The History of Tewkesbury

By James Bennett

Transcriptions by Rosemary Lockie, © Copyright 2015



THE derivation of the name of this ancient town, like that of many others, is enveloped in much mystery: the researches of the historian and the antiquary have left the matter in nearly the same uncertainty in which they found it; and it will therefore not be expected that we shall attempt to decide a point on which the opinions of so many eminent philologists are at variance.

Tradition, which is generally to be preferred to conjecture, has ascribed its origin to Theocus, a recluse, who is said to have erected a chapel and fixed his residence here about the end of the seventh century.[7] This is not only the most ancient and generally received etymon, but is perhaps the most probable; and, as we are assured that the Saxons called the place ÐeoτiſbvρȜ, that is, Theotisbyrg, or the town belonging to Theot,[8] we may certainly, without any great stretch of fancy, suppose the name to have come from Theocus.

Skinner, in his Etymologicon Anglicanum, says the Anglo-Saxon name was "Ðeocſbuρý, i.e. Curia seu fanum Theoci viri sancti eremitae".

Camden asserts that, in Saxon times, it was called Theocſbuρy, by others Theoc's Court, from Theoc, who there led the life of a hermit".


According to Camden,[9] Leland, in some Latin verses, of which the following is a translation, had the same idea of its derivation:-

"Theocus' Court, with spacious market place,
"Proud of the spoils of the Lancastrian race;
"Where Severn with the Avon waters joins;
"The sacred resting-place of nobles shines;
"Here lodg'd the mould'ring bones and ashes are
"Of men renown'd for glorious feats of war".

Mr. Fosbroke says, "Odda and Dudda, two Mercian dukes, were lords of this place, which was probably named Teokesbury, from Teoke[10] and Bury, it being the town of these Dukes of Mercia.

William of Malmsbury derives the name from the Greek word Theotokos, signifying the Mother of God, because the church was dedicated to the Virgin Mary.

The learned and ingenious Baxter supposes Tewkesbury to be the Etocessa of the Romans, latinized by them from the British Etoc isceu, faux aquarum; and afterwards changed by the Saxons into TheocſýρiȜ, or the town of Etocessa.

Rudder[11] thinks it is derived from Dodo or Thodo, one of the earliest lords of the manor of whom we have any account, the D and Th being, as he observes, often substituted for each other in Saxon names; and that from this Dodo comes the Latin Thodocus, from which he supposes Teodechesberie, as it appears in Doomsday, to have been derived.

Antiquaries are also somewhat divided in opinion concerning the derivation and meaning of the word Borough, Bury, Burg, Byrig, or Burgus, all which had originally the same signification - a number of houses placed together for the sake


of safety.[12] The Saxons termed most hills that had entrenchments upon them Beoph, or Burz, and hence some have supposed that there was a camp at or near to Tewkesbury at the time of its foundation.

It is said by Caesar, that "what the Britons call a town, is a tract of woody country, surrounded by a mound and ditch, for the security of themselves and their cattle against the incursions of their enemies"; and we may reasonably believe Tewkesbury to have been a town of this description from very early times, as it is certain that it was nearly encompassed by immense tracts of wood land, and the rivers alone formed a natural defence in times of war and danger, such as few other situations presented.

The Romans therefore perhaps found the spot, on which Tewkesbury now stands, occupied by the Britons, and by them denominated a town. It is probable that the imperial legions took possession of Tewkesbury, A.D. 44, at the time they penetrated as far as Caer Glow (Gloucester), the name of which place they changed to Glevum. We shall endeavour, in a subsequent chapter, to shew that the "conquerors of the world" had roads either through or in the immediate vicinity of this place; and from the following passage in Tacitus, "Ille" (Ostorius) "detrahere arma suspectis, cinctosque castris Antonam et Sabrinam flurios cohibere parat",[13] it has been inferred that the Roman pro-praetor Ostorius Scapula, in the reign of the Emperor Claudius Caesar, built forts on the Severn and Avon, and stationed himself in this neighbourhood for a considerable time. Dr. Nash conjectures the meaning of this passage of the historian to be, that Ostorius posted his forces on those rivers, to prevent the Britons, who were in possession of Worcestershire, from marching further than Tewkesbury.


From this it would appear, that the Roman general planted his army at the Mythe, where are the remains of a strong fortification, with a tumulus; and also at Towbury Hill, in the parish of Twyning, about three miles distant, where there is a large elevated encampment, which Leland supposes was the site of the residence of one of the Mercian kings, though there can be no doubt of its having been also a Roman station.[14]

It may indeed be said, that there is now observable a chain of fortifications along the banks of the Severn, from Tewkesbury to Worcester; for, independently of those at the Mythe and Twyning, there are traces of entrenchments on the hill at Southend, near Upton; and in the neighbourhood of Kempsey,


about three miles from Worcester, a strong encampment is very distinguishable. As Upton has undisputed claims to having been a Roman station, it may therefore be concluded that these fortifications owe their construction to Ostorius.

There are also the remains of a large camp at Kemerton Hill,[15] and of a smaller one at Conderton Hill,[16] both of which command an extensive line of level country, and overlook the Severn and the Avon for a considerable distance: in the neighbourhood of these camps, especially near the latter, a number of Roman coins have at various times been discovered.

Mr. Lethieullier exhibited to the society of antiquaries, in 1730, a silver Trajan and a brass Maximian, found in a meadow near Tewkesbury.[17] Roman coins are now frequently dug up in the Oldbury gardens, and many were found in the neighbourhood of the abbey church in 1828.

The Severn was anciently the boundary of two distinct nations, viz. the Silures, or natives of the western bank, including Herefordshire, Monmouthshire, and a portion of South Wales, and the Dobuni, who occupied the eastern bank, and the extended heights in its rear.[18] Tacitus calls the Silures an insulting and pugnacious race, and the Romans could only effect their subjugation after a nine years' war, when Caractacus, who had frequently triumphed over the invaders, was defeated by Ostorius. Against the incursions of their rapacious


neighbours, the Dobuni threw up fortresses on the range of hills which extend from the Cotswolds to Bath;[19] and these fortifications were subsequently adopted by the Romans, whilst they occupied Britain. Some of these camps are decidedly British, others Roman, and it would be difficult to say whether some partake most of the British, Danish, or Roman character - having been doubtlessly altered by the successive reigning powers, to suit their ideas of conveniency or utility.

The earliest account we have of the history of Tewkesbury, to which any degree of credit can be given, informs us that Odo and Dodo, two noble Saxon brothers, who flourished at the commencement of the eighth century, and who were joint lords of the manor, had a palace here; and that they either converted their residence into a religious house, or founded one near thereto, and endowed it with considerable possessions. Camden has preserved the following inscription, which, he says, was to be seen at Tewkesbury long after the transaction which it was designed to commemorate took place:


The import of which is, that "Duke Dodo caused this royal palace to be converted into a church". But Dugdale affirms, that the Register of the Abbey of Tewkesbury refers this inscription to the Duke's house at Deerhurst.[20]


If the ancient residence of the lords of Tewkesbury were thus appropriated to religious uses by those pious noblemen, it is evident that they or their successors shortly afterwards built here another castle - better calculated perhaps for the abode of potent chiefs in those perilous days than the former one. This castle stood on what was then called Holme Hill, a little to the south-west of the town, but no remains of it whatever are at present discernable.[21] We may be assured that it was an early structure, as its name, Holme, denotes it to have been of Saxon origin. Leland says that the Clares Earls of Gloucester generally resided there, that part of the building had been standing within the recollection of persons living in his time, and that the bottoms of the walls were visible when he wrote his Itinerary. At this castle, Robert the first Earl of Gloucester invited the abbot and monks of the adjoining monastery every Sunday in the year to dinner; and by its destruction these ecclesiastics lost not only a place of frequent and hospitable entertainment, but the certain influence of


powerful patrons whenever the temporal concerns of their church required it. The building was burnt down during the contentions for the crown between Stephen and Maud: it was afterwards rebuilt, and is supposed to have been finally rased about the period of the attainder of Hugh le Despencer the second, early in the thirteenth century. As the great lords of this place were then deprived of a residence here, suited to their rank, it may be conjectured that they were thenceforward guests of the abbot, whenever they came to visit their extensive possessions at Tewkesbury.

The early periods of the history of this town are very barren of interesting events: some considerable ravages are said to have been committed here by the Danes, but what the spoliation was is not particularly noticed. It is known that, about 877, this people plundered the country about Gloucester; and in the following year encamped at Cirencester, and there continued during the winter. It is therefore probable that Tewkesbury came in for its share of misfortune and privation about the same time.

The state of the borough in the reign of King Edward the Confessor, and at the Norman conquest, may be in some degree ascertained from the extracts which will be given in a subsequent portion of this work from Doomsday-Book.

Most of our early historians assert, that it was in the immediate neighbourhood of Tewkesbury that the personal conflict took place, in the year 1016, between Edmund Ironside and Canute the Great, which terminated the contest for sovereign power which had for a long while desolated the kingdom.[22] The princes, with their armies, having approached each other on the banks of the Severn, Edmund posted his men on the western shore, and Canute on the eastern; when the former, wishing to spare the further effusion of his subjects' blood, offered his enemy to decide their quarrel by single combat.


The royal Dane accepted the challenge; and after a long and ineffectual struggle for the mastery, in the presence of their respective armies, the princes became weary, and at length entered into a pacific arrangement to divide the kingdom between them.[23] It was agreed that Canute should reign in the north, and Edmund in the south; after which, the combatants exchanged their arms and garments, and dispersed their followers.[24]


The scene of this memorable battle is said to have been on a little island in the Severn, called Oalnij, Olney, or the Isle of Eight, about two miles below Tewkesbury. At present however there is no place either bearing that name, or correctly answering to the description; but it is traditionally said, and appearances would fully countenance such an idea, that there was formerly a small island, a little below the church at Deerhurst, at the bend of the stream, now called by mariners "The Tail of Deerhurst". Here, if at any place in this part of the Severn, must the rival princes have contended for the sovereignty of England. In dry seasons, a broad solid bed of rocky clay may be seen far above the water, which, united to the sudden shifting of the sand banks near it, renders the navigation of the river at this point more difficult and dangerous than in any other part of the Severn. On the spot which is pointed out as the foundations of this island, the crews of perhaps half a dozen trading barges at once, (when they are prevented passing "Deerhurst Tail" for want of sufficient water), now sometimes hold what they term a "wake" - in imitation of the village wakes in the neighbourhood - and thus wile away the tedious hours occasioned by the interruption in their voyage.

There is an island, near Gloucester which is called Alney, and hence some writers have considered that to have been the scene of the interesting engagement between Edmund and Canute; but all historians agree in asserting that the truce was completed at Deerhurst.

Tewkesbury suffered greatly in the wars in the early part of the reign of Henry the first; and during the disputes between Stephen and his unyielding barons, in the year 1140, Waleran de Beaumont, son of the Earl of Leicester, ransacked the town, and took away with him spoils to an immense amount, though he left untouched every species of property belonging either to the abbey or the members thereof.[25]


Tewkesbury was made a free burgh by Robert and William successive Earls of Gloucester; and the liberties which were by them granted to the inhabitants, afford a tolerable picture of the constitution of these burghs under feudal lords.[26]

John Earl of Cornwall, brother of King Richard the first, and who was himself afterwards King of England, resided frequently at his castle at Tewkesbury: he repaired some of the roads and bridges, and was a considerable benefactor to the place.

During the time the manor was vested in the family of the Clares Earls of Gloucester, the privileges of the inhabitants were considerably augmented:[27] those great and powerful barons were generally resident upon their estate at this place, and we are told that Richard de Clare the second entertained sixty knights here during the Christmas festivities while he possessed the manor. When the lordship of Tewkesbury became separated from the honour of Gloucester, King Edward the


third, on the 12th of August, in the eleventh year of his reign, confirmed all the grants which had been made to the burgesses of Tewkesbury by a long and splendid race of patrons, and further extended their privileges.[28] There is an exemplification of the last charter, dated 20th Jan. 15 Edw. III.

King Richard the second, on the 10th of Dec. in the eighth year of his reign, confirmed all the charters which had been previously granted to the inhabitants of the borough.[29]

About the beginning of the fifteenth century, Tewkesbury is supposed to have made considerable progress in population and importance, but the records of those times afford us little information respecting the condition of the people in places of this description, either as to their numbers, the state of their trade, or their advancement in civilization. From a petition, which was sent by the Commons to the House of Lords, "at the instance and especial request of the faithful liege people of our sovereign lord the king, the bailiffs, burgesses and commonalty of the town of Tewkesbury", in the eighth year of the reign of Henry the sixth, it is evident that the inhabitants of this borough at that time carried on a considerable commerce with Bristol, and other ports on the river Severn. The petition, after stating that the people of Tewkesbury have been accustomed to ship "all manner of merchandize" down the Severn to Bristol, &c. complains of the disorderly conduct of the people of the Forest of Dean, who, it is said, come "with great riot and strength, in manner of war, as enemies of a strange country", and stop and plunder their barges "of wheat, malt and flour, and other divers goods", as they pass by the coasts near the Forest; and that the marauders sometimes not only despoil them of their merchandize, but destroy their vessels, and even cast the crews overboard and drown them.[30]


In compliance with this petition, an act of parliament was passed (8 Hen. II. cap.27), by which it was enacted that the inhabitants of Tewkesbury shall have an action of debt (according to the statute of Winchester) to recover against the commonalty of the Forest of Dean, and hundreds of Bledislow and Westbury, (although they are no commonalty), recompence for such robberies, oppressions and wrongs, which have been or shall be done unto them upon the river Severn, by any persons belonging to the said forest or hundreds; that the goods of every private person may be taken upon an execution awarded against the commonalty; and that any person may arrest and imprison the offenders.

We are now arrived at an æra in which the name of Tewkesbury becomes closely connected with one of the most important transactions recorded in English history: we allude of course to the memorable and bloody battle which was fought at this place, in the year 1471, between the rival houses of York and Lancaster; and as this interesting event has given a degree of mournful celebrity to the town, we shall, in the succeeding chapter, endeavour to embody those particulars respecting it, which have been handed down to us by our venerable chroniclers, with the facts which the investigation of recent historians has elicited.

[7] Cotton MS. Cleop. c.III.
[8] See a copy of a very curious Saxon inscription, found by Hackluyt in Leominster church in 1392, which is preserved in the addenda to Weever's Funeral Monuments.
[9] Gough's edition, I. 381.
[10] "A.S. Dux. I take Theocus, the hermit, whether the story be true or false, to be a latinization of the A.S. Theoke, and proving nothing in respect to the etymon". - Fosbroke's Gloucestershire, v.2. p.278. - The same author says, "Teoke, Anglo-Saxon, for General, is in my judgment, the manifest etymon".- Gent. May. Supp. pt.2. 1826.
[11] History of Gloucestershire.
[12] A burgh is defined to be "the placing or situation of many houses together". - Cluverius Germania Antiqua. And Sir Robert Cotton says, "we use this word Burgus, Bury, Borough, being all one, as a common name for a town". - Hearne's Antiq. Disc. v.I. p.105.
[13] Tacit. Annal. b.12, p.31.
[14] In Roman camps, the figure was generally square or oblong, with the angles sometimes obtuse or rounded off; and Horsley says, that, in selecting a site for their encampments, "there is nothing that the Romans seem to have had a greater regard to, than the convenience of a river". The situation of the camp at Twyning was therefore well suited to their views; and as Roman coins have been frequently found upon the spot, there is every probability that it was occupied by the armies of Rome. The form is an irregular oblong square; the west side, which looks towards the Severn, is nearly twice as long as the east; and the north and west sides are strongly defended by a precipitous declivity. The camp comprises nearly twenty acres of fine fertile pasture land, and forms part of the estate of William Law Phelps, esq. who has a mansion contiguous, called Puckrup House. It required comparatively little labour to suit it to the purposes of a military encampment, for nature formed it a considerable headland: it is about half a mile distant from the Severn, and commands a view of that river for some length, as well as a great extent of country on both sides thereof. It is fortified all round with entrenchments, and on the south side is a considerable excavation, where probably the residence of the general was placed, for the sake of enjoying as much as possible of the meridian sun, an indulgence needed by the natives of a climate so much warmer. As the camps of the Romans were frequently adopted and altered by the different invading powers which succeeded them in their ascendancy over Britain, it is extremely probable that this camp was occupied by the Saxons and Danes, and might indeed have been the residence of more than one of the Mercian monarchs. Leland calls this spot "Tetbyri Castelle", but perhaps the mistake originated with the transcriber or printer, and not with the venerable antiquary: he says it "is a two miles from Theokesbyri, above it, in ripa lava Sabrinae, apon a cliv with doble diches, in the paroche of Twyning. It is now overgrowne with trees and bushes of juniper. It longgid to Winchelcumbe abbay. Peraventure it was King Offa or King Kenulphus' house". - Itin. v.6. p.76.
[15] On Kemerton Hill is a large camp, of a triangular shape, two sides of which are defended by the steep precipice of Bredon Hill, looking to the north and west; the south and south-east sides are guarded by two ditches, about twenty yards wide each; the whole ground within the camp is upwards of twenty-one acres. - Nash's Worcestershire.
[16] The camp on Conderton Hill is of an oval shape, one hundred and sixty-five yards long and seventy-one yards wide, and is traditionally said to have been constructed by the Danes. The Romans however probably occupied it, as the coins of that empire are not only sometimes found in its vicinity, but also in the adjoining village of Overbury.
[17] Gough's Add. to Camd.
[18] The Dobuni, or as they are named by Dio, the Boduni, inhabited the counties of Gloucester and Oxford; which were afterwards comprehended in the Roman province Britannia Prima.
[19] Independently of those already enumerated, there are several other camps in the vicinity of Tewkesbury, viz. on Nottingham Hill, Cleeve Hill, Leckhampton Hill, Criekley Hill, Churehdown, &c.
[20] Whether Camden is correct, or whether he erroneously attributed to Tewkesbury an inscription which belonged to Deerhurst, it is certain that the following was placed over the gate of Deerhurst priory:
"Hanc Aulam Dodo Dux consecrari fecit in Ecelesiam, ad Honorem
Beatae Mariae Virginis ob amorem fratris sui Almarici".
And in the year 1675, a stone was dog up in an orchard on Mr. Powell's estate, near the church at Deerhurst, which was thus inscribed: "Odda Dux jussit hanc Aulam regiam eonstrui atque dedicari in honorem S. Trinitatis pro Anima Germani sui Elfriei quae de hoc loco assumpta est. Ealdredus vero Episcopus qui eandem dedicavit II id. Aprilis, xiv autem anno Regni S. Edwardi Regis Anglorum".
[21] Holme Castle stood near the top of a field, now called the Vineyard, where recently a considerable excavation remained, which had evidently been made for the purpose of procuring the stone which had been used in the foundations of the building - probably for repairing the adjoining turnpike-road. Upon levelling some of the hillocks, in 1826, a quantity of rubbish and mortar, many painted bricks, and also large solid masses of common bricks and stones, were discovered; the appearance of the latter clearly demonstrating that the edifice, of which they formed a part, had been destroyed by fire. The Vineyard has by some been considered the spot where Queen Margaret entrenched her army in 1471: it was perhaps the scene of some blood-shed, towards the close of the battle; but independently of the fact that the queen's encampment was at Gupshill, the form and extent of the mounds on the two lower sides of the field, which had principally been the means of giving rise to the idea, would rather have led to the conclusion that they were the sites of the boundary walls of the castle. In corroboration of this notion, when one of those shelving banks was cut through, in 1821, for the purpose of making a drain, hewn stones of a great size and thickness, strongly cemented with lime, sand and gravel, were found at the depth of five or six feet from the surface. Before the field was levelled, one might indeed, in imagination, have traced out in the Vineyard not only the ground plan of Holme Castle, but also the extent of the whole area included within its bounds, as well as the situation of many subordinate members of that once celebrated baronial residence.
[22] Leland's Collectanea, vol.3, p.354.- Holinshed, vol.1, p.255. - Milton's Britain, b.4, p.265.- Speed's Hist. p.371, 1056. - Gibson's Camden, v.1, p.272.- Strutt's Saxon Chron. v.2, p.103.
[23] In the Chronicle of Ethelred, abbot of Rievesby, the following particular account of this singular engagement is given: - "Both kings meeting with their armies on the banks of the Severn, Edmund sat down with his men on the western shore, Canute on the eastern. But there is an island situate in the midst of the river, which is called Holenghege, to which the kings being carried, protected with the most splendid arms, enter upon the single combat, both nations beholding. But when the strength of their spears failed, both from the valour of those who pushed them, as well as the resistance of their very strong shields, they assail each other hand to hand with drawn swords. They fought stoutly, Valour assisting Edmund; Fortune, Canute: the swords rattle around their helmet-protected heads; sparks fly out from the collision of the metals; but when anger, as is usual from the very emotion of war, inflamed the more robust bosom of Edmund; he becomes more powerful by his blood warming him; he raises his right hand, brandishes his sword, and iterates his blows upon the head of his enemy with such vehemence, that he seemed to the spectators not so much to strike as to thunder. For the fire bursting out between the sword and helmet at every blow, seemed not only to appear, but even to blaze. Canute however perceiving by his shorter breathing that his strength was failing him, thought of addressing the youth upon the subject of peace; but, as he was crafty, fearing lest, if his failure should appear to the youth, he would not hear even a word of peace, collecting all his spirit within him, and straining what strength he had left to the utmost, with admirable valour he rushes in one attack upon Edmund; and by and by withdrawing himself a little, begs the young man to halt a moment, and give a hearing to what he wished to say. Edmund assents, and Canute agrees concerning the division of the kingdom".
[24] Some historians say, that when the two armies met at Deerhurst, and Edmund challenged Canute to single combat, the latter refused, alleging, "that though he was superior to his rival in mental powers, yet he distrusted his own little body against a man of so great a bulk; but added, that, under present circumstances, it might be prudent for both to lay aside their resentments, and divide the kingdom". A reference to the principal officers of each army was the consequence; and after a short conference, a peace was concluded by a partition of the kingdom. - William of Malm. p.40. Hoveden Annal, p.250. Huntingdon Hist. &c.
[25] The city of Worcester was, on the 7th of Nov. 1139, plundered and set on fire by Milo, Earl of Hereford, one of the most zealous adherents of the Empress Maud, who came from Gloucester with a great army of horse and foot. Waleran, the new earl of Worcester, on the 30th of the same month, took possession of the castle of Worcester, which had held out for Stephen, and marching out at the head of the Worcester men, made some severe reprisals upon the tenants and adherents of Milo; he took Sudeley Castle in Gloucestershire, and ravaged the whole country round it, returning with many prisoners, droves of cattle, and store of goods, to Worcester. In 1140, king Stephen arrived in Worcester, and while he marched from thence to reduce Hereford, Waleran fell upon Tewkesbury, with a great multitude of armed men, and took immense spoils, sparing only the goods of the church of Tewkesbury, being overcome with the importunity of the abbot and friars: he burnt the magnificent seat of Robert Earl of Gloucester, and all things round about, and pillaged or laid in ashes all the houses till he approached the city of Gloucester, within the distance of a mile. On the return of the earl with his army to Worcester, he protested with an inhuman glee of triumph, that "neither in Normandy nor in England had he ever burnt more villages and houses in one excursion". Contin. Flor. Wig.
[26] For this charter of liberties, see Appendix, No.1.
[27] A charter of Gilbert de Clare, Earl of Gloucester and Hertford, dated at Rothwell, in the county of Northampton, 26th April, in the year of grace 1314, and in the 7th year of King Edward the second, recites the grants by William and Robert heretofore Earls of Gloucester his progenitors, and extends the liberties by them given to the burgesses of Tewkesbury. This charter of Gilbert is recited at length in that of king Edward the third.
[28] For King Edward's charter, see Appendix, No.2.
[29] These charters were also further confirmed 4 Henry IV. - 4 Henry VI. - 20 Henry VI. (with a grant of two fairs.)- 20 Henry VII. - 2 Edward VI.- 1 and 2 Phil, and Mary.- and 2 Eliz.
[30] This document, which is highly interesting, is given at length in the Appendix, No.3.

OCR/transcript by Rosemary Lockie in October 2015.

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