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This ancient borough is situated in a pleasant valley on the east bank of the river Avon, near its junction with the Severn. Its Saxon name, as gathered from an inscription in the church at Leominster, is Deotisbyrg or Theot-is-byrg ; in Domesday Book it is called Theodeschesberie, afterwards corrupted to Theokesbury, and still later to Tewkesbury. It is unnecessary to trace the history of the town under the Saxon and Norman lords of the manor. During the struggles between the houses of York and Lancaster Tewkesbury was the scene of a bloody battle, fought A.D. 1471, in which the Lancastrians were signally defeated. During the civil wars of the seventeenth century the town, though devoted to the cause of the king, and strongly garrisoned, was by stratagem captured by the Parliamentary forces in 1644. Nothing of importance is recorded regarding its history in subsequent times.
The manufactures of Tewkesbury were once considerable, but are so no longer; those of cotton stockings and lace are carried on to a limited extent; there is also a silk-mill. Communication is kept up by means of the Severn with Bristol, Chepstow, and Gloucester. The Gloucester and Birmingham line of railway has a station here. The town was anciently incorporated, and still retains all its privileges. It returns two members to Parliament. Its local government is vested in a mayor, four aldermen, and twelve councillors. In point of population Tewkesbury occupies almost a stationary position. The population, according to last census, was 5876, and that of 1851 was 5878. The falling away is greater in the inhabited houses, the numbers being—1861, 1268 ; 1851, 1274. These figures are in themselves an evidence that this borough is still, though the railway is at its doors, a good deal of the quiet old-world place it was in earlier times.
THE ABBEY CHURCH.—A monastery was founded at Tewkesbury in 715 by two brothers, Odo and Dodo, noblemen of the Mercian kingdom, and dedicated to the Virgin Mary. In 1102 Robert Fitz-Hamon rebuilt the priory and the church, and endowed it with additional revenues. This priory had originally been subject to the monastery of Cranborne in Dorsetshire ; but as this place was so much more advantageous, most of the monks of Cranborne were removed thither, and Tewkesbury was advanced to the dignity of an abbey. The Norman work of the present church doubtless belongs to this period. This abbey was the last to surrender of the religious houses of Gloucestershire. Its annual value at the Dissolution was £1595, 178. 6d., exclusive of annuities granted for life, amounting to £136 : 8:1. The last abbot, John Wakeman, was made the first Bishop of Gloucester.
Externally and internally this noble edifice will repay a long and careful examination. The most striking feature externally is the West Front. This front consists of a very lofty Norman receding arch, rising to the battlement of the wall, with a quaint turret rising on either side. Another example of this is not to be found in England. The front is not, however, in its original state ; for a Perpendicular window has been inserted in the arch, apparently destroying at least one course of it, and below is a mean pointed doorway. It is probable that this magnificent arch originally had within it two or three tiers of round-headed lights, and that the comparative gloom that must have prevailed when the church was lighted only by a few small Norman windows in this gable induced one of the later abbots to break out the wall for the large Perpendicular window which now so incongruously fills the arch. The wall on either side has an Early English window of two lights. Passing round the north side, the North Porch at once arrests attention. Here is a fine piece of uncorrupted Norman work. Both the doorways here consist, like the great west arch, of several orders of arches rising from shafts. The mouldings are few and very plain. The Tower, rising above the intersection of the transepts, is about 132 feet high. In its upper part it is richly adorned with arcades of circular arches. The walls end in a plain battlement, with pinnacles at the corner. Having thus noticed the most remarkable features of the exterior, we may proceed to examine the interior. The usual entrance is by the north porch.
The church consists of nave and aisles, transepts, choir, with surrounding aisle, from which branch off five chapels, tower, and porch. The view from the west end has all the imposing grandeur of a cathedral. Indeed, the dimensions of this church are little inferior to those of some cathedrals. It is 281 feet in length, and the nave and aisles are 71 feet in breadth. The height of the nave is about 60 feet. The Nave is divided from its aisles by massive cylindrical columns with circular arches. One is a good deal reminded here of Gloucester Cathedral, both from the style and height of the arches and the smallness of the triforium. Coming to the Transepts, we have massive arches, without moulding or chamfer, springing from pairs of comparatively slender columns, an unusual feature in Norman churches. The south transept has a circular apse on its east side. The columns of the Choir are Norman, but the arches are pointed. The surrounding aisle and its chapels are Decorated.
The church is rich in monuments. Commencing at the first bay of the choir, on the north side, we have a Perpendicular chapel of extremely rich workmanship, erected by Isabel, Countess of Warwick, to the memory of her first husband, Richard Beauchamp, Ear] of Warwick, who was slain at Meaux in 1429. The
Countess is herself buried here. This little chapel is in two storeys. Its roof is a fine specimen of fanvaulting. The next bay has a Perpendicular monumental chapel, containing an altar-tomb, the effigy of which has been removed. It is said to be in memory of Robert Fitz-Hamon, the founder of the Abbey, and to have been erected by Abbot Parker in 1397. The third bay contains what is usually called the Despenser Monument. It is a stately Decorated canopy, rising above an altar-tomb whereon lie the effigies of a knight and his lady. These are generally agreed to be Sir Hugh Le Despenser and his wife Elizabeth, daughter of the Earl of Salisbury. This lady was thrice married. The first husband was Giles de Badlesmere ; she lies here by the side of her second ; and a stately tomb, with the effigy of her third, Sir Guy de Brian, is on the opposite side of the aisle, in the first of the series of chapels on this side. On the right of the altar are the sedilia, canopied by richly-sculptured arches. In the next bay is a fine Perpendicular chapel, with the kneeling effigy above of Sir Edward le Despenser. Passing into the choir-aisle, many arched sepulchral recesses will be noticed. One of these contains an old slab, with a worn inscription, of which all that can be made out is, “ Johannes Abbas hujus loci.” The only other monuments calling for notice are one supposed to have been erected by Abbot Wakeman, consisting of a fine Perpendicular canopy over the representation of a wasted and loathsome corpse. The artist has depicted reptiles crawling over and feeding on the body. The other