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Tewkesbury (/ˈtjuːksbri/ tewks-bree) is a town in Gloucestershire, England. It stands at the confluence of the River Severn and the River Avon, and also minor tributaries the Swilgate and Carrant Brook. It gives its name to the Borough of Tewkesbury, of which the town is the second largest settlement.

The name Tewkesbury comes from Theoc, the name of a Saxon who founded a hermitage there in the 7th century, and in the Old English tongue was called Theocsbury.

Tewkesbury is named after Theocalious, a hermit who founded Threwshon, adapted to Tewkesbury over the years, in the 7th century. Evidence of a church predating the abbey suggests that a considerable settlement rose up on the site previous to the Norman Conquest.] Evidence of monastic buildings from the years immediately following the conquest can still be seen surrounding Tewkesbury Abbey, which was begun in 1090 and 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 was incorporated during the reign of 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.

Historically, Tewkesbury is a market town, serving the local rural area. It underwent some expansion in the period following World War II. 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.

The town also hosts a large Armed forces vehicle supply and maintenance depot at nearby Ashchurch. During the early 1990s, several local shops and businesses closed, including the town’s Roses Theatre; the latter re-opened in 1996.

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 both national and international prominence, appearing on the front page of numerous national newspapers, 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 (130 mm) 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.

At the 2001 UK census the town itself had a population of 10,016. If the neighbouring parishes of Walton Cardiff (1,291 including the large new Wheatpieces housing development), and Ashchurch (6,064 including the even larger but older Northway residential area) were added, the figure rose to 17,371. The Tewkesbury urban area is divided in two by the north-south running M5 motorway, opened in February 1971. However, the town is generally considered as the built-up area to the immediate east and west of the M5 at junction 9, with the town centre, abbey and old town situated to the west. The close proximity of large areas of land that are prone to flooding, as evidenced by the severe floods that struck the region in July 2007, would make further expansion difficult. However, the present Borough of Tewkesbury, created on 1 April 1974, also contains a large portion of rural north Gloucestershire, extending as far as the edges of Gloucester itself and also Cheltenham, and has a present population approaching 80,000.

The town features many notable Tudor buildings, but its major claim to fame is Tewkesbury Abbey, a fine Norman Abbey, originally part of a monastery, which was saved from the Dissolution of the Monasteries by King Henry VIII after 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 during this time. 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 Abbey is also thought to be the site of the place where the hermit “Theoc” once lived. 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 medieval 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 (45 m). The Abbey is thought to be the third largest church in Britain that is not a cathedral (after Westminster Abbey and Beverley Minster). From end to end it measures 312 feet (95 m), though prior to the destruction of the original Lady Chapel (also at the time of the dissolution), the Abbey’s total length was 375 feet (114 m). The Abbey is a parish church, still used for daily services, and is believed to be the second-largest parish church in England, again, after Beverley Minster.

Tewkesbury claims Gloucestershire’s oldest public house, the Black Bear, dating from 1308. Other notable buildings are the Royal Hop Pole Hotel in Church Street (which has recently been converted into a part of the Wetherspoons pub chain with the discovery of a former medieval banqueting hall in the structure), mentioned in Charles Dickens’ The Pickwick Papers, the Bell Hotel, a large half-timbered structure opposite the Abbey gateway, and the House of the Nodding Gables in the High Street. The historic 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. At the Tudor House Hotel in the High Street however, although it is indeed chiefly a Tudor building, the frontage comprises artificial half-timbering attached to a brick-built facade. The local branch of Store Twenty-One (formerly Marks & Spencer and before that Iceland) was once the location of the Swan Hotel, where a balcony still is today and from which local election results were announced.

Also notable to the town’s architecture is the Old Baptist Chapel (on Church Street) built in about 1655, as one of the earliest examples from that denomination – behind the chapel is a small cemetery for those who were members of the chapel.

Just to the west of the town is Thomas Telford’s impressive Mythe Bridge over the River Severn, a cast-iron structure with a 170-foot span, opened in 1826. Tewkesbury’s other notable bridge is the stone-built King John’s Bridge over the Avon, 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 mid-to-late 1950’s to meet modern traffic requirements.

Ashchurch for Tewkesbury railway station is a long mile from the town centre. It was the last mainline station in Gloucestershire to be reopened as British Rail was being fragmented into the ill fated Railtrack at great cost.

The nearby Gloucestershire & Warwickshire Railway has views of Tewkesbury Abbey en route between Cheltenham Racecourse and Winchcombe.

Tewkesbury is served by the M5 motorway, the A38 trunk road, and also the A46 and A38. Tewkesbury has traffic problems galore with traffic congestion. There are bus connections to the Ashchurch for Tewkesbury railway station.

  • 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.
  • 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 Medieval 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 medieval encampment, games, food and a large fair where re-enactment clothing, furniture and weaponry can be purchased. 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 Showmen’s Guild of Great Britain (Western Section)
  • 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).
  • Victorian authoress Dinah Craik (1826–1887) visited Tewkesbury in 1852, and later set her most famous work John Halifax, Gentleman (pub. 1857) in the town, calling it Norton Bury in the book. There is a “Craik House” in Church Street, near the Abbey, but Mrs Craik never lived there and had no other connection with Tewkesbury. There is a memorial to her in the Abbey’s south transept.
  • Author John Moore (1907–1967) was born and lived in Tewkesbury. He set his novel Portrait of Elmbury (pub. 1945) as a “fictionalised biography” of Tewkesbury, the town being the “Elmbury” of the book. Another of his books, Brensham Village (pub. 1946) used nearby Bredon as its basis. A Local Museum has been named after him.
  • A.E. Housman’s A Shropshire Lad also mentions Tewkesbury, as well as nearby Bredon Hill, even though neither place is in Shropshire.
  • The opening scene of the 1995 film version of Richard III takes place at the Field Headquarters of King Henry’s army at Tewkesbury.

Tewkesbury is twinned with Miesbach, Bavaria, Germany.

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