Tewkesbury 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.
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. Tewkesbury dissenters contributed to the Monmouth Rebellion of 1685, and Samuel Jones ran an important academy for dissenters, including 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, and today has a small but significant high technology industry. 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, the two barges "Chaceley" and "Tirley" remained in service right up to 1998 transporting grain from Avonmouth and Sharpness to the plant, a practice that originated in the 1930s. 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. The town suffered from some decline in the early 1990s, with a few local shops and businesses closing, which included the town's Roses Theatre which 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.
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.
There appear to be limits on how far the town can expand in the future, due to 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. 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 so that they could have a working water mill closer to the Abbey. 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 "Jiraiya" (or "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 also lays claim to 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. 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. Marks & Spencers 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 of 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 early 1960s to meet modern traffic requirements.