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Abbey Church of St Mary

A Grade I Listed Building in Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire

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Latitude: 51.9904 / 51°59'25"N

Longitude: -2.1606 / 2°9'38"W

OS Eastings: 389067

OS Northings: 232446

OS Grid: SO890324

Mapcode National: GBR 1JR.0LK

Mapcode Global: VH93T.H7MJ

Entry Name: Abbey Church of St Mary

Listing Date: 4 March 1952

Last Amended: 25 April 1994

Grade: I

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1201159

English Heritage Legacy ID: 376552

Location: Tewkesbury, Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire, GL20

County: Gloucestershire

District: Tewkesbury

Civil Parish: Tewkesbury

Built-Up Area: Tewkesbury

Traditional County: Gloucestershire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Gloucestershire

Church of England Parish: Tewkesbury St Mary the Virgin (Tewkesbury Abbey)

Church of England Diocese: Gloucester

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Listing Text


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
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
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
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
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
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 "...one 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,
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 ยป453, 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.

This text is from the original listing, and may not necessarily reflect the current setting of the building.

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