A rare event at Petrona towers is a weekday when everybody is on holiday. Such a day was yesterday. Having spent Sunday night in Gloucester and with the prospect of Monday evening in Stratford upon Avon, it was perhaps inevitable that we decided to spend a few hours in Tewkesbury, well known to us as the site of the famous battle and other events in the Wars of the Roses, but also by repute a beautiful town which nobody had any recollection of previously having visited.
So on an intensely sunny, late autumn day, we found ourselves walking round this lovely town full of mediaeval and Tudor buildings (well, there were a few teenage and grandparent-age Tewkesburians sitting around outside Blockbusters smoking fags and mooching or messing about, and a slew of mainly women with young children bustling between carpark and Tesco Express, but you get the drift).
One unusual aspect of the town is that it is built entirely on one side of the river – or rather, rivers – the confluence of the Severn and the Avon and site of unprecedented floods in the summer of 2007. The other side consists of beautiful water-meadows, thankfully a site of special scientific interest so likely to stay that way. At the end of our walk along the towpath and past the ancient houses is Tewkesbury Abbey, a magnificent church building dating from 1100. It escaped ruin by Henry VIII's dissolution of the monasteries when the townspeople stumped up £453 to buy it from the king – a tradition that continues to be relevant today, as the church gets no financial support from the church commissioners or the state. We walked around the nave and transept (yes, there are flying buttresses); past many hives of activity of restoration, repair, creativity and commerce (i.e. a little shop); admired the stained-glass windows; and read the short biographies on the tombs, of warriors who fought the Vikings to a succession of priests. The most famous person buried here is George, Duke of Clarence (he who was drowned in a butt of Malmsey) with his wife Isabelle (daughter of Warwick the kingmaker), but many other ancient knights, lords and abbots, including Edward Despenser, standard-bearer of the Black Prince, are laid to rest here.
Nevertheless, although lost in admiration for these brave souls, many of whom were hung, drawn and quartered or worse, my favourite alcove is a peaceful one, with modern windows of vibrant turquoise, yellow and green. This is the chapel of one John Reid, born on the island of Jamaica in 1756 and who died many years later at nearby Cheltenham. His epitaph put me in mind of a dear friend: "… having passed his days in the quiet occupations of retired life, distinguished for the goodness of his heart, and the mildness of his character."