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Tewkesbury in 1842

TEWKESBURY, an ancient market-town and municipal and parliamentary borough in the north-western part of Gloucestershire, close to the borders of Worcestershire, 9 miles from Gloucester and 103 from London.

It is situated on the eastern bank of the Avon, near its junction with the Severn ; and the small rivers Carron and Swilgate, which are tributaries of the Avon, flow through the parish. The immediate neighbourhood of the town is subject to floods. Within half a mile of the town is a handsome iron bridge of one arch, 172 feet span, over the Severn ; and there is an ancient bridge of several arches over the Avon, with a causeway leading from it to the above-mentioned iron bridge. The Carron is crossed by a stone bridge, and the Swilgate by two. The parish extends about 4 miles from north to south, and its width varies from 200 yards in the northern part, to 2 miles, its extreme breadth. Immediately to the north of the town the width of the parish is only half a mile. Here the Avon has been diverted by an artificial cutting called New Avon, or Mill Avon. The parish contains 1,890 acres, with the hamlets of Southwick in the southern part, and that of Mythe in the northern part. Tewkesbury is a borough by prescription : it received its first charter of incorporation from Queen Elizabeth in 1574. By the charter of William III, granted in 1698, the jurisdiction of the borough magistrates was extended over the whole of the parish. It has returned two members to parliament since the 7th year of the reign of James I. Before the passing of the Reform Act, parts of the town, particularly on the eastward, were not comprised within the limits of the parliamentary borough, but the whole parish is now included. The right of voting was formerly in the freemen and burgage holders, and inhabitants paying scot and lot. The number of electors on the parliamentary register in 1840 was 409, including 89 who possessed double qualifications ; and of the former number, 238 were occupiers of houses rated at £10 and upwards. The town is not divided into municipal wards. The corporate body consists of a mayor, four aldermen, and twelve councillors. The old corporation was composed of a high-steward, twenty-four principal burgesses, including in that number two bailiffs and the recorder ; and there were besides several minor officers, and four justices for the borough. The appointment of twenty-four assistant burgesses was directed by the governing charter of William III, but none had been elected for many years prior to the passing of the Municipal Corporation Reform Act. The twenty-four burgesses were elected by the bailiffs and burgesses out of the burgesses at large. The annual income of the old corporation did exceed £22, and in 1828 it was in debt to the amount of £6,000. The sum of £2,000 was advanced by the recorder, and the property of the corporation conveyed to him, on which the creditors were paid 6 shillings and 8 pence in the pound. Quarter-sessions for the borough are held, and there is a court for the recovery of debts under £50.

Tewkesbury is said to be of Saxon origin, and to derive its name from Theot, a Saxon, who founded an hermitage here in the seventh century. Early in the eighth century, two brothers, dukes of Mercia, founded a monastery, which, in the tenth century, became a cell to Cranbourn Abbey in Dorsetshire. In the twelfth century Robert FitzHaimon enlarged the buildings and liberally endowed the institution, in consequence of which the monks of Cranbourne made Tewkesbury the chief seat of their establishment. At the dissolution the abbey belonged to the Benedictines, and its annual revenue was £1,598. A great battle was fought on the 14th of May, 1471, within half a mile of Tewkesbury, when the Lancastrians sustained a most disastrous defeat, and both Queen Margaret and her son Prince Edward, were taken. The town was successively in the hands of the royalists and parliamentarians at the commencement of the civil war ; but in 1644 it was taken by the latter, and held until the close of the war.

The town principally consists of three good streets, well-built, with a number of smaller ones branching from them. According to the census of 1831, the population amounted to 5,780. The principal manufacture is the cotton and lambs’-wool hosiery. In 1810 the number of stocking-frames in the town was 800 ; and in 1833 there were 600. The wages averaged 12 shillings in the former year, and 7 shillings in the latter. The number of men, aged 20 and upwards, employed in the stocking manufacture in 1831 was 300, and 44 were engaged in the lace manufacture. Nail-making formerly employed a considerable number, but in 1833 there were only 50 persons so occupied. Tewkesbury was and is still the centre of an extensive carrying-trade on the Severn and Avon ; but the improvement of the navigation of the Severn to Gloucester, by means of a ship-canal, is said to have been injurious to Tewkesbury, and to the improved means of intercourse with other towns in the same district is also ascribed some decline in the attendance at the corn-market. The iron bridge across the Severn, which opened a communication with Hereford and Wales, counterbalances on the other hand the effects of the above-mentioned improvements. There is a branch railway from Tewkesbury rather more than two miles in length, which joins the Birmingham and Gloucester Railway.

The collegiate church of the ancient monastery is now the parish church. It is a noble and venerable structure, in the early Norman style, and consists of a nave, choir, and transepts, with a tower rising from the centre, supported on massive and lofty piers with circular arches. The roof is finely groined and carved. There are several ancient chantry chapels in the east end of the choir, which is hexagonal. Some of the monuments are in memory of persons who fell at the battle of Tewkesbury.

The living is a vicarage, of the gross annual value of £376. A new church was opened in 1837. All the principal denominations of dissenters have places of worship. There is a grammar-school with an endowment of £52 a year. The master is appointed by the corporation. When the corporation commissioners visited Tewkesbury in 1833, the master was a clergyman and one of the borough justices, and for many years the school had not been attended by more than three or four pupils. In 1833 there were, besides the above, and two boarding-schools, 12 daily schools in the parish, attended by 607 children, and several Sunday-schools, at which 588 children were instructed. The national school is partly supported by an ancient endowment for the instruction of twenty children, and a Lancasterian school is dependent on voluntary contributions. There are almshouses for 10 poor persons, and several medical and other charities of comparatively recent date. The town-hall was built in 1786 ; the upper part contains an assembly-room and a hall for meetings of the corporation ; and the lower part is appropriated to the borough courts. A gaol, house of correction and penitentiary were erected under a local act passed in 1812. The market-house is a handsome building, with Doric columns and pilasters supporting a pediment in front. There is a small theatre and public library and news-room. The town is paved, lighted, and watched under a local act passed in 1786. The market-days are Wednesday and Saturday : the former for corn, sheep, pigs, &c. ; and the latter for poultry and provisions. There are fairs in March, April, May, June, September, October, December ; and a statute fair at Michaelmas.