The History of Tewkesbury

By James Bennett

Transcriptions by Rosemary Lockie, © Copyright 2015




THIS river, which was called by the Britons Hafren,[418] in the Saxon language Saepenne,[419] in Latin Sabrina,[420] is, in a commercial point of view, the most important in England excepting the Thames. It is navigable for vessels of large burthen for upwards of one hundred and fifty miles from the sea, without the assistance of a single lock. It is the longest river in England - admeasuring two hundred and twenty-five miles, a length greater by seven miles than that of the Thames; and it is equal to any other British river for grand and beautiful scenery.


The Severn, which Hennius styles "one of the arms of Britain", has its source in a small lake on the eastern side of Plinlimmon, a mountain in Montgomeryshire, a short distance from the head of the Wye;[421] from whence it runs with a swift current, and, being joined by many lesser torrents, shortly afterwards appears a considerable stream. Passing by Llanydlos, Newtown and Powis Castle, it becomes navigable at Welchpool, where it is joined by the river Yirniew. Not long afterwards it enters the great plain of Shropshire, and


proceeds gently onwards until it arrives at Shrewsbury, which it almost surrounds, somewhat in the form of a horse-shoe. It then passes near the base of the Wrekin Hill; and, after being united with the river Tern, descends into the picturesque scenes which environ the neighbourhood of Coalbrook Dale and Broseley. It then runs to Bridgnorth and Bewdley, both of which towns have risen into importance from the traffic they have been enabled to carry on by means of the navigation of this river. At Stourport, where a town of considerable magnitude has recently sprung into existence, it is joined by the several canals which have been formed for the purpose of conveying the commerce of the numerous trading towns of Warwickshire, Staffordshire and Worcestershire, to distant places, by means of the Severn. After this, the river, augmented by the waters of the Stour, and various other streams, assumes a more important and beautiful feature, as it rolls through a pleasant and fertile district in its approach to the city of Worcester. A little below this place, it receives the Teme; and its banks become more ornamental as it skirts the smiling villages of Kempsey, Severn Stoke and Hanley-Castle. It then runs close to the town of Upton, where there is a fine old bridge of sixteen arches, built in 1605; and passes within view of Ham Court, the seat of Joseph John Martin, esq. It afterwards separates the parishes of Bushley and Ripple: at the former place, J.E. Dowdeswell, esq. has an elegant and venerable mansion, called Pull Court; and at the latter, the Rev. Fleetwood Parkhurst has a pleasant mansion and good estate. About a mile and a half above Tewkesbury it enters Gloucestershire, and for a considerable distance forms the boundary between that county and Worcestershire. As the river approaches Tewkesbury, the lofty Mythe Hill, with its abrupt declivity, is an interesting and prominent object; and the fine old abbey church, when viewed beneath the splendid arch of the Mythe bridge, presents a most beautiful spectacle. An arm of the river conveys vessels up to Tewkesbury quay; and, a little beyond the town, it is joined by the Avon and other tributary currents. The lofty plantations which encompass Tewkesbury Lodge and Forthampton


Court are here seen with charming effect; and the distant view of the shady landscape, in the neighbourhood of Corse Lawn, is scarcely less pleasing. About two miles below Tewkesbury it passes Deerhurst and Chaceley; and at the Haw, it rolls beneath a modern cast-iron bridge, of three arches - one of the many mementos of the folly of the late speculating æra. It then bends its course towards the capital of Gloucestershire, but before it arrives there, it is divided into two channels; one of these winds its way beneath the Westgate bridge, and close to the walls of the city; the other takes a circuit to the right, and passes under Maisemore and Over bridges: these channels unite again about two miles below Gloucester. Shortly afterwards, it receives the Stroudwater canal, by the aid of which the important junction of the Thames and the Severn is formed. "It then becomes considerably extended, and, swelling into a broad aestuary, forms the principal ornament of its expanded vale. The cliff on which the church of Newnham is finely situated, commands its immense semicircle with admirable effect, while the Cotswold range, terminating in the bold elevation of Stinchcomb Hill, bounds the vale to the east, and the undulating hills of the Forest of Dean close in upon it on the west, opening into various sweetly picturesque glens".[422] The Severn then, after uniting with a number of lesser streams, grows wider gradually until it receives the Wye and the Somersetshire Avon, when it forms the British Channel.

Marshall, in his "Rural Economy of Gloucestershire", speaking of the Severn, says, "its aestuary is singularly magnificent, forming a channel, not unfrequently nor improperly styled the Severn sea; whose banks, on either side, rise from the richest marshes to lofty and most picturesque mountains. Europe, I believe, does not furnish another river-entrance of equal grandeur. These mountain banks approach, and the channel contracts with the cliffs of Chepstow and Aust, but the aestuary continues; and the country above opens into an


extended vale, which widens as its length increases, until it receives the county of Worcester, almost entirely, within its outline; then contracts, and closes with the hills of Shropshire and Staffordshire. A vale which, in richness and beauty, has no where perhaps its equal. Its banks, to the west, are formed by the Forest of Dean, May Hill, the Malvern Hills, and the hills of Herefordshire and Shropshire; to the east, by the Stroudwater and the Cotswold Hills, and by rising grounds on the border of Warwickshire, closing with the Lickey and the Clent Hills".

This river is remarkable for its tide, which, says Rudder, "rolls in with a head of three or four feet high, foaming and roaring in its course, as if enraged by the opposition it meets with from a strong current of fresh water, which seems to contend with it for the superiority, clashing in such a manner as to dash the waters to a considerable height". This raging of the waters loses its grandeur, in a great degree, by the time it reaches Gloucester; though the tide comes with considerable force as far as Tewkesbury, and occasionally higher. This contest between the waters is distinguished by the name of hygre, said to be derived from the French eau-guerre, i.e. waterway; and is vulgarly called the boar.[423]

The tide of this river, Sir Robert Atkyns observes, "swells not by degrees, but comes in a heap, occasioned by the mouth of the river opening to the great Atlantic Ocean, which pours in its tide with great violence, and the river growing narrow on a sudden, it fills the channel at once".

The traffic on the Severn is very considerable, and is mostly carried on in vessels of two sorts: the lesser ones are


called barges and frigates, being from forty to sixty feet in length, having a single mast and square sail, and carrying from twenty to forty tons. The trows, or larger vessels, are from forty to eighty tons burthen: these have a main and top-mast, about eighty feet high, with square sails, and some have mizen-masts: they are generally from sixteen to twenty feet wide, and sixty in length.[424]

The conveyance of coals, from the pits of Staffordshire and Shropshire, to the cities, towns and villages upon the banks of the Severn, is one of the most important branches of trade which is carried on upon this river. A great number of vessels is also employed in conveying the produce of the Forest of Dean coal-mines to various parts.

From irregular and unlawful modes of fishing,[425] the Severn has lost a part of its breed of river fish, and depends greatly upon such as come up from the sea, and return at stated periods.

Salmon was formerly so plentiful in this river, that persons, when they apprenticed their children in places near its shores, frequently thought it necessary to stipulate that they should not be fed with this fish more than two days in the week. The Severn salmon has acquired a celebrity which makes it generally preferred to any other salmon. This fine fish is found in the river at all seasons of the year; they abound


most from Lady-Day to Midsummer, and are then in the highest state of perfection.[426]

When lampreys were considered the greatest delicacy which kings and nobles could introduce at their tables,[427] those of the Severn were in the highest estimation, and they still retain a portion of their former fame. They quit the sea, and come up the fresh water in the spring, and often weigh three or four pounds.[428]

Eels are found in great abundance in this river, and especially the young ones, provincially known by the appellation of elvers: these, if the season be mild, usually appear about the middle of April, when they sometimes cover the surface of


the water, more especially about the mouths of the small rivers and brooks which empty themselves into the Severn. They are of a dark brown colour, about two or three inches long, and are considered delicious.

Roach, dace, bleak, carp, flounders, trout, chub, perch, cod, shad, soals, shrimps, conger eels, and various other kinds of fish, are found in the Severn: many of these are, however, rarely seen in any part of the river, and some are never found so high up the stream as Tewkesbury.

Some of the more gigantic inhabitants of the ocean occasionally wander into the Severn. Daniel, in his Rural Sports, states, that "in the Severn, near Worcester, a man bathing, was struck, and actually received his death wound, from a sword fish, Xiphias gladius. The fish was caught immediately afterwards, so that the fact was ascertained beyond a doubt". On Nov. 1, 1819, a pike-headed whale, sixty feet in length, was left, by the receding of the tide, a few miles below Gloucester; porpoises are also frequently seen in the lower parts of the river. A sturgeon was caught near Tewkesbury, in 1701; a larger one, six feet live inches long and two feet three inches round, was taken between the Upper and Lower Lodes, on the 30th of April, 1725; and another, seven feet in length and two feet ten inches in girth, weighing one hundred and twenty pounds, was caught near Avon's Mouth, by lour fishermen who were dragging for salmon, on the 9th of April, 1829. The one which was taken in 1725, having been landed in the Severn Ham, was claimed by the corporation as lords of the royalty, and was accordingly delivered up to the bailiffs; the one caught in 1829 was landed in the Bushley meadows, and J.E. Dowdeswell, esq. the lord of the manor, having waived his right to it, the poor fishermen, by exhibiting it alive, and afterwards disposing of it in small portions, cleared upwards of ten pounds. The sturgeon is more frequently taken in those parts of the river nearer the sea.

The Severn is a public river, and the right of fishing in it is not restricted; but the fishermen are of course obliged to rent landing-places of the owners of the meadows on its banks.


During the summer months, the fishermen find, in the Severn, in the neighbourhood of Tewkesbury, large quantities of a species of coal, something of the culme kind, which is of great service to the maltsters and brick-makers. It is raised by means of a small net, which is attached to an iron hoop, at the end of a pole, sufficiently long to reach to the bed of the river. The sand being washed away, the net retains the coal, which is found in pieces of the size and shape of small pebbles, having all their angles and corners rubbed off by rolling in the water - a proof that they come from a distance, and are brought by the rapidity of the stream.

There is a very ancient ferry across the Severn, a little below Tewkesbury, called the Lower Lode, which belongs to Joseph Yorke, esq. of Forthampton Court. There was another, about half a mile higher up the river, called the Upper Lode, belonging to the Pull Court estate, but this has been discontinued as a public ferry since the erection of the bridge at the Mythe.


Avon is a very common name for rivers in England;[429] there are no less than three of this name in Gloucestershire.

This river rises near Naseby, in Northamptonshire, and ornaments, in no small degree, the delightful territory around Warwick Castle, as it flows beneath the cliff on which the lofty towers of that noble edifice are situate. It then glides through a beautiful country to Stratford, the birth-place of Shakspeare, and the repository of his ashes. Here the Avon becomes navigable, and proceeds through a fertile valley to Evesham and Pershore; from whence, running by Strensham, Bredon, Twyning and Mitton, it flows to Tewkesbury. Here the line of the river has evidently been altered from its natural course, but at what period this took place is unknown. Leland says,


that George Duke of Clarence, brother to King Edward the fourth, "thought to have brought Avon about the town";[430] but whether he, or one of the many other noble personages who were possessed of the lordship of Tewkesbury, effected this object, it would be in vain to inquire. It is not improbable that it was done at the instigation of the abbot and convent, with the view of bringing so fine a body of water near to the monastery, since it is evident that the abbey mills stood on or near to the spot where the present mills are situate. The original course of the stream is now clearly to be traced, a little above the town; and what is now called "Old Avon" formed a portion of it.

Richard Earl of Warwick, contemplated making the Avon navigable from Tewkesbury to Warwick.[431] The frequent disputes between the proprietors of lands, near to the river, seem to have required some legislative enactment long before it was obtained.[432]

This river was made navigable in the year 1G36, through the indefatigable exertions of William Sandys, esq. of Fladbury, second son of Sir William Sandys, bart. of Miserdine, in the county of Gloucester; who built sluices at Tewkesbury, Strensham, Nafford, Pershore, Piddle, Fladbury, Chadbury, Evesham, Harvington, Cleeve-Prior, Bidford, Welford and Stratford. On this occasion, a commission, consisting of the


principal noblemen and gentlemen of the adjoining counties,[433] was appointed by the lord keeper, in pursuance of an order of the privy council, with full authority to see that all persons, interested in any lands, mills, or other property, were fully recompensed for whatever damage they might sustain in making the river navigable; and the certificate or report of the commissioners was subsequently confirmed by another order in council.[434] In this patriotic undertaking, it has been estimated that Mr. Sandys spent upwards of £.20,000, which so much impoverished his fortune as to leave him without the means of supporting himself in a manner suitable to his rank.

Lord Windsor, in 1751, obtained an act of parliament for the better regulating the navigation of this river, and for settling the rates of water-carriage. His lordship would have acquired more credit for the services he actually rendered to its navigation, if he had not endeavoured, by suppressing all mention of the efforts of his meritorious predecessor, to appropriate to himself the honour which was due to the public-spirited and ill-requited Sandys.


In the year 1825, a petition was presented to the house of commons, for leave to bring in a bill for draining", embanking and improving the lands on the banks of the river Avon, in the neighbourhood of Tewkesbury; for repairing, altering and improving the flood gates, sluices, &c. and also for altering and amending the previous act. Numerous public meetings were held on the subject, but it has not yet been further proceeded in.

The corporation of Tewkesbury are proprietors of the fishery in the Avon, from the mouth of the Carron until it unites with the Severn near the Lower Lode. The fishery in the Old Avon belonged to the Right Hon. the Earl of Essex, until his lordship sold it, with the meadows called the Hammocks, to Mr. John Moore, in 1825.


This little river has its source among the elevated lands in the neighbourhood of Bishop's Cleeve. After a circuitous course through the valley, it unites with the Turl brook, which runs down from Walton Cardiff. It then skirts the south side of the town, and discharges itself into the Avon a little below the Hermitage turnpike.[435]


This small river rises in the parish of Ashton-under-Hill, flows from thence to Beckford, Aston-upon-Carron, and Ashchurch, and falls into the Avon just above the Long Bridge at Tewkesbury. It serves as a boundary, for a considerable distance, to divide the counties of Gloucester and Worcester.

[418] Baxter derives this name from ha au rian, which signifies queen or chief river, for such it certainly was to the Welch. - Gloss. Antiq. Brit.
[419] Signifying " sea-flowing". - Nash's Worcestershire.
[420] So called from sabr sand, sabrin sandy, because the river is often turbid, especially when swollen by the waters descending from the Welch mountains. - Bullet's Dict. Celt. - Giraldus Cambrensis and Geoffrey of Monmouth say that it was so called from Sabra or Sabrina, a beautiful virgin, who was drowned in this river by command of Queen Guendoloena, after the death of her husband Locrine, king of Britain, because she was the offspring of an amour with her rival Estrildis, one of the three daughters of Humber, king of the Huns, whom he had conquered. - Milton, who has so beautifully personified "Sabrina fair", in his exquisite poem of Comus, alludes to this tradition:
"There is a gentle nymph not far from hence,
"That with moist curb sways the smooth Severn stream,
"Sabrina is her name, a virgin pure".
Other particulars of the apocryphal history of the virgin Sabrina may be found in the Mirror of Magistrates, Drayton's Polyolbion, Spenser's Fairy Queen, Robert of Gloucester and Harding's Chronicles, and in an old English ballad on the subject. Many eminent antiquaries have acknowledged themselves at a loss in accounting for the derivation of the word Severn. - See Camden, Lloyd and Pennant. - General Vallancy derives it from sab a division, and rann a word of the same meaning; and hence, he observes, the Severn means a boundary river. - Malcolm, in his Antiquities, deduces it from sab, Gaelic for strong, or from saobh raging, and rian the sea. - Dyer, in his "Restoration of the ancient Modes of bestowing Names on the Rivers, &c. of Britain", says, "sab, sav, or sev is water or stream, and rian the little sea; and hence the little sea stream would be a translation of Ptolomy's Sabriana". After shewing in what manner from Sabriana the present Severn may have come, the same ingenious author observes, that its modern name may have been derived from the Gaelic, thus:- Sev is stream; and an, or its synonyme aun changed to arn, means great; thus the Sevarn, from the mutation of vowels now Severn, means the great stream.
[421] Mr. Gilpin, in his "Observations on the River Wye", says, " it is a singular circumstance, that within a quarter of a mile of the well-head of the Wye arises the Severn. The two springs are nearly alike: but the fortunes of rivers, like those of men, are owing to various little circumstances, of which they take the advantage in the early part of their course. The Severn, meeting with a tract of ground, rising on the right, soon after it leaves Plinlimmon, receives a push towards the north-east. In this direction it continues its course to Shrewsbury. There it meets another obstruction, which turns it as far to the south-east. Afterwards, still meeting with favourable opportunities, it successfully improves them; enlarging its circle; sweeping from one country to another; receiving large accessions every where of wealth and grandeur; till, at length with a full tide, it enters the ocean as an arm of the sea. In the mean time, the Wye, meeting with no particular opportunities of any consequence to improve its fortunes, never makes any figure as a capital river; and, at length, becomes subservient to that very Severn, whose birth, and early setting out in life, were exactly similar to its own. Between these two rivers is comprehended a district, consisting of great part of the counties of Montgomery, Radnor, Salop, Worcester, Hereford, and Gloucester. Of the last county, that beautiful portion only is inclosed, which forma the Forest of Dean".
[422] Skrine's Rivers, p. 229.
[423] The hygre is not, as has been sometimes supposed, peculiar to this river: Drayton, in his Polyolbion, mentions a hygre, of the same kind, appertaining to the river Humber; and Parkin, in his History of Norwich, thus describes the tides of the Ouse: "At the two equinoxes, and especially at the full of the moon in the autumnal one, such a vast heap of waters from the sea spreads itself upon the surface of the river with such fury, that it overwhelms whatever it meets: boats get out of its way, and the very water-fowls shun it: the inhabitants call it the eager, from its violence and rapidity".
[424] Phillips's Inland Navigation.
[425] In the year 1811, a society, called "The Tewkesbury Severn Association", was formed, and a very large subscription entered into, for the purpose of bringing to conviction persons offending against the laws for the preservation of the fish, and for regulating the fisheries, from the Barley-House to Wainload's Hill. Similar associations were established at Gloucester, Worcester, Shrewsbury, and many other places on the Severn, and the salutary effects arising from them were soon discernible. These laudable institutions unfortunately became neglected by the promoters of them, as soon as their novelty had subsided; and we no longer hear of illegal nets being destroyed, of unwholesome fish being burnt, or of unprincipled fishermen suffering the penalties incurred by the breach of those laws which were wisely made for preserving the breed of fish.
[426] "They are called salmon pinks, from their smallest size to a pound weight; a swing, from that size to four pounds; a botcher, from four to eight pounds; from that to sixteen, a gilleon; from that to the greatest growth of the fish, a salmon". - MS. Notes of Dr. Jenner, in Fosbroke's Gloucestershire.
[427] King Henry the third, in the twenty-fifth year of his reign, ordered the bailiffs of Gloucester to buy for his use thirty lampreys, sixty salmon, and two hundred shad, and to send them to Westminster on Christmas eve. By the same monarch, an order was issued to the sheriff of Gloucestershire, forbidding any one to sell a lamprey at a higher price than two shillings, which is equal to a guinea at the present time. - (Tower Records.) King Henry the first died from eating too freely of lampreys, which, Hume observes, "agreed better with his palate than his constitution". The celebrated Catherine of Russia, having frequently heard the Severn lampreys highly extolled, even in her remote dominions, expressed a great desire to taste them, and a quantity were potted and sent as a present to this luxurious empress.
[428] Linnasus ranks the lamprey, the lampern, and the nine-holes or pride, under the same class, and terms the genus petromyzon. The lampern is not in such repute as the lamprey, though sometimes sold as such to the unwary: it is about the size of a man's finger, and differs from the other by having the posterior fin on the back rising up in a ridge or angle towards the tail. The nine-holes or pride is a lesser lampern, which is frequently found in many of our rivulets, and is mostly about the size of a goose-quill. Though called nine-holes, it has, in fact, like the lamprey or lampern, no more than seven on each side of the neck; and the posterior fin on the back is level or even to the tail, without angle or ridge. This is the small fish which Plot, in his Natural History of Oxfordshire, calls the Pride of the Isis, and since which it has been known by the name of the pride. They are said to suck the gills of other fish, and Linnaeus therefore terms the species petromyzon bronchialis. - See Pennant's Zoology.
[429] Bullet's Dictionaire Celtique. - The Avon is generally translated the river. Whitaker, in his History of Manchester, says, that it is the plural of Av, Gaelic for water.
[430] Leland, vol. 6, p.50, edit. 1769.
[431] In a MS. in the possession of the Warwick family, it is stated, that Richard Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick, (temp. Hen. IV.) "mynded to have made passage for boattes from Tewkesbury to Warwick, for transporting of merchaintdise, for the advancement of Warwick".
[432] A.D. 1582, was ended a controversy of long standing touching the course of the river Avon, between John Russell, of Strensham, esq. and Thomas Handford, of Wollashull, esq. who, by stopping the stream to annoy each other, did great damage to the poor inhabitants thereabouts. The cause was; brought before the privy council, and by them recommended to Bishop Whitgift, to make up the matter between the contending parties. - Reg. Dec. et Cap.
[433] The commissioners were Lord Viscount Campden, Lord Windsor, Lord Spencer, Lord Brooke, Lord Craven, Thomas Coventry, esq. Robert Barkley, knight, one of the justices of the court of king's bench; John Bridgman, knight, chief justice of Chester; Richard Tracy, Thomas Purkering, and Walter Devereux, knights and baronets; William Russell, and Edward Littleton, barts.; Thomas Lucie, James Pitt, John Rous, Robert Lee, Robert Peyto, Edward Underhill, Robert Tracy, and Robert Cooke, knights; William Smith, D.D. Rowley Ward, sergeant at law; William Courteen, William Sheldon, Richard Cresswell, Walter Overbury, Humphrey Salway, William Barkley, and John Keyte, esqrs.
[434] These orders are remarkable for the summary powers exercised by the privy council, and delegated by them to the commissioners. Sir William Russell, bart. was turned out of the commission, and was, together with Richard Dowdeswell, esq. and others, commanded to appear before the council, for not acquiescing in the decision of the commissioners; and Mr. Edward Pratt, of Pershore, was committed to the Fleet prison for a similar offence. Sir William Russell and Mr. Dowdeswell appear to have opposed the measure in consequence of the injury it occasioned to Tewkesbury - the corporation having always, prior to the alteration in the navigation effected by Mr. Sandys, exacted a tonnage upon all goods which passed up and down the river Avon, from which Mr. Dowdeswell stated that they derived a yearly income of £.200.
[435] Leland thus accurately describes the Swilgate: "Ther is a litle broke caullid Suliet cumming downe from Clive, and enterith into Avon at Holme Castelle by the lifte ripe of it. This, at sodayn rayns, is a very wylde brooke, and is fedde with water faulling from the hilles therby". Leland, vol. 6. p.90. edit. 1769.

OCR/transcript by Rosemary Lockie in October 2015.

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