Brugg, 2 November, 23 Edward III. He held nothing in the county. He died on Thursday after the Translation of St. Thomas the Martyr last. Katherine, daughter of Amabel (Amabille) his sister, aged five years at Easter last, and Eleanor his sister, married to John de Shulton, aged 22 years at St. John the Baptist last, are his heirs.”

This record tells us that by the reign of Edward III the Bagesovere family were waning in land ownership and stature.

by Charles E S Fairey, December 2013 (Revised 2015)


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