Tewkesbury – 1471 and all that…

1 02 2011

Last Thursday afternoon saw me in school again, but this time it was a presentation about my Zambia Book Bus experience and it was nearer to home, Queen Margaret County Primary School, Tewkesbury.

It was an enjoyable trip down memory lane. Chris and I relocated from the West Midlands to the Shire in the year of George Orwell, 1984. I was a newly appointed deputy head teacher, just across the county boundary, at QM School and remained there for five years until headship beckoned in ’89.

As soon as I was out of the QM door, Chris who had previously provided occasional supply cover, was offered a permanent position and has remained there ever since. So there has been either a Mr or Mrs A at QM for an uninterrupted period of nearly twenty seven years!

I also enjoyed a six year stint, from 1993, as head teacher of Mitton Manor Primary School, on the ‘sunny’ side of town.    

QM school, which opened in the mid-1950s, takes its name from a nearby historic site, Queen Margaret’s Camp. Queen Margaret, Margaret of Anjou, was the French wife of King Henry VI and as such Queen Consort of England and a major player in the War of the Roses, a dynastic civil war between the house of Lancaster (it’s that red rose again!) and the house of York (white rose) which lasted for over thirty years.

Henry, a Lancastrian, suffered from frequent bouts of mental illness and Margaret effectively ruled the kingdom for much of his 16 year reign, from 1445, until defeat saw the Yorkist claimant to the throne pronounced King Edward IV.

The subsequent capture of her husband in 1464 saw him imprisoned in the Tower of London and Margaret with her only son, Edward of Westminster, Prince of Wales, eventually forced into exile in France.

Following a brief resurgence from the Lancastrians in 1471, Margaret seized the chance to return to England to defend the claims of her imprisoned husband and, now seventeen year old, son – heir to the throne.   

Having landed on the Dorset coast, Queen Margaret and her troops set off for Wales, to pick up further reinforcements, with the intention of marching on to the Lancastrian strong hold in the North West. Alerted to these intentions, Edward IV marched his army westward from Windsor to secure Gloucester and prevent her from crossing the River Severn.

Margaret was forced to head north along the river to the next crossing point, Tewkesbury. Her troops were caught before they could safely cross and forced to give battle on 4th May 1471.

What followed was the final and bloodiest battle of the War of the Roses. Edward the young Prince of Wales was killed and many Lancastrian nobles seeking refuge in Tewkesbury Abbey were dragged outside to be slaughtered.

Queen Margaret was captured and imprisoned until 1475 when she was finally ransomed by the French king.  Henry VI perished in the Tower shortly after the Battle of Tewkesbury, which marked the beginning of period of political stability in the country until Edward IV’s death in 1483.          

Every year, in July, the Medieval Society re-enacts the battle, drawing many visitors to the town.

Margaret is said to have spent the night before the battle at the historic 13th century Gupshill Manor, just off the modern-day Gloucester Road, a short walk from where her troops camped and the school that bears her name. It is now an attractive black and white timbered inn, where I had my retirement ‘do’ last year! 

The well-preserved market town of Tewkesbury enjoys a marvellous architectural heritage. It is dominated by the Abbey Church with its monstrous square Norman tower, the largest in the country, from which, as local legend would have it, Queen Margaret watched the battle unfold.

The townspeople of Tewkesbury famously bought the splendid Abbey Church, originally part of a monastery, from Henry VIII for £453 thereby saving it from dissolution. 

The rest of the monastery buildings were destroyed but the Abbey Mill still remains, upon the Mill Avon channel, originally dug out by the monks. It features as Abel Fletcher’s Mill in the novel John Halifax Gentleman by Dinah Craik.      

The Black Bear, purporting to be the oldest pub in Gloucestershire, stands at the top of the High Street at one end of the stone built King John’s Bridge (commissioned when he was Lord of the Manor of Tewkesbury in the 12th century) that straddles the Avon. Some of the original brickwork still remains.

The Royal Hop Pole Hotel, a fine old coaching inn, a stone’s throw from the Abbey (recently taken over by Wetherspoons!) is mentioned in Charles Dickens’ Pickwick Papers.

The Old Baptist Chapel, on Church St, built around 1655, is one of the earliest examples from that denomination and was used as film location, back in the 1980s, for a BBC production of George Elliot’s Silas Marner, starring Sir Ben Kingsley and Jenny Agutter. 

I recall there was quite a stir when the news got around that the lovely Jenny was going ‘walkabout’  in Tewkesbury!

It was backstage at The Roses Theatre, oft maligned for its obtrusive 1970s architecture, that the much-loved comedian Eric Morecambe collapsed with a fatal heart attack, following six curtain calls at a charity performance in 1984.  

Eric and Ernie (Morecambe & Wise) were a national institution for so many years, and the subject of a recently aired bio-pic. Eric was a Bevin Boy during the war (see  my last post!) and also a long-standing supporter and director of Luton Town FC. He would have been mortified to see the Hatters drop out of the Football League a couple of seasons ago.

Just to the west of Tewkesbury, spanning the River Severn, is Thomas Telford’s Mythe Bridge, an impressive cast iron structure.   

Tewkesbury sits at the confluence of the Avon and Severn and as such has long been susceptible to flooding. It was particularly badly hit in July 2007 being totally surrounded by water and coming to national and international prominence.

On the evening of Friday 20th July, a day of torrential rain, following a week in which up to five inches had fallen in the surrounding area, Chris and I were cut off in Tewkesbury with all roads out impassable.  

We were lucky enough to find overnight accommodation, but by the following morning the waters had risen to such an extent that our Citroen Picasso had become submerged. Its roof top can just be seen in this aerial photograph from the front cover of the Cotswold Life.

And finally back to Queen Margaret…

With Gem studying at Cambridge for four years I have been quite a regular visitor to the university town. I was aware that the adolescent Henry VI had founded the world-famous King’s College, as his statue enjoys a prominent position in the college court (courts at Cambridge, quads at Oxford, so I’m told). It had never occurred to me, until doing a bit of background reading for this post, that Margaret was one of the founder queens of Queens’ College (the other being Elizabeth Woodville – wife of her adversary Edward IV!).




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