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Ordnance survey map of ABBEY CHURCH OF ST MARY
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Tewkesbury (District Authority)
National Grid Reference:
SO 89067 32445



SO8932 ABBEY PRECINCTS 859-1/6/349 (South side) 04/03/52 Abbey Church of St Mary


Anglican parish church, former Benedictine Abbey church. Founded 1087 by Robert Fitzhamon, consecrated 1121, central tower second quarter C12, serious fire damage in 1178. Additions and alterations to N transept early C13, modified late C13, extensive rebuilding of E arm early C14 and complete stone vaulting mid C14. West window rebuilt 1686 (dated on a shield at the top of the main left mullion), and various parapets and other detail added. Major restoration under Sir Gilbert Scott and Sons, 1875-1879, based on Scott report of 1864, with Thomas Collins (Collins and Cullis) as main mason/contractor. The pews were removed in 1796, and the galleries at the crossing in 1909. The monastic buildings, and the E Lady Chapel were removed in c1540. MATERIALS: mainly constructed in limestone ashlar, but some early work in coursed lias; roofs lead or tile. PLAN: an 8-bay nave with aisles and N porch, unaisled transepts with E chapels, central crossing tower, choir and presbytery to 3-sided apse, with ambulatory and radial chapels. There was a detached belfry to the N until its demolition in 1817. A series of important medieval chantry chapels is sited around the E end. EXTERIOR: the W front, probably planned for twin towers (not built) has a large 7-light 'Perpendicular' window of 1686 in a Norman arch in 6 (formerly 7) orders, above a pair of plank doors in a moulded arch with dripmould; to its left a section of the original Norman seventh order respond is exposed. The plain aisle walls have a 2-light C14 window and a series of stair-window slits. The top of the Norman arch cuts into a 2-stage range of blind arcading under a continuous billet mould, above which are 2-stage Norman turrets with C17 round spirelets and pinnacles, connected by a run of classical parapet, raised at the ends. The N aisle has 6+1 Decorated windows with slight drip-moulds. The first 2, at the W end, are of 4 lights, in walling slightly set back from the remainder, on a plinth, and with some lias incorporated. The remainder are 3-light. A classical parapet runs full length. A large flying buttress with square pinnacle abuts the wall between windows 3 and 4; this is a late addition. The nave clerestorey has eight 3-light C14 windows set in an irregular blind Norman arcade, much restored, and again under the continuous classical parapet. The N and E faces of the W pinnacle are as the W front. The square N porch is part of the original Norman building, with 1686 parapet. A large Norman opening in 3 orders, but with classical mouldings outside and square orders within has attached Norman responds. A mid-string with chevron mould returns to the sides, which are plain. Above is a central statue niche below a carved tribune, and the 1686 parapet is above a hollow-mould string. The lierne-vaulted interior has stone benches. The inner opening has doors which are early wide-plank with strap hinges, but with moulded C17 or C18 applied panel framing externally, and contained in 4 square orders on cushion-capital responds. The S aisle has the remains of 5 bays of the cloister attached, and a porch bay, rebuilt by Collins in the late C19, at his own cost. To the left of the cloister is a large area of plain walling with various blocked openings and approximately 4m run of corble-course, in various sections of coursed ashlar, and a small added buttress. Above are a 1-light and four 3-light Decorated windows, without drip-moulds, and the aisle is without parapet. The nave clerestorey has eight 3-light C14 windows, with no blind arcading, but above a heavy ovolo-mould cill string. The N transept was originally identical with the S, but the apsidal chapel was removed, and 2 chapels added in C13, later partly demolished. The transept W wall, on plinth, and with some coursed lias, plain, with a large 5-light Reticulated window, and a diagonal corner buttress with 5 offsets, and some lias exposed in foundation courses. The N wall has marks showing the position of the added chapel. Under a low gable is a broad weathered offset, beneath which are two 2-light Decorated windows between flat buttresses. To the left are 4 stair-window slits, and a concrete stair flight to a landing and small door. A doorway with multi-mould C13 arch low right, now blocked, formerly gave access to the chapel. The E wall of the transept, above the chapels has a low blind arcade under a medieval parapet, and there are weathering marks to gables to the previous steep-pitched roofs to the chapels. Projecting from the transept is the W wall of the Chapel of St Nicholas. This has a small central gable with small square window above a broad weathering course. The wall below is mixed ashlar and lias, with a corner buttress, and with a C13 moulded arch containing the top of a 2-light window with uncusped bars, and an ashlar blocking wall with a small door. The N wall, which is noticeably out of alignment, has a deep central buttress and two 2-light windows, and a later added flying buttress with square pinnacle, crossing the pedestrian throughway. The chapel is also attached to the end of the Russell Almshouses (qv) by a wall with gateway. The E side of the chapels has a continuous moulded plinth, and three 4-light Reticulated windows on a cill string. A large buttress with 4 offsets separates the chapels, and there is a further small buttress. To the left is a parapet with central gablet, and to the right a full gable, containing a slit light. The S transept has a plain W wall, with some fire-damage marks, and a 5-light window with drip-mould. Under the blocking-course with saddle-back coping is a reconstructed blind arcade. The S wall has a small light to the low-pitched gable with coping and apex cross, then below a weathered offset are 2 deep-set 2-light C15 windows to segmental pointed heads in coursed stone with some fire damage. Below is good ashlar walling. A diagonal buttress to the left has 5 offsets, and a broad flat Norman buttress to the right has stair window-slits and a blocked doorway approximately 6m from the ground. There is a series of stone corbels below the window level. The E wall has part of the original apsidal chapel below blind arcading and a parapet; the chapel is mainly absorbed in the adjoining vestry, but has a 2-light inserted C14 window, and a tiled roof. The crossing tower, one of the finest surviving Norman towers in Europe, is in 4 stages, with crenellated parapet, flat corner buttresses, and 2-stage corner turrets with with pinnacles. It had a wooden spire, blown down in 1559. The 4 sides are virtually identical. Above the main roofs are the weathering marks of the original steep-pitched roofs, flanked by a Norman window each side, and there is some fire damage to be seen in the stonework. The upper levels have rich Norman blind arcading, with 3 louvred lights in the lower stage, and 2 above, separated by a narrow band of interlaced arcading. East end with chapels. The choir and apse clerestorey has an open parapet with interlocking cusped triangles under small crenellations and above a moulded string. The seven 5-light Decorated windows are under straight-sided crocketed gables with a trefoil spandrel; 2 small lights between the main windows both N and S side of the choir. Flying buttresses spring from low between windows to the piers dividing the chapels. The 4 radial chapels and the vestry have hexagonal ends, with narrow corner buttresses with 4 offsets, a moulded plinth, and cill string. Windows are variously 3 or 4-light Decorated, with a single small quatrefoil above in three places, and the vestry has an upper room with 2-light chamfer-mullioned lights. Roofs are all pyramidal or hipped tile, to an eaves above the vestry and adjoining chapel, but behind a parapet to the remainder. One stair turret with stone octagonal pinnacle rises above the parapet on N and S sides. The eastern chapel was removed in 1540, and the blocked archway contains a 4-light above a 3-light window in Decorated style, in walling with pointed arch moulds. Octagonal pinnacled turrets rise each side, above remains of shafts and vaulting springers. INTERIOR: the nave and transepts retain mainly Norman fabric, but with C14 vaults, and the choir with ambulatory is principally C14 work, but with the Norman arcade remaining. The 8-bay nave has a stone flagged floor, and an arcade of lofty cylindrical piers with round bases and abaci; the bases in the raised area at the E end (part of the former monks' choir), however, are square, and the columns are marked by the position of the former rood screen. The plain round arches have a roll-mould on both sides. The westernmost bay is enclosed by plain walls, and has a moulded and painted arch on very large corbels which are part leaf decoration and part figure. The window has Hardman glass of 1896. The triforium has paired Norman openings to plain arches, below the windows inserted when the vault was added in c1322; the 3-light openings are in deep square embrasures and under flat segmental pointed heads, which rise above the transverse vault rib. The vault has 3 parallel longitudinal ribs, and is of the net lierne form, rising from corbel heads and shafts above the columns. Diagonal ribs embrace two bays. The aisles have many memorial slabs in the floors. Half-round Norman responds divide the bays, which have narrow recesses, formerly finishing to round-arched windows, but now with wider C14 lights in splayed reveals and with segmental pointed heads. Simple ribbed vaults have ridge ribs and unplastered severies. A continuous stone bench runs along both walls. Windows to the N have Hardman glass of 1896. The windows to the S are smaller, as they are above the former cloister. Inside the door from the N porch is a late C19 carved timber draught lobby, and the W end of the S aisle is enclosed in a crenellated ashlar wall with door. At the E end is an elaborate doorway giving to the cloister. The crossing tower is carried on four plain arches with roll-mould outer order, and on paired half-round shafts to E and W. Deep plain walls provide support to E and W, ending in half-columns, and with high blocked openings between choir and ambulatory. The intricate lierne vault, based on squares and octagons, is brightly painted. The N transept is partly filled by the pipe-work of the Grove organ (see below), and has a typical W country 'stick' lierne vault in 2 bays. Above the ambulatory is a small rose window with quatrefoil, with memorial glass of the late C19. A wide plain arch opens to the Abbey Shop, or Chapel of St James, under a blocked Norman gallery arch, and a Norman triforium with 1:2:1 openings. A quadrant arch spans the entrance from the N aisle. The Chapel of St James, to the E, has a timber barrel roof an extra outer slope, and the adjoining vaulted St Nicholas' chapel is approached through a large moulded C13 arch. The S transept has been less modified than the N, and retains the apsidal Norman Lady Chapel with plain ribs. Above this is a Norman arch, blocked, and with some organ pipes, and to the left is a triangular window with foil tracery. The triforium has a series of paired openings, and the vault is similar to that in the N transept. The S wall has shallow recessed arched panels, with buttress containing stair turret and door to the left. Evidence of fire damage can be seen near the crossing. The W wall, incorporating some lias, has a deep square recess, possibly a former access to the cloister. A quadrant arch gives access from the aisle. The choir with presbytery has a rich late C19 encaustic tile floor, stepped at the screen, the presbytery and the altar. Low cylindrical Norman columns carry moulded arches below a wall passage, without parapet or railing, and 7 large 5-light windows with very fine contemporary glass. The complex stellar lierne vault is brightly painted. A series of important chantry chapels fills the arcade, these are (from NW to SW): (i) Warwick or Beauchamp Chantry, begun 1422. A 2-stage richly embellished cage with a pendant vault in square bays; (ii) Robert Fitzhamon, or Founder's chantry, a design of c1397, with fan vault. Fitzhamon died in 1107, and his Chantry was in the original Chapter House, but was moved in the mid-C13. Abbot Parker undertook the present design, with screens of large Perpendicular 5-light windows; (iii) Hugh, Baron Despencer. A complex cage of c1350, in 3 pinnacled stages, with plastered, unribbed vaults. At the base of the screen is a series of 19 drilled holes at approx 150mm centres; (iv) opposite this, at the entrance to the Chapel of St Margaret, the tomb of Sir Guy de Brien, late C14, built into the stone parclose screen to the chapel; (v) at the entrance to the Chapel of St Dunstan, the so-called Wakeham Cenotaph. This has a heavy cusped and crocketed arch under a rich canopy. The cadaver lies on the tomb-slab above a delicate open-work geometrical screen; (vi) an unidentified C14 tomb over broken fragments of a female figure, and of a C15 chest under a damaged canopy with cusped ogee arch, and a parapet of small crenellations; (vii) large monument to Hugh le Despenser (d.1326), with 6 central panels flanked by 2 slightly canted panels each side, with remains of damaged canopies and other detail. This covers a large polished Purbeck marble sarcophagus, with Latin inscription to Abbot John Cope (d.1347); this was moved from the cloister in the C17, and presupposes the earlier loss of the Despenser figure; (viii) Edward Despenser Chantry, or Chapel of the Holy Trinity, 1375. A jewel-like stone cage with fan vault, and having a kneeling figure in a delicate pinnacled tribune above the canopy. There is some C14 wall painting in the chantry. Restored by the Pilgrim Trust, 1983; opposite the last, at the chapel entrance, a free-standing tomb to Abbot Richard Cheltenham (d.1504), with a flat 4-centred arch over a chest with shield panels, and a flat, unfinished top. The slab normally carries a C19 cased model of the Abbey. The ambulatory has simple ribbed vaults, without ridges, and unplastered severies, and the radial chapels have high stellar lierne vaults carried on rich multiple shafts. In St Margaret's Chapel is a staircase door in one wide plank. The double chapel of St Edmund and St Dunstan has a C17 aumbry door. Behind the main altar is a stone enclosing screen, with door, and panelling, with unusually poor quality carving, including incipient ball-flower, and surmounted by an open reticulated parapet. There is a large iron grille in the floor above a crypt or vault. The vestry has a doorway with ball-flower surround; to its left is a large canopied wall tomb with multiple ball-flower enrichment, to Abbot Robert Forthington, 1254. To the right are 2 further wall tombs. The first is to Abbot Alan, 1187-1202, with a Purbeck marble slab with raised cross, and beyond this a deep, unidentified memorial, with a floor of Malvern encaustic tiles. Above the vestry door are 3 figure corbels. Other monuments include: in the S transept, W wall,in alabaster, including a low-relief portrait, to Thomas Collins, signed 'Boulton, 1900.' This remembers "A Wise Master Builder", a JP, five times Mayor of Tewkesbury, "Always zealous in preserving the ancient beauty of his native town ...". Collins was the mason working for Scott, but also contributed to the work, and was personally very involved here as elsewhere in the town. On the crossing SE pier is a C16 style white marble wall monument to Mrs Craik, authoress of 'John Halifax, Gentleman' (d.1887), signed HH Armstead, R.A. It includes a bas-relief portrait, and inscription "A Tribute to Noble Aims and to a Gracious Life". On the column respond at the W end of the S aisle is a fine baroque monument, set to the curve of the column. At the E end of the N aisle is a recessed tomb with canopy, without pinnacles, and a recumbent figure, possibly Lord Wenlock, killed at the Battle of Tewkesbury. In the tiled flooring of the choir, under the crossing, a C19 brass plate commemorates Edward, Prince of Wales, who was killed at the Battle of Tewkesbury (1471). Further E are 4 brass plates to members of the Despenser family. At the W end of the S aisle is a dignified carved wood war memorial, 1914-1919, above a stone altar, and set to the Norman arched recess. FITTINGS: remains of medieval choir stalls with 12 misericords, N side of choir; there are 3 further misericords immediately outside the C19 choir screen, on the S side. Above these is a painted Royal Arms. In the S crossing arch is one of the 3 organs. This is the Milton organ " of the most notable in Britain..", possibly by Renatus Harris, for Magdalen (Oxford), moved to the Abbey in 1737, and overhauled by Willis in 1848, but moved to its present location in 1887. The Grove organ, in the N transept, was presented by Revd CW Grove in 1887 in commemoration of the Jubilee. The third instrument, against the choir screen, is by Thomas Elliott, 1813. 2 cast-iron Gurney Stoves, now gas-fired, still heat the nave, numbered A32 and A407, from "The London Warming and Ventilating Company". Pulpit late C19 octagonal marble, and a very fine brass lectern, with separate set of brass-framed steps, given at Easter 1878 by Revd CW Grove in memory of his first wife. The octagonal font, on 3 steps, incorporates an early 8-shaft sandstone base, and has a lofty canopy. Each aisle has a section of C17 railing and gate, presumably part of a former communion rail, closing access to the ambulatory. On the walls of the W bay of the N aisle is a series of large benefactions boards. The Abbey was bought from the Crown at the Dissolution by the townsfolk for »453, and has since remained their parish church. The E Lady Chapel had just been demolished in preparation for a new one, which was not realised. The remaining monastic buildings were completely removed. A great storm damaged the W end in 1661, necessitating the rebuilding of the window. The Abbey is remembered in restoration lore because the proposed restoration by Scott impelled Morris to inveigh against what he foresaw as a damaging decision; this eventually led to the setting up of the SPAB. Scott's restoration was undertaken; it is difficult now to appreciate the concern aroused at the time, as Scott's work was conservative, certainly compared with some of his 'restoration' elsewhere. (Victoria County History: Gloucestershire: London: 1968-: 156 SEQ; Buildings of England: Verey D: Gloucestershire: The Vale and the Forest of Dean: London: 1970-: 357; BAA Conference Transactions: Fernie E et al: Mediaeval Art and Architecture at Tewkesbury Abbey: London: 1985-: VARIOUS; The English Decorated Style: London: 1979-: 37/38 51/52; Jones A: Tewkesbury Abbey: Church or Ancient Monument ?: Tewkesbury: 1988-: VARIOUS; Bennett J: The History of Tewkesbury: London: 1830-: VARIOUS; Petit J L: The Abbey Church of Tewkesbury: with a Description ............: Cheltenham: 1848-).

Listing NGR: SO8907132443

This List entry has been amended to add sources for War Memorials Online and the War Memorials Register. These sources were not used in the compilation of this List entry but are added here as a guide for further reading, 26 October 2017.


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This building is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as amended for its special architectural or historic interest.

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Date: 26 Mar 2002
Reference: IOE01/04008/21
Rights: Copyright IoE Mr John Brookes. Source Historic England Archive
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