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Tewkesbury The Town and Abbey Buildings
Directions: From Gloucester, travel a little way north to Tewkesbury. The signs out of the city may not be that great as your options tend to be Bristol or Cheltenham. Stick with Cheltenham and the M5 and signs for Tewkesbury will eventually appear. It is a very quick drive up one junction on the M5 Motorway. Alternatively, you can take the quieter A38, in which case you will road is not that easy to find.
Tewkesbury is a beautiful old town, kept highly picturesque by the survival of numerous medieval and Tudor timber-framed buildings along its streets. If you have time, the town is well worth a look-see. Though the ancient abbey, which is more-or-less in the town anyway and can be seen for some distance as you approach, is our major stopping point, so head straight for it. There is a 'pay-and-display' car park actually at the abbey but, at the height of the Tourist Season or on the weekend, this may be difficult to get into. Several others are, however, sign-posted nearby. Opposite the main Abbey entrance, you can see the picturesque weather-boarded town mill (18th century) down on the River Avon. The buildings adjoining incorporate parts of the old Abbey barn.
For shopping, Tewkesbury is an average small market-town with the usual array of medium sized stores and some good pubs down its three main streets; but it is the buildings enclosing these businesses which delight. For the town has a fine selection of black and white timber-framing that gives the place a real medieval feel. In Church Street are 'Abbey Cottages': a long row of mid-15th century buildings built by the abbey and rented out to tenants. One now houses the 'Little Museum' which has been restored with furniture of the period to show what a medieval shop was like. Many other houses in the town are very narrow, like 'the House of the Nodding Gables,' and it is easy to see why space-increasing overhangs were so popular in past centuries, though they did serve practical structural purposes too. The town museum in Barton Street is another fine example of Tudor timber-framing, here unblackened, and has an impressive row of sixteen continuous leaded-light casement windows across the whole of the first floor.
The Abbey church, with its high tower, completely dominates this whole area of fertile flat land in the Severn Valley. It is difficult to imagine that, for most of its life, it also sported a one hundred foot high wooden steeple as well. The tower has fine examples of typical Norman carving across all four of its faces: both interlaced and dog-tooth arches. Take a walk around the outside of the church first before entering. Beautiful photographs of the building are to be had from the gardens to the east and fields to the south-east. From here, you can clearly see the arrangement of tiny circular chapels at the eastern end of the church - a once popular layout, now often rebuilt - and the scars of the missing lady chapel in the centre. It was in the middle of being rebuilt at the dissolution and was torn down instead. The cloister and monastic buildings of the Abbey would have stood to the south, but almost nothing remains today. Some of the tracery from the old cloister does, however, survive against the outside wall of the south transept and nave wall. The church itself was only saved from destruction by its timely purchase by the townsfolk for a some of £453. There is a pleasant path north of the church which takes you to the porch and entrance, but pass on by first and view the old Abbots House adjoining the west end of the church (with its extraordinary Norman arch and inserted 17th century window). The Abbots House is one of the few stone-built domestic buildings remaining in the town and sports an impressive oriel window. It now the vicarage. Note the west front of the abbey church. The window may look like a permanent fixture, but it was only actually added in the mid 17th century. Press on to the small gate immediately opposite to get a quick look at the Abbot's Gateway. Like so many abbey buildings, the inner gateway has survived, though heavily restored in Victorian times. It is a fine example in local Cotswold stone. You cannot view the far side as this is the entrance to a private property. Back to the church porch, we enter.
Next Stop: Inside Tewkesbury Abbey Church
Short History of Tewkesbury