What’s black and white and well-bred all over? Tracy Spiers explores Tewkesbury’s Abbey and ancient alleyways
Tracy Spiers explores the Abbey and the town’s ancient alleyways
It has one of the best medieval black-and-white townscapes in England and as most of it lies within a conservation area, over 350 of its buildings are listed. Tewkesbury is fantastically rich when it comes to history and it is the perfect place to step back in time, whilst enjoying the modern delights of unique shops and places to eat. It’s this dipping in out of different centuries that make it such a fun town to visit and it’s why I had every confidence of keeping a 76-yearold history buff, a former tourist information assistant, a lively 10-yearold and her equally lively intrepid reporter of a mother, occupied for a few hours.
Having picked up the popular Alleyways and Heritage Trails from Tewkesbury Heritage and Visitor Centre, we went in search of the town’s alleys, stepped back into 2018 for lunch and then returned to the past for the second trail. It proved a great way to get a good walk whilst challenging the grey matter and learning some fascinating facts.
It was at the end of the 17th century that alleyways started appearing in Tewkesbury due to an increased demand for housing and restricted land space. Built at right angles to the street, the alleyways acted as drains and rubbish dumps. Today they are a lot cleaner but it is easy to imagine the unhealthy, filthy cramped conditions locals would have experienced then. Originally there were about 90 alleyways. Today a third of them can be seen, all named after the families who once lived and owned the properties.
Machine Court is the starting point and it’s here where one of the cottages allegedly housed 30 people in the attic. Kezia enjoyed ducking and diving into the alleys and courts, proving it is a memorable way of exploring the town. We found Clark’s Alley, Eagles Alley which warns us ‘Commit No Nuisance’; Care Alley and Old Post Office Alley, where a post office was based until 1840. At Walls Court, which has Tudor work in the archway, the trail encouraged us to feel how cold and damp the alley would have been. I loved the alleyway at Cornell Books, full of bookshelves and lined with
‘Charles Dickens’ fictional character Mr Pickwick dined here and had a very merry time drinking ale, Madeira and port!’
classic Penguins. At Warder’s Alley one will find an impressive mosaic Cheshire Cat, produced by pupils of Alderman Knight School with Eastnor Pottery and a detailed map of all the alleyways and courts of Tewkesbury, produced by Project Alleycat, which instigated this unique alley initiative.
OYEZ, OYEZ, OYEZ!
As we popped out of an alley, Mum spotted a colourful character walking down the High Street. He looked very majestic in his striking red jacket and as if he had just stepped out of a history book. I ran after him. He towered above me. It was of course Tewkesbury Town Crier Michael Kean-price who has been crying for 19 years. His proper title Town Sergeant and Common Crier stems back to the days when town sergeants were in charge of the town watch in case there was a fire. I was honoured as he allowed me to hold his eight-pound bell! It was clear he was proud of his role and his town.
“Tewkesbury is the centre of the universe. The people are friendly and the original medieval layout is protected, you can not mess about with the centre of Tewkesbury and of course the Abbey is absolutely amazing,” he told me.
“What is unique in the whole of the Commonwealth is the fact that Tewkesbury’s Town Sargent has to go to the top of Abbey tower for any Royal occasion – that’s 132ft and 201 steps – to issue a congratulatory proclamation. I’m about to have a knee operation but the fire brigade has said they will carry me to the top if I can’t walk the steps so we can keep up the tradition for Prince Harry’s wedding in May!”
Michael recalled the occasion he knew he wanted to be a town crier. “It was at the Royal Coronation in 1953 when Ted Preston, who was town crier for 42 years, cried for the first time. He was the voice of Tewkesbury and was like a thunderclap! I said to my father, I want to be him. I waited 46 years and I wouldn’t change it for anything.”
After a refreshment break in Café au Chocolat, the taste of heaven for chocolate lovers and a place to indulge