This was the start of another epic trip as we embarked on our Summer Holidays for 2014 with Gemma’s parents, which would take us through 5 Counties, 5 Cities, and Land’s End itself. We charged down the M6/M5 towards our first port of call, the town of Weston-super-Mare in Somerset, via the quaint town of Tewkesbury…
Status: Tewkesbury District, Gloucestershire, Town, England
Eating & Sleeping: N/A
Attractions: River Avon, Tewkesbury Abbey, War Memorial, Historic Tudor Buildings, Countryside Museum, Methodist Church, Touching Souls Sculpture, Royal British Legion Club, River Severn, Out of the Hat Visitor Centre etc
We pulled up in a small car park to the rear of Tewkesbury’s most famous landmark, the stunning Abbey. There are two entrances into the well kept grounds of the building, one from the car park and one round at the front, so we took the back entrance and walked through the trees, marvelling at the stonework, before exploring the inner depths of the Abbey. (I shall cover the interior in a new edition of Faith & The British, coming soon!)
The buildings construction started in 1102, 15 years after the Abbey was founded by Robert FitzHamon (1045 – 1107, a Norman who took control of Glamorgan in Wales and became its Lord). The main part of the building was consecrated in 1121 and various Chapels were then added throughout the 14th Century. The building was a grand affair which included outer buildings for the Benedictine monks who inhabited it. The Tower was the largest Norman Tower in the World, standing an impressive 148 feet tall and originally was created as a Lantern Tower to let light into the building below, but was later clad in stone in the 14th century. It had a wooden spire atop it when it was built, but it fell down in 1559 and the tower was left as it is now. A special chapel for the body of Robert was created in 1395, a worthy honour for the Abbeys founder.
As was the fate of most Abbey’s of the time, its story almost came to an end after King Henry VIII (1491 – 1547) disbanded the Monasteries between 1536 and 1541. This was essentially aimed at the old Catholic Institutions, as Henry had recently separated from the Pope in Rome and created the Church of England in 1531. He feared that the old monastic religions would stay loyal to the Pope and ignore his new Church.
Tewkesbury Abbey was taken in 1540, but happily the building survived as the local townspeople bought the building for the grand sum of £453 so that they could use it as a Parish Church, and many of the furnishings inside were changed to reflect this. Some of the outer buildings used by the Monks were demolished, including the Lady Chapel, but the main Church building survives. Interestingly the building is larger than 14 Cathedrals across England, which shows the scale such buildings were built on, and many of them predate the ancient Cathedrals of England too.
The main entrance to the Abbey Gardens comes out onto the main road, Church Street, through a set of ornate, wrought iron gates. They are thought to date back to circa 1750, as there are records to indicate they were given by Lord Gage (1702 – 1754, MP for Tewkesbury) around this time. The gates lead towards the North Porch of the Abbey, where a cross commemorating the consecration of the building back in 1121 is featured.
To the right of the gates (looking out of the Abbey grounds) is a volunteer run tea room called the Touching Souls tea room. In a small courtyard outside that is the above statue, also called “Touching Souls” and created by an artist called Mico Kaufman in 1999. The statue represents relationship, and respecting others around you. It’s an interesting piece, and fits in rather well with its surroundings.
The rest of the grounds are full of well cut lawns and stunning trees, but this is but a small part of Tewkesbury, and as we exited the Abbey grounds onto the high street, the calibre of the buildings here hit us…
Our first stop was the National School building, just to the left of the Touching Souls tea room looking from across the road. This is one of the newer buildings in the area, and was built in 1817, after the institution itself was founded 4 years earlier. The whole building was enlarged in 1842, and it remains in good condition. Medieval flags fly from most of the buildings in the town, so see how many you can spot as we go through Tewkesbury.
Directly to the left of the National School is the Royal British Legion Club, built in the 15th Century as an Inn called the Mason’s Arms. It was later converted into the Club building in the 19th Century, with various modifications taking place inside, presumably to reduce the number of rooms into a series of larger internal spaces. Its a stunning example of the architecture in the town, and one of many.
We kept moving, and reached the intersection of Church Street and Gander Lane, and stopped to look back at the imposing tower of the Abbey, sat behind the beautiful Abbey Lawn Cottages. Again 15th Century, the Cottages make up a quaint row of terraced houses, which were restored in 1967, although happily they still look in the condition they would have been 500 years ago.
To the right of the Cottages, past the small brick building, is number 40 Church Street, another 15th Century building which has a new Victorian front from the 19th. It also contains the John Moore Countryside Museum, with a row of Cottages on the far side of it similar to those in the foreground which make up the rest of the premises. The museum is named after John Moore (1907 – 1967) who was a well known writer and conservationist born in the town. He spoke out for conservation and also played an important part of preserving the heritage of the town and its buildings.
Whilst Tewkesbury is quite far inland, there are a number of waterways around the town so we came off the main street to search for one of them, and walked up St Mary’s Lane. This street has an incredible collection of buildings on it, and four of them are listed:
1) At the far end of the street where it joins Church Street, are numbers 91/92 from the early 17th Century, with the oldest section of the buildings, the rear wing, dating back to 1564.
2) Just to the left of that is the shorter number 2, St Marys Lane, a house from the 16th Century, with large timber frames and 2 storeys.
3) The 2nd to last building on the picture, coming towards the left, is number 6 St Marys Lane which is also from the 16th Century, with a tiled roof, similar to a lot of buildings in the town.
4) The final listed building on the street is number 7 St Marys Lane, at the far left of the picture. There are two dates given for the building, the 16th Century and 18th Century so it may have been built in two sections which were later put together to create one larger building.
At the end of the street, we reached one of the many rivers that runs either through or around the town. This particular one is called the Avon, which begins its journey in the county of Northamptonshire, and then runs through Leicestershire, Warwickshire and into Gloucestershire, where it joins with the River Severn to the South of the town centre, back past the Abbey. The Severn then flows on through the city of Gloucester and out into the Bristol Channel, between England and Wales near Bristol.
Other waterways around the town include the Tirle Brook, and various other smaller brooks.
This is a view up the main high street approaching the intersection of Tewkesbury’s main streets. You can see how interesting and varied the buildings here are, with many of them fine Tudor examples. Let’s start with the “Royal Hop Pole” which is the first building at the front of the picture on the left. This fine Tudor building was built near the end of the 15th Century, and stood alone until a Coaching Inn was built in the 18th Century to the left of it. Today they have been made into one large building, and a new front was added to unify the two. The building consists of a large hotel and a Wetherspoons Pub on the ground floor.
Directly opposite the “Royal Hop Pole” are numbers 15/16 Church Street, at the front right of the picture. This set of two houses were built around the same time as the “Royal Hop Pole” and had another floor added in the 17th Century. To the left is the brick front of number 14 Church Street, which was built out of timber sometime prior to the 18th Century, when it had the brick front installed. A fire in 1987 destroyed much of the historic interior, but a few sections survived, such as the joists on the first floor. To the left of number 14 is number 13 Church Street, the front of which was built in the 17th Century, although the fabric of the building itself may be even older. Another fire in 1985 resulted in the front being rebuilt, but it has kept its Tudor charm.
This to me embodies THE typical English town, as when a lot of people think of “Ye Olde England” Tudor architecture comes to mind, and Tewkesbury ranks alongside other well known places like Chester for it’s beauty. Of course Tudor architecture is just one part of the town and there are many older buildings which include the Abbey, but I always think the Tudors had a great flare for design and they just look incredible. All around the town there is an incredible collection of literally hundreds of Listed Buildings, and if you look on the page for Tewkesbury on the British Listed Buildings site here you will see what I mean, as the main streets are covered in dots as almost every building in the town centre is Listed.
In the very centre of town, where the main streets of Church Street, High Street and Barton Road meet, is a small roundabout made up of the Tewkesbury War Memorial. It was created out of limestone around 1920 after the end of World War I and stands as a memorial to all the soldiers from the town who died in the conflict, whose names are listed on 6 large bronze plaques around the memorial. A medieval cross previously stood on the spot until 1650, and after that a Market Hall was built and noted as the way of traffic in the town on this spot. This was later demolished, and a new Town Hall was built on the High Street in 1788, the road leading off to the left just out of shot. Sadly we didn’t have time to wander down to it as we had a long journey yet to Somerset, but I have seen picture of the building, which has a lovely stone front with statues and a clock at the top.You can see a picture courtesy of the BBC here.
Behind the War Memorial, to the right, is the Tewkesbury Methodist Church, a Victorian Chapel from 1878.
We kept exploring the immediate area and eventually ended up back on Church Street as we made our way back to the car. We soon spotted the Tourist Information Office, which is part of the “Out of the Hat” Heritage & Visitor Centre. Together they are all housed in a 17th Century building, which has been lovingly restored inside so you can experience what life was like in the town a few hundred years ago. You can find out more about the Heritage Centre by visiting its official website here.
Between the various streets full of the old timber framed buildings, are an assortment of narrow alleyways criss crossing between them, and its incredible how close the buildings were built all those years ago. This alley comes off Church Street, and contains some pleasant old houses, tucked away out of sight.
Tewkesbury is a beautiful place and one of the best preserved medieval towns we have visited. The town was supposedly founded in the 7th Century, by a Saxon man named Theoc. Theoc eventually evolved into the modern name of Tewkesbury today.
The town has good onward travel connections, with the M5 Motorway (for Birmingham, Bristol, Exeter and South) running around the town. The nearest train connection is at Ashchurch, 2 miles outside of the town, with the station being called “Ashchurch for Tewkesbury”. Regular trains between Bristol and Worcester call here, calling at Gloucester. Other services run on to Weymouth in Dorset, and Brighton in Sussex, as well as direct services between Cardiff and Nottingham via Tewkesbury and Birmingham. One train a day also runs on to London Paddington. Bristol, Cardiff and Birmingham Airports are also reasonably close to the town and offer local flights as well as international ones.
Tewkesbury is one of our favourite towns, in the heart of Gloucestershire, with amazing views on either side, and a plethora of history to discover, so it was the perfect place to start our adventure. We carried on, to the town of Weston-super-Mare in Somerset…