The Knights Templars and the Cistercians (1100 – 1400)

Sibford was part of the parish of Swalcliffe until 1840 when the present Church was consecrated; but nearly 700 years before that there had been a chapel of the Knights Templars in this village.

Estates at Sibford came into the hands of the Earls of Leicester and Winchester, and a daughter of the latter married Alan de la Zouch who transferred land here to the Knights Templars. Agnes de Sibbeford also gave them the chapel of St. John the Baptist at Sibford Gower, more land, and a mill. Temple Mill at Sibford, where the mill wheel continued to turn until recent times, perpetuates the name of the Order.

The chapel and community of Knights Templars at Sibford was a branch of a larger establishment at Temple Cowley near Oxford. But even at Sibford they owned well over 1,000 acres. They were here until 1312 when their entire international Order was suppressed for alleged scandals. Their lands and houses were handed over to the Knights Hospitallers, who then maintained the chapel at Sibford for close on two centuries. The dissolution of the monasteries put an end to the Sibford Gower chapel, formerly owned by the Knights Templars. The exact site of this chapel is now unknown; it could be anywhere between the houses now known as Temple Close and Gower’s Close.

Another monastic order, the Cistercians, or White Monks, were to be found for a period of about 150 years (1194-1349) living on the border between Swalcliffe and Sibford Ferris. Holwell (holy well) Grange, as the Cistercians called it, comprised chapel, farm, and living quarters for a small community of monks. A spring gushes from a rocky outcrop: this is the source of the River Stour and was the monks’ water-supply. It fed a large stone-lined pool where the monks bred fish for the kitchen.

In the 14th century, the Cistercians fell on thin times and borrowed money from a landowner at Shipton-under-Wychwood. When the monks failed to repay, the angry moneylender raided the Grange and carried off horses, sheep and cows. In 1349, the country was ravaged by the Black Death. This, and the scarcity of hired labour for farming, led the Cistercians to withdraw from Holwell Grange and to lease out its lands.