Tewkesbury is a remarkably preserved medieval style town in Gloucestershire situated on a flood plain at the juncture of the River Severn and the River Avon. The flooding of Tewkesbury is so frequent that the town owes its preservation in part to the rivers’ waters. Unable to expand beyond its original outlines, the town still occupies the same basic layout as it did in medieval times and contains many of the same buildings it did in the 14th century.
Tewkesbury was known in Saxon times as Theocsbury, named for Theocalious, an Anglo-Saxon living in the 7th century who started a hermitage there. The famous Battle of Tewkesbury took place south of the town in 1471. There in the “Bloody Meadow,” Edward IV triumphed over the House of Lancaster in the War of the Roses.
Along with its monastic history, the town was the home of many religious dissenters including Samuel Jones, Samuel Chandler, Thomas Secker and Joseph Butler in the beginning of the 18th century. Tewkesbury also served as a market town; it has been fundamental to the flour milling industry for centuries. One mill called the Abbey Mill produced flour for 800 years before being shut down in 2006 and converted into a residence. The town expanded slightly after WWII, but the floods prevented large changes.
What highlights should you see in Tewkesbury?
One major highlight is the streets of the town itself; many of the buildings you see are medieval in origin; wandering down some of the narrow alleys with their Tudor shops and apartments and admiring the fine craftsmanship of the carved doorways, you will feel transported back to the Middle Ages. The Tewkesbury Heritage Trail is a pathway you can take through the streets and alleys of the town to appreciate some of its historical landmarks. You can even visit the Black Bear, Gloucestershire’s oldest medieval pub, originally opened in 1308! Another famous landmark is the Royal Hop Pole Hotel on Church Street, referenced by Charles Dickens in The Pickwick Papers. Every Wednesday and Saturday you can attend an open market. Every day of the week, High Street, Barton Street and Church Street offer antique shopping.
The Tewkesbury Abbey is the most recognizable landmark in the town. The first abbey on the site was founded in the 8th century but as funding vanished, the abbey degraded and disappeared as well. When Robert Fitzhamon, a relation of William the Conqueror, moved into the Manor of Tewkesbury, the Abbot of Cranborne, Giraldus, co-founded the new abbey with him. When Fitzhamon died in 1107, he was buried into the Chapter House. Work on the church was completed by Fitzhamon’s son in law after both of the founders had passed away. With its colourful vaults and dazzling stained glass, this is considered one of the finest examples of Norman religious architecture in the Cotswolds.
Tewkesbury is considered one of the most complete examples of a medieval town in all of Britain, cited by the Council of British Archaeology as “so splendid and so precious that the ultimate responsibility (for its preservation) … should be of national concern.” Tewkesbury is an absolute must-see town for those with an interest in medieval history.