Wednesday, 4 December 2019

The Battle of Tewkesbury 1471 - A Guided Battlefield Walk

Battle of Tewkesbury by Graham Turner

I come from an age when being mildly criticised didn’t involve me running immediately to HR for emergency counselling and then taking six months off with stress so I am able to accept that sometimes people are right when they say that I don’t get around to doing things as rapidly as I should. You see, back in July 2017 when I attended the Tewkesbury Medieval Festival and then put a report about it on the blog I admit to saying that I would definitely go back later that year and do the full guided battlefield walk and then tell you all what it was like.

Well here I am on a sunny Sunday Autumnal afternoon two years later wondering if I am at the right location as the heaving mass of history buffs are nowhere to be seen but then I spot what turns out to be Richard the guide who is patiently waiting at the entrance to the Abbey and once the word spreads around that I am in town we are shortly joined by four others.

Meeting up point for the Walk

For those of you so inclined you can follow this walk on Google maps using the satellite view. Find Tewkesbury Abbey and then go to the small car park at its eastern side; the starting point is the car park off Gander Lane under a very large tree at the entrance to the Abbey.

We set off down the road to one of the two small bridges that cross a stream called the Swilgate, this runs from the Avon (which very shortly joins with the Severn) then around the Abbey and off to the east, it will eventually form one of the boundaries to the battlefield. The Abbey is sited on a slight rise between the Avon and the Swilgate.

Of course nowadays the Swilgate is much less imposing than it would have been in medieval times but I hope that in the photo you will see later on which will show the second of the two bridges that cross it, you will get some indication of what it may have originally looked like along its length.

Now an apology, I realise that this blog has a reputation for bringing you bridge fanatics some of the hottest bridge pictures available but I forgot to take one of Gander Bridge but be assured its virtually identical to the Holme Bridge; these two small bridges would have been the only way into the town from this side at the time of the battle however I suspect they would have been quite a good deal more picturesque than their current drab modern day versions, one we were told even had a primitive drawbridge of sorts, I think it was this one but to be honest I have forgotten what Richard said.

Tewkesbury Abbey from the Vineyards

We walked down Gander Lane and entered the large green area known as The Vineyards, it was in this area in 1471 that Margaret’s exhausted army straggled into after their tiring march desperately trying to keep ahead of the pursuing Edward IV, the nobles of course would have started to have their tents pitched in the vineyards but the bulk of the troops who were mainly infantry would have kept arriving for many more hours to come.

“ The day was very hot, and both the Lancastrians and Edward's pursuing army were exhausted. The Lancastrians were forced to abandon some of their artillery, which was captured by Yorkist reinforcements following from Gloucester. 

At Tewkesbury the tired Lancastrians halted for the night. Most of their army were footmen and unable to continue further without rest, and even the mounted troops were weary.”

Edward stopped for the night about two to three miles to the south-west at Treddington, the Lancastrians realised that they would not be able to get their entire army into Tewkesbury over these two small bridges without Edward falling onto their rear so they had to stand and fight.

We walked up the field to a monument, set up in 1932 supposedly marking the site of the battle in the Vineyard fields , it also manages to incorrectly position Holme castle on the same site but apart from these two minor points, it is a nice monument even if totally useless in its purpose.

From there we walked up a small lane past the cemetery until we reached Abbots road, many of the houses around this area have large heraldic flags displayed which show the coats of arms of some of the participants of the battle, the householders pay a small fee to have them each year and there is a small plaque which gives some history of the relevant person. If you zoom into close up street mode then you can see some examples at the corner of Gloucester /Abbots road

Turning right onto Gloucester road we walked up until we reached the entrance to the few remaining empty fields where the battle took place, this area is known as the Gastons.

The Gaston Fields, looking towards Gupsill Manor and the Lancastrian centre

If you briefly zoom back out then you will see Gupsill Manor (Gobes Hall) marked on the map, this would have been the centre of the Lancastrian lines along with the old Iron Age earthworks now called ‘Margaret’s camp’ . The Earl of Devon’s forces making up the Lancastrian left wing would have run up to the returning arm of the Swilgate.

A handout from Richard showing the position of the battle and the two armies, PH is Gupsil Manor 
which is now a pub, OP is Margaret’s camp. I forget what GH marks.

The two fields we went into would have been the extreme left as we look at it on the map (or the Lancastrian right) and would have been where Somerset’s forces were deployed. They were positioned in the field behind the horizontal hedge, this hedge has been dated to the correct period so with a few minor changes that is what was there at the time.

Horizontal hedge still in its original location

“The main strength of the Lancastrians' position was provided by the ground in front, which was broken up by hedges, woods, embankments and "evil lanes". This was especially true on their right. A stream, the Colnbrook, flowed through his position, making some of the ground difficult to traverse.

Although much reduced the Colnbrook still runs along the ‘Yorkist’ side of the hedge and this was the main thing I took away from this battlefield walk, even after all these years, I wouldn’t want to have tried to fight my way over that hedge line.

The Colnbrook stream running along the horizontal hedge on the Yorkist side

Looking over the hedge to the south, Richard pointed out the raised area where the Yorkists left wing would have deployed.

After enduring both arrow and cannon fire, Somerset eventually moved over the hedges and attacked.

The building you can see is Gupsill manor, from Lincoln Green lane

“The Lancastrians attempted to return the fire, but their artillery was inferior to the Yorkists’ and cannon had been lost to a raiding party led by the Yorkist governor of the Gloucester garrison as the Lancastrian army straggled away from the city. Somerset resolved to escape from the Yorkist barrage by launching a flank attack on Gloucester’s division.”

The Dear park from Lincoln Green Lane

We then walked the short distance into Lincoln Green Lane , bordering this lane is the Deer park (now Tewkesbury Park) where Edward had earlier stationed 200 mounted Spearmen. These troops charged into Somerset’s flank and rear whilst he was heavily engaged with Gloucester, his battle collapsed and fled the field, shortly followed by the rest of the army.

Walking down Lincoln Green Lane and looking back on Google maps you can clearly see a long enclosed field , this and the more famous Bloody Meadow across the road is an old Drovers field called a Slinget and is in fact one long field not two. This was an area just outside of a town when upon their arrival the various herds of animals would be kept.  The sides would be banked and there would be limited access , it didn’t help that on the other side was the deer park which was also designed to stop animals getting out. This then was probably not the best place to run away into.

Bloody Meadow, Richard the guide on the far right, note the banking on both sides

 Bloody Meadow part 2

“Somerset's battle was routed, and his surviving troops tried to escape across the Severn. Most were cut down as they fled. The long meadow astride the Colnbrook leading down to the river is known to this day as "Bloody Meadow"

Battlefield trail plaque at the entrance to the 2nd field

The old sign pre technology

We turned right following Lincoln Green Lane and into Bloody Meadow until we came to a gate which lead into what Google maps says is YMCA playing field. At the end of this near the buildings is where Holme castle would have been, the ground is raised here but whatever was there, probably a medieval manor house had already disappeared by the time of the battle however it was mentioned by the guide that a windmill was more than likely here and was supposedly where Margaret watched the battle, hope she had good eyesight. More thoughts on Holme castle in the link

Now the UK scheduled monuments records show Holme castle in the Vineyards, I have no idea which is right so make of it what you will, Holme Bridge which we are just about to arrive at is near the windmill site.

Another view of the Deer park from Holme Castle

Whilst standing next to the display board at Holme Castle/Windmill hill, which I conveniently forgot to photograph, Richard expanded on the story about Lord Wenlock. In any battle report you read, Somerset is supposed to have ridden up to Wenlock who was commanding the centre and killed him.

“Somerset galloped up to Wenlock, commanding the centre, and demanded to know why Wenlock had failed to support him. According to legend he did not wait for an answer but dashed out Wenlock's brains with a battleaxe before seeking sanctuary in the Abbey." 

Richard went on to account several conflicting reports that took place many years later involving the redeeming of Wenlock’s treasure and other odd happenings suggesting that he may have possibly survived . I even found a pamphlet on the subject on Amazon but it is suspiciously not available.

We than cut through the woods and joined Lower Lode Lane, walking up it until we rejoined Gloucester Road. Here is Holme Bridge which crosses the Swilgate and was the other way into Tewkesbury, hopefully you will get a better idea of what sort of barrier the Swilgate may have been in earlier times from my photo. Next it was up through the car park heading for Victoria gardens and Tewkesbury Mill.

 The Swilgate at Holme Bridge, the sides are much steeper here

As promised, looking back at Holme Bridge, we came from the right entrance where the signposts are

“As its morale collapsed, the rest of the Lancastrian army tried to flee, but the Swilgate became a deadly barrier. Many who succeeded in crossing it converged on a mill south of the town of Tewkesbury and a weir in the town itself, where there were crossings over the Avon. Here, too, many drowned or were killed by their pursuers.”

However we didn’t go to the mill and weir , instead it was round the corner back towards the abbey. Back outside the abbey again, we stopped to allow Richard to sum up all that happened after the battle, the Lancastrian nobles and knights who sought sanctuary inside (not that it did them any good), Margaret’s capture a few days later and then her life in France afterwards and finally he went over who was buried in the various tombs in the Abbey. Unfortunately there was a religious service taking place at the time so we got a map instead.

Tewkesbury abbey burials supplied by Richard the guide

The whole tour took around two hours (not helped by some idiot asking lots of questions) and was completely free of charge although voluntary contributions to the Tewkesbury battlefield society were graciously accepted.

An excellent afternoon well spent and Richard was a brilliant guide , he does this every month purely as a volunteer . I have linked their walk schedule below.

Much of this account is what I recall from the guide’s explanation and from the display boards around the route, the quotes are mainly from Wikipedia.

This has been a day out with Mr Steve.


  1. Thank you for a nice virtual tour of the battlefield. Coincidentally, I was reading about the battle last night (Dan Jones book) so it is nice to match up the tour with my reading.

  2. Thank you .
    It was definitely time well spent, through in a walk around the town and a spot of lunch ....
    As Jon says, being on the actual battlefield does help a lot in your understanding of events especially if you have someone who knows the history and terrain. It takes away those little doubts you have when looking at a green empty field.