Tewkesbury is a town in Gloucestershire, which stands at the meeting of the River Severn and the River Avon, and where also two smaller tributaries, the Swilgate and Carrant Brook, enter the stream. A modest country town, it sits on the rise between the rivers and is dominated by its main church, Tewkesbury Abbey, a relic of the town's past as a monastic centre.
Tewkesbury is a market town serving the local rural area. It underwent some expansion in the period following Second World War and now stands a fair Gloucestershire country town.
Tewkesbury has also been a centre for flour milling for many centuries, and the water mill, the older Abbey Mill still stands though it has now been converted for residential use. Until recently flour was still milled at a more modern mill a short way upriver on the site of the town quay; parts of the mill dated to 1865 when it was built for Healings and it was once thought to be the largest and most modern flour mill in the world. The Mill has, in the course of its history, had three forms of transport in and out: road, railway, and canal and river barge. Whilst the railway line was brought up along with the rest of the Tewkesbury to Upton-upon-Severn railway line (originally running to Malvern) in 1961, the two barges "Chaceley" and "Tirley" remained in service right up to 1998 transporting grain from Avonmouth and Sharpness to the plant. However, the mill closed in November 2006, ending at least 800 years of milling in Tewkesbury and 140 years of milling on that particular site. The two barges were also sold and left Tewkesbury for the last time in March 2007.
In the town is a large armed forces vehicle supply and maintenance depot at nearby Ashchurch.
Name of the town
The popular belief in the town is that it is named from a seventh century hermit name Teoc, who founded a hermitage here, a version of the tale recorded by John Leland in his Itinerary. Leland wrote that Tewkesbury was founded by the hermit Theocalious. The Abbey was built in 1090, and a suspicion must arise that the monks, in the traditional of mediæval monastic rivalry, invented a founder to root them in the early days of English Christianity.
In the Domesday Book of 1086 though the town is name "Theodechesberie, perhaps from an Old English Þeodricesbeorg ("Theodric's hill").
Of the legendary foundation of Tewkesbury by Theocalious the hermit there is no evidence. There is evidence of a church predating the abbey and of a sizeable village before the Norman Conquest, which is indeed listed in the Domesday Book.
Evidence of monastic buildings from the years immediately following the conquest can still be seen surrounding Tewkesbury Abbey. The building of the Abbey itself was begun in 1090 and its church was consecrated on 23 October 1121.
Tewkesbury was the site of the Battle of Tewkesbury on 4 May 1471. At the "Bloody Meadow," south of the town, Edward IV's Yorkist forces defeated the House of Lancaster in a historic battle of the Wars of the Roses with a bloody aftermath.
Tewkesbury Abbey was dissolved at the Dissolution of the Monasteries under King Henry VIII. The great abbey church however did not fall into terminal decay as did some, but remains a church within the Church of England serving the town.
Tewkesbury was incorporated by charter during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.
Like many towns in the west of England, Tewkesbury played an important part in the development of religious dissent. English Dissenters in Tewkesbury contributed to the Monmouth Rebellion of 1685, and Samuel Jones ran an important academy for dissenters, whose students included Samuel Chandler, future archbishop Thomas Secker and Joseph Butler, in the early 18th century.
The area around Tewkesbury is frequently affected by flooding. In general such flooding causes little damage to property as the town is surrounded by large areas of floodplain which restrict urban development and the ability for the town to spread. However, extreme flooding events have caused damage to property and affected transport links, the most significant events occurring in 1947, 1960 and 2007.
In July 2007 the town came to national prominence when it suffered from some of the worst flooding in recorded British history. Both rivers which meet at Tewkesbury were overwhelmed by the volume of rain that fell in the surrounding areas, up to 5 inches over a 5-day period, which started on Friday 20 July. All four access roads to the town, the Gloucester road (old A38) from the south, the A38 to the north-west, the B4080 north-east to Bredon and the A438 east were flooded and rendered impassable. The only major remaining access was via what was once a railway line, the embankment allowing for access via foot or cycle, although many braved a route through a residential estate, where the flood levels were low enough to wade through. Despite the lack of access several businesses remained open, most notably the Old Plough pub on Barton Street, where the clientele lined much of the street.
For the first time in its 100-year history, the Mythe Water Treatment Works flooded, resulting in the loss of tap water for 140,000 homes over a period of two weeks.
Sights of the town
The town features many notable Tudor buildings, but its major claim to fame is Tewkesbury Abbey, a former monastic church, now the town's parish church.
Tewkesbury Abbey is a fine Norman Abbey, originally part of a monastery founded in 1090. The Abbey is said to be the site of the place where the legendary hermit "Theoc" once lived, but its recorded history is from its foundation after the Norman conquest.
The monastery was dissolved at the Dissolution of the Monasteries by King Henry VIII, but the church was saved by being bought by the townspeople for £453 to use as their parish church.
Most of the monastery buildings, as well as the vineyards, were destroyed at the dissolution. The Abbey Mill however still remains, resting upon the Mill Avon, a channel built by the monks. The weir exists to this day, and the channel represents one of the biggest projects in Tewkesbury's history, though the present sluice gate dates only from the 1990s, replacing two installed in the 1930s. The Abbey Mill is also sometimes known as "Abel Fletcher's Mill", but this is simply the name given to it in Dinah Craik's novel John Halifax, Gentleman, whose setting Norton Bury is based on Tewkesbury (see the Tewkesbury in Literature section below).
The great Romanesque arch on the west front is particularly striking, and the stained glass window at this end has recently been restored. The monastery was founded by the Despensers as a family mausoleum, and the Despenser and Neville tombs are stunning examples of small-scale late mediæval stonework. The tower is believed to be the largest Norman tower still in existence (though that at Norwich Cathedral is another strong contender). The tower once had a wooden spire which may have taken the total height of the building to as much as 260 feet (79 m), but this was unfortunately blown off in a heavy storm on Easter Monday 1559; the present pinnacles and battlements were added in 1600 to give the tower a more "finished" look. The height to the top of the pinnacles is 148 feet.
The Abbey is thought to be the largest church in Great Britain that is not a cathedral after Westminster Abbey and Beverley Minster). From end to end it measures 312 feet, though before the destruction of the original Lady Chapel (also at the time of the dissolution), the Abbey's total length was 375 feet.
- The Black Bear in Tewkesbury claims to be Gloucestershire's oldest public house, dating from 1308.
- The Royal Hop Pole Hotel in Church Street is mentioned in Charles Dickens's The Pickwick Papers. A former mediæval banqueting hall has been found in the structure.
- The Bell Hotel is a large half-timbered structure opposite the Abbey gateway.
- The House of the Nodding Gables in the High Street is also of historical interest.
- The Abbey Cottages, over 500 years old, were rescued from dereliction in the 1970s; one houses a museum, the others are residential homes and commercial offices.
- The Tudor House Hotel in the High Street is chiefly a Tudor building, though the frontage today comprises artificial half-timbering attached to a brick-built facade.
- Of the Swan Hotel little remains, but a balcony is visible today from which local election results were announced.
- The Old Baptist Chapel (on Church Street) was built in about 1655 and is one of the earliest examples of a Baptist church. Behind the chapel is a small cemetery of those who were members of the chapel.
- King John's Bridge over the Avon is a stone-built bridge commissioned by King John in the late 12th century as part of improvements to the main road from Gloucester to Worcester. Original stonework can still be seen on its north side; the bridge was considerably widened in the early 1960s to meet modern traffic requirements.
- The Mythe Bridge over the River Severn was built by Thomas Telford. It is an impressive cast-iron structure with a 170-foot span, opened in 1826.
- The Roses Theatre combines an arthouse cinema and a live performance venue. The Roses Theatre is where comedian Eric Morecambe collapsed after a charity performance in May 1984. He died hours later in Cheltenham General Hospital. Eric is remembered at the theatre with the naming of a conference/changing room: The Eric Morecambe Room.
- The Battle of Tewkesbury is mentioned in Shakespeare's play Richard III
- Tewkesbury is home to many historic public houses.
- Robert Falcon Scott, famous for his expedition to the South Pole, left one of the sleds, used on that expedition, to the former Tewkesbury Grammar School (c. 1576 - 1972); it currently resides in the present Tewkesbury School's Humanities building.
- Tewkesbury mustard, a creamy blend of mustard and horseradish, made the town famous in the 17th century and is again being manufactured. The mustard was mentioned in some of Shakespeare's works.
- Tewkesbury Town Band (a Brass Band) actively plays locally and nationally as well as touring abroad and taking part in competitions.
- Every Wednesday and Saturday, one of the large town centre car parks is the location of the busy Tewkesbury Market. A Farmers Market is also held every month, usually hosted by Tewkesbury Abbey.
Festivals and fairs
- In February Tewkesbury holds a Winter Beer Festival, organised by the Tewkesbury branch of CAMRA.
- Since 2005, an annual Food and Drink Festival has been held, in or near the Abbey grounds.
- In July the town hosts Tewkesbury Mediæval Festival, "Europe's largest battle re-enactment and fair". Thousands of re-enactors travel to the town from around the world to re-enact the Battle of Tewkesbury near to the original battle site. The festival includes a "living history" recreation of a mediæval encampment, games, food and a large fair where re-enactment clothing, furniture and weaponry can be bought. In 2008 the festival celebrated its 25th Anniversary.
- In July the Water Festival takes place with events on the river and the banks including an evening procession of brightly-lit boats normally ending with an impressive firework display. The festival started in 1996 but its future is now in question due to funding issues and the 2006 event was much reduced in scale. Ironically, the event was cancelled in 2007 as it coincided with the Summer 2007 Floods. It did in fact go ahead later in the year and was a great success. The event was scheduled again for 2008 on Saturday, September 20, but was again cancelled due to flooding in the weeks prior to the event.
- In October the town holds the annual Mop Fair. Originally a "hiring" fair where people came to seek employment, the event is now just a large funfair taking over much of the centre of town. The Fair itself is also an underlining point of Tewkesbury's industrial past, as Walker Gallopers were produced in the area by Walkers in the early 20th century. The Fair is organised by the Tewkesbury Fair Society.
- Every year at the end of July and into August the Abbey hosts a festival of liturgical music entitled Musica Deo Sacra ("Music Sacred to God").
- Abbey Mill
- End of an Era - Healings Mill (photos of barges leaving Tewkesbury)
- Toulmin Smith L, ed. 1909, The Itinerary of John Leland, London, IV, 150
- Elrington, C. R. (1968). A History of the County of Gloucester: volume 8. pp. 110–118.
- Continuator of Florence of Worcester
- W. Davies, The Tewkesbury Academy with sketches of its tutor and students 
- The great floods of 1947, The Guardian July 25th 2007
- Historic flooding in the Severn catchment, Geographical Association
- BBC Gloucestershire
- Tewkesbury Abbey - History
- Jenkins, Simon (1999). England's Thousand Best Churches. p. 228.
- Tewkesbury Grammar School 1576 - 1972, Paul Fluck, Grenfell Publications 1987
- Anthea Jones Tewkesbury