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The History of Tewkesbury

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Tewkesbury has a long history of settlement at its location at the ancient meeting place of the Rivers Severn and Avon . The rivers and surrounding flood plain have hemmed in the town so that its long, thin profile has hardly altered since the Middle Ages. It retains one of the best medieval townscapes in England with many half-timbered buildings, overhanging upper storeys and narrow alleyways that is archetypical of the age.

Tewkesbury is said to have taken its name from the Saxon hermit, Theoc. He is supposed to have founded a hermitage there in the 7th century. Two Saxon brothers, both Dukes of Mercia, established a monastery there early in the eighth century. This became a cell to Cranbourne Abbey in the tenth century. There is evidence of a church predating the Norman abbey suggesting that there was a considerable settlement there before the Norman Conquest . Evidence of various monastic buildings dating from the years immediately following the conquest can still be seen immediately around Tewkesbury Abbey . Work to build the abbey started in 1090, it was consecrated on 23 October 1121. Robert FitzHamon the cousin of William Rufus is credited with the establishment of the abbey at Tewkesbury, together with Abbot Giraldus, He helped develop the abbey and generously endowed the institution from his own wealth. The monks of Cranbourne responded to his charitable gestures and made Tewkesbury the chief seat of their establishment. Robert FitzHamon died of injuries fighting at Falaise in Normandy in 1107 before the consecration of the abbey. However, his son-in-law Robert Fitzroy was heir to the Manor of Tewkesbury and continued his father’s work to complete the abbey. By the time of Henry VIII ’s Dissolution the Abbey had passed to the Benedictines. The stately abbey church was given over by the King to the local parishioners after the Dissolution. The church is built in the Early Norman style with a central tower and a finely groined and carved
roof. The east-end of the choir, which is hexagonal, features a collection of ancient chantry chapels.

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 and decisive final battle of the Wars of the Roses . The Earl of Devonshire, Lord Wenlock, Lord John Beaufort, nine knights and upwards of 3,000 men were slain. Queen Margaret of Anjou was taken prisoner by Edward IV. History also tells that the Duke of Somerset, Lord St. John, and about a dozen of his knights and esquires were dragged from the church, where they had sought sanctuary. They were taken away and beheaded two days later on the 6 May. Tewkesbury received its incorporation during the reign of Elizabeth I . Like many towns in the west of England, Tewkesbury had a central role in the development of religious dissent. English Dissenters in Tewkesbury joined the Monmouth Rebellion of 1685.

Tewkesbury has a historical role in the milling of flour. The water mill, the older Abbey Mill still stands though it has now been converted for residential use. Flour was still being milled at a mill a short way from the town quay and parts of the mill dated to 1865. When it was originally built for Healings the millers it was thought
to be the largest and most modern flour mill in the world. The Mill was serviced by three forms of transport during its history, taking grain in and flour out by road, railway, and canal and river barge.

Tewksbury was once famous throughout the country for its mustard making, Shakespeare writes only of its thickness, but others have noted its pungency. Brewing and malting, pin making and the framework knitting of stockings were at one time major industries in the modest market town. Goods were transported on the rivers and a thriving market brought business to the town.

An impressive Thomas Telford bridge stands to the west of the town, a cast-iron structure with a 170-foot span. Mythe Bridge crosses over the River Severn and opened in 1826. Tewkesbury's other historic bridge is the stone-built King John's Bridge that crosses the River Avon. The ancient bridge was originally commissioned by King John in the late 12th century as part of the king’s programme of works aimed
at improving the main road from Gloucester to Worcester . Some of the original stonework is still visible on the Bridge’s north side, although much of the original form was lost after the bridge was widened in the early 1960s.

Tewkesbury’s position between two rivers and a flood plain inevitably meant that it has suffered flooding throughout its history. However, the wide flood plain has usually taken the brunt of the flooding although the deluge of 2007 was probably the worst flood the town had ever seen, this time the flood waters did succeed in reaching into much of the old town.

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