Following last week’s exciting trip to Spain, I had a marvellously luxurious weekend at the local Tewkesbury Park Hotel to celebrate a family birthday. All of this travel and excitement is experimental for me as I have been a bit housebound over the last few years for various reasons.
While some of our group played golf and some had spa treatments or relaxed, I went for a stroll around the grounds with my camera. Being set high on a hill there are amazing views, towards the Malvern Hills, Brecon Beacons, River Severn and Tewkesbury itself.
There is so much to see in Tewkesbury with its medieval buildings and alleys, and two powerful rivers, the Severn and the Avon, that meet there. There is always lots of activity around the river, whether it be pleasure-boating or fishing. Occasionally of course the rivers flood the town, but the locals are so used to it that they are very well prepared and cope brilliantly.
At the heart of the town is Tewkesbury Abbey. There is so much history surrounding this abbey that it is worth visiting over and over again. I used to take school groups there when I was teaching, or foreign visitors when I was involved in Global Footsteps.
There is also a fascinating history in the hotel site too. I am one of those people who has to find out as much as I can about everywhere I go, so I started to delve. I was thrilled to discover that recorded history goes back to when the park was enclosed between 1185 and 1187. The park covered 200 acres then and was stocked with deer. By the late 14th century here was a large medieval timber and stone manor house on the site, which was called Tewkesbury Lodge. By 1540 records taken after the dissolution of the Monasteries showed that the deer park covered 80 acres with the rest being agricultural. There are no records of deer at the park after that.
The original manor house was at times owned by the crown or by the abbey as well as private individuals including the Clare family who used it as a hunting lodge.
But, one of the most fascinating owners for me was Edward, Baron Le Despenser, who died in his 30’s in 1375. He has a beautiful monument known as ‘The Kneeling Knight’, in Tewkesbury Abbey, which I have often admired. It seems unusual for a knight to be depicted kneeling above a chapel.
At some point the medieval house was demolished, and the present building was built in the 18th century by the Wall family. The last private owner was Violet Sargeaunt who lived there from 1933 until her death in 1973. Finally, a superb golf course was developed, which opened in 1976 and the hotel prospered alongside it.
I walked down to the heart-wrenching field that lies at the foot of the hotel’s driveway. It is called Bloody Meadow and it recalls The Battle of Tewkesbury which brought to an end the Wars of the Roses between the house of York (white rose symbol) and the house of Lancaster (red rose symbol). The Yorkist King Edward 1V was victorious, while Edward, Prince of Wales, son of Henry V1 and last Lancastrian heir to the throne, was killed, aged just 17. His burial place lies in Tewkesbury Abbey with a Latin inscription which translates as,
“Here lies Edward, Prince of Wales, cruelly slain whilst but a youth, Anno Domine 1471, May fourth. Alas the savagery of men. Thou art the soul light of thy Mother, and the last hope of thy race.”
Also in Tewkesbury Abbey high up on the ceiling there is a spectacular carving which shows the badge of Edward 1V, the ‘sunne in splendour’. It is admirable on the one hand that both winner and loser are remembered in the Abbey, but I find it rather gloating that the massive ‘sunne in splendour’ dominates the roofspace and ‘lords it’ forever over the poor defeated young prince.
At the entrance to the ‘Bloody Meadow’, a commemorative plaque on the fence reads,
The field has been called the bloody meadow for more than 500 years, and tradition says that it is the meadow where so many were taken and slain. This is possibly where Edward, Prince of Wales, met his death. Other Lancastrians killed in the field almost certainly in the rout, include the Earl of Devonshire, The Marquis of Dorset and Sir William Rous.
The field is long and constricted, a death trap for men who are edging backwards whilst trying to avoid lethal blows. How many fell is not recorded. Only important people were named. Those who escaped the Bloody Meadow were faced with crossing the Mill Avon, and many drowned.
I took photos here but felt incredibly sad for the common soldiers who were buried in this meadow in anonymous pits while the nobles were interred in the Abbey and its graveyard.
When I left the hotel, I stopped at the roundabout on the outskirts of Tewkesbury to marvel at the commemorative sculptures officially called the Arrivall. I like to call them Victor and Vanquished. This is a high vantage point from where the army of King Edward 1V could have seen the Duke of Somerset leading King Henry V1’s ill-fated army.
I have written about this sculpture before but on this day, being Remembrance Sunday, it was embellished with a ‘Lest we forget flag’, which somehow just reinforced the ongoing inevitability, futility, and tragedy of war for me.
Victor represents the Yorkist army under Edward IV and is located on the roundabout itself. This part of the sculpture shows a horse and rider, the rider has a traditional lance with a pennant on top.
Vanquished, that represents the defeated Lancastrian army. This army was led by the Duke of Somerset, supporting Henry VI. Vanquished is a riderless horse, with its head bowed and a lance leaning on its back.
Here is a link for anyone seriously interested in the history of this fascinating area.