What’s black and white and well-bred all over? Tracy Spiers ex­plores Tewkes­bury’s Abbey and an­cient al­ley­ways

Cotswold Life - - EDITOR’S COMMENT - WORDS AND PHO­TOS: Tracy Spiers

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.


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

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