Tewkesbury

Extract from Lewis's Topographical Dictionary of England, 1831.
Transcribed by Mel Lockie, © Copyright 2010
Lewis Topographical Dictionaries

TEWKESBURY, a borough and market-town and parish, having separate jurisdiction, locally in the lower division of the hundred of Tewkesbury, county of GLOUCESTER, 10 miles (N.N.E.) from Gloucester, and 103 (W.N.W.) from London, containing, according to the last census, 4962 inhabitants, which number has since considerably increased. This place, which is of great antiquity, is supposed to have derived its name from Theot, a Saxon recluse, who, during the latter period of the Octarchy, founded a hermitage here, where he lived in solitude and devotion, and from whom it was called Theotisberg, from which its present appellation is deduced. In 715, a monastery was founded here by the two brothers Odo and Dodo, Dukes of Mercia, and dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary, which, after having experienced great injury during the Danish wars, became a cell to the abbey of Cranborne in Dorsetshire.

After the Conquest, Robert Fitz-Haimon, who attended William in his expedition to Britain, enlarged the buildings of this monastery, and so amply augmented its possessions, that the monks of Cranborne removed, in 1101, to Tewkesbury, which they made the principal seat of their establishment: it subsequently was raised into an abbey of Benedictine monks, and continued to flourish till the dissolution, at which time its revenue was estimated at £1598. 1. 3. The last decisive battle between the Yorkists and the Lancastrians took place within half a mile of this town, in 1471; on this memorable occasion, many of the principal nobility were slain on both sides, and not less than three thousand of the Lancastrian troops.

Queen Margaret, who headed her own forces, was intrenched on the summit of an eminence, called the Home Ground, at the distance of a mile from the town, on the east side of the road to Gloucester; and the troops of Edward IV., who advanced against his opponents by way of Tredington, occupied the sloping ground to the south, called the Red Piece: the victory was decisive in favour of the Yorkists, the defeat of the Lancastrians having been ascribed to the treacherous inactivity of Lord Wenlock, one of their generals, whom the chief commander, the Duke of Somerset, struck dead on the field with his battle axe. After their defeat, the Duke of Somerset, with about twenty other distinguished persons, took shelter in the church, from which they were dragged with violence, and immediately beheaded.

At the commencement of the great civil war in the reign of Charles I., Tewkesbury was occupied by the parliamentarians, who were afterwards driven out, and the town was taken by the royalists, by whom it was again lost and retaken, till, in 1644, it was surprised and captured by Col. Massie, governor of Gloucester, for the parliamentarians, in whose possession it remained till the conclusion of the war.

The town is pleasantly situated in the northern part of the luxuriant vale of Gloucester, and on the eastern bank of the river Avon, near its confluence with the Severn: it is nearly surrounded by the small rivers Carron, over which is a new stone bridge, and Swilgate, which is crossed by two, both these streams falling into the Avon. It is handsome and well built, consisting of three principal streets, well paved, and is amply supplied with water: the houses are in general of brick, but occasionally interspersed with specimens of the ancient timber and brick buildings. Considerable improvements have taken place, under the provisions of an act obtained in 1786, among which may be noticed the ranges of building, erected in 1810, to the east of the High-street, on a tract of land called Oldbury, and the recent formation of a new street.

An elegant cast-iron bridge has been lately constructed over the river Severn, near the hamlet of Mythe, within half a mile of the town, at an expense of £6,000, subscribed on shares of £100 each, opening a direct communication between London and Hereford; it consists of one noble arch, one hundred and seventy-two feet in span, with a light iron balustrade, and was opened to the public in 1826. Near the division of the Worcester and Pershore roads is an ancient bridge of several arches over the Avon, from which a level causeway has been raised, extending to the iron bridge. A subscription library, with a news-room, was established in 1828, and is well supported; it contains at present more than one thousand volumes. A small theatre has been recently fitted up, which is occasionally opened by the Cheltenham company. The races, established in 1825, take place annually on the Ham, a large meadow near the town; and assemblies are held at the town hall.

About the beginning of the fifteenth century this place seems to have carried on a considerable trade upon the Severn; and a petition was forwarded to the House of Peers, in the 8th of Henry VI., stating that the inhabitants had been accustomed "to ship all manlier of merchandise down the Severn to Bristol", and complaining of the disorderly conduct of the people of the forest of Dean, who are reported "to have come with great riot and strength, in manner of war, as enemies of a strange country, to stop and plunder their ships as they parsed by the coasts near the forest; and that the marauders sometimes not only despoiled them of their merchandise, but destroyed their vessels, and even cast overboard their crews, and drowned them".

For the redress of these grievances an act was passed in the same year, and, in 1580, Queen Elizabeth made Tewkesbury an independent port, for the loading and discharging of ships with merchandise to and from the parts beyond the seas, which grant was afterwards revoked, on a petition from the inhabitants of Bristol. Tewkesbury formerly enjoyed a considerable trade in woollen cloth, and was celebrated for the manufacture of mustard of superior quality: the principal branch of trade at present is the stocking frame-work knitting, which was introduced about the commencement of the eighteenth century, and in which from seven to eight hundred frames are at work, employing about one thousand five hundred persons.

The manufacture of cotton-thread lace, was established at Oldbury in 1825, and is in a flourishing state; a considerable trade is carried on in malt, and some in leather, and there is a large manufactory for nails; an extensive distillery and a rectifying establishment were opened in 1770; the former has been abandoned, but the latter is still conducted on an advantageous scale. A very considerable carrying trade centres here, in connexion with the Avon and the Severn, goods being conveyed by land and water to all parts of the kingdom; on the bank of the Avon are extensive corn-mills, formerly belonging to the abbey.

The market days are Wednesday and Saturday; the former for corn, sheep, and pigs; the latter for poultry and provisions. The fairs are on the second Monday in March, the second Wednesday in April, May 14th, the first Wednesday after September 4th, and October 10th, for cattle, leather, and pedlary; fairs were also held in June and December, but they have been recently discontinued: statute fairs are held on the Wednesday before, and the Wednesday after, Old Michaelmas-day, and there are great cattle markets on the second Wednesday in June, August, and December.

The market-house, erected by a company, to whom the corporation have mortgaged the tolls for ninety-nine years, is a handsome building, with Doric columns and pilasters, supporting a pediment in front. Tewkesbury, though a borough by prescription, was first incorporated by Elizabeth, in 1574; whose charter was confirmed by James I., in the 3rd year of his reign, and when that monarch sold the manor to the corporation, in 1609, he granted a new charter, with extended privileges, which being lost, or destroyed, during the parliamentary war, an exemplification of it was obtained under the great seal in the reign of Charles II.: this was surrendered, in 1685, to James II., who, in the following year, incorporated the inhabitants, under the title of "Mayor, Aldermen, and Common Council-men" but the functions of the municipal body having ceased in 1692, the town remained without a corporation till 1698, when William III. granted the present charter.

The government, under this last charter, is vested in two bailiffs, a high steward, recorder, twenty-four principal burgesses, or common council-men, and twenty-four assistants, with a town clerk, who is also clerk of the peace, a coroner, chamberlain, Serjeants at mace, and subordinate officers. The bailiffs, who are elected annually, and the high steward and recorder, who hold their offices for life, are appointed from among the principal burgesses, the latter, as vacancies occur, being chosen from the assistants. The bailiffs, with four principal burgesses, appointed annually on the second Thursday in October, are justices of the peace within the borough. There were formerly several trading companies incorporated under the charter, but the only one now in existence is that of Cordwainers.

The freedom of the borough is acquired by birth, servitude to a resident freeman, and by gift of the corporation. The eldest son of a freeman, born after his father's admission, is entitled to the freedom on his father's decease, but if the son die first, the right does not devolve upon any other. The bailiffs and justices hold quarterly courts of session, for all offences within the borough not capital; the bailiffs and recorder hold a court of record, every Friday, for the recovery of debts not exceeding £50; and the corporation, as lords of the manor, hold a court leet, the jurisdiction of which extends over all the parishes in the hundred of Tewkesbury.

The town hall, in which the courts are held, and the public business of the corporation is transacted, is a handsome building, erected in 1788, by Sir William Codrington, Bart, at an expense of £1200; the lower part is appropriated to the use of the courts, and the upper part contains a hall for the meetings of the corporation, and an assembly-room. The common gaol, house of correction, and penitentiary for the borough, was built in 1816, at the northern extremity of the High-street, at an expense of £3419. 11. 7., raised by a rate on the inhabitants, and was subsequently considerably enlarged and improved: it contains four wards for the classification of prisoners, and is under the superintendence of the bailiffs and justices of the peace for the borough, and of two visiting magistrates.

The county magistrates hold here a petty session. for the division every alternate Wednesday. The borough first received the elective franchise in the 7th of James I, since which time it has continued to return two members to parliament: the right of election is vested in the freemen generally, and in all proprietors of freehold houses within the ancient limits of the borough, of whom the number is about six hundred; the bailiffs are the returning officers.

The living is a vicarage, in the archdeaconry and diocese of Gloucester, endowed with £400 private benefaction, and £600 royal bounty, and in the patronage of the Crown. The church, dedicated to St. Mary, situated at the south-western part of the town, and formerly the collegiate church of the ancient monastery, is a spacious and venerable cruciform structure, principally in the Norman style of architecture, with a noble and richly-ornamented tower rising from the centre, and supported on four massive lofty piers with circular arches.

The nave and choir, which latter was repaired in 1796, at an expense of £2000, are separated from the aisles by a noble range of cylindrical columns and circular arches, highly enriched with mouldings and other ornaments peculiar to the Norman style; the former is lighted by a range of clerestory windows in the later style, inserted in the Norman arches of the triforium, and the latter by an elegant range of windows in the decorated style, with rich tracery, and embellished with considerable portions of ancient stained glass; the windows of the aisles and transepts are of the decorated and the later styles, and the large west window of the later style is inserted in a very lofty Norman arch of great depth, with shafts and mouldings richly ornamented; the roof is finely groined, and embellished, at the intersections of the ribs, with figures of angels playing on musical instruments; the east end of the choir is hexagonal, and contains several beautiful chantry chapels, in the decorated style of English architecture: the Lady chapel and the cloisters have been destroyed, but the arches which led to them may be traced on the outside of the building, and on the north side are the remains of the chapter-house, now used for a school.

The church contains a fine series of monuments, from the earliest period of the decorated, to the latest period of the later, style of English architecture, among which are several to the early patrons of the abbey, and to those who fell in the battle of Tewkesbury; In a light and elegant chapel on the north side of the choir, erected by Abbot Parker, in 1397, is the tomb of Robert Fitz-Haimon, the founder, who was killed at Falaise in Normandy, in 1107, and whose remains, after having been interred in the chapter-house, were removed into the church, in 1241; an altar-tomb, enclosed with arches surmounted by an embattled cornice, on which are the figures of a knight and his lady, is supposed to have been erected for Hugh le Despenser and his wife Elizabeth, daughter of William Montacute, Earl of Salisbury.

Near this is a beautiful sepulchral chapel, built by Isabel, Countess of Warwick, for her first husband, Richard Beauchamp, Earl of Worcester, who was killed at the siege of Meaux, in 1421: it is profusely ornamented, and the roof, which is richly embellished with tracery, was supported on six pillars of blue marble, of which only two are remaining. Among the modern monuments is one, by Flaxman, to Anne, wife of Sir S. Clarke, Bart., of finely executed sculpture. Five hundred additional sittings, of which three hundred are free, have lately been made to the church, at an expense of £200, by grant of the Incorporated Society for the enlargement of churches and chapels. There are places of worship for Baptists, the Society of Friends, Independents, and Wesleyan Methodists, all which have Sunday schools annexed.

The free grammar school was founded in 1576, and endowed with £20 per annum, by Mr. Ferrers, payable out of the manor of Skillingthorpe, in the county of Lincoln, also with lands purchased with money left by Sir Dudley Digges, and with some chief rents; it is under the superintendence of the bailiffs, justices, chamberlain, and town, clerk of the corporation, by whom the master is appointed; the room appropriated to it is supposed to have been the chapter-house of the abbey.

The Blue-coat school is endowed with one-twelfth part of the rents of a farm in Kent, devised for charitable uses by Lady Capel, in 1721, and with £2. 10. per annum given by Mr. Thomas Merret, in 1724, being further supported by subscription; forty boys are clothed and instructed in it. The National school, under the superintendence of the same master, was established in 1813, and a building for its use, and also for that of the Blue-coat school, was erected adjoining the churchyard, in 1817, the two establishments having been incorporated, at an expense of £1345. 8. 3. A Lancasterian school was established in 1813, for which a building had been previously erected, at the cost of more than £600, raised by contribution; the ground was given by N. Hartland, a member of the Society of Friends; these schools are supported by subscription.

In the churchyard are some unendowed almshouses for ten poor widows. A dispensary, established in 1815; a lying-in charity, in 1805; and a society for the distribution of blankets among the poor, in 1817, are supported by subscription; and there are various charitable bequests for distribution among the poor. Near the entrance into the town from Gloucester is the house of industry, a large brick building well adapted for the purpose. Of the monastic buildings, with the exception of the church, there are few remains; the principal is the gateway of the ancient monastery, which appears to have been erected in the fifteenth century; it is surmounted with an embattled parapet rising above the cornice, from which are projecting figures, and below it is a canopied niche between two square-headed windows. Roman coins have been frequently dug up in the vicinity, and, in 1828, several were found near the abbey church.

At Walton, near the town, is a mineral spring, the water of which resembles that at Cheltenham. The hamlet of Mythe, remarkable for the beauty-of its situation, is on the north-west side of the town, near the confluence of the Severn and the Avon. On the southwest side is a tumulus, from which the descent to the Severn is precipitous and abrupt. George III. visited this spot in 1788, since which time it has obtained the name of Royal Hill: in the immediate vicinity are some handsome seats. Southwick, another hamlet, situated, as its name implies, to the south of the town, is mentioned in the Norman survey, under the name Sudwick, as containing three hides of land. Alan of Tewkesbury, a monk of the abbey, the friend and biographer of Thomas a Becket; and Estcourt, the celebrated dramatist, who was contemporary with Steele and Addison, were natives of this town. Tewkesbury gave the title of baron to George I., previously to his accession to the throne, which at present is extinct.

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