Tetbury - St Mary the Virgin
History, tourist information, and nearby accommodation
HERITAGE HIGHLIGHTS: The 13th century De Braose memorial
Possibly the oldest site of [Christian] worship in Gloucestershire, the lovely Georgian Gothic church of St Mary the Virgin has roots to at least the 7th century.
The earliest suggestion of a church on this site dates to a charter of Ethelred, King of Mercia, in 681 AD. Ethelred granted 15 acres of land near a place identified as 'Tette's monastery' to the abbey of Malmesbury. Of that first monastic church there is now no trace, but tradition suggests that it occupied the same site as the current church, on a level mound at the southern edge of the town.
The Saxon church was replaced around 1160, and a tower and spire added in the 14th century. The spire reaxches 186 feet, making it the fourth highest in England. The medieval church was, in turn, damaged by storm in the late 17th century. The church fell into a state of severe disrepair that was only reversed when an act of Parliament allowed the church to be demolished, saving only the tower and spire, which were spared.
The tower did eventually begin to list to one side, and in 1891 it was torn down and rebuilt using the same stones. The current building was built over the years 1777 - 1781 under the direction of Francis Hiorne of Warwick, who designed a lofty and spacious building incorporating a very tall nave with much shorter ambulatories to the north and south.
The most prominent feature of the interior are the dark oak box pews, which seem to fill the entire space. Above is a gallery withan organ recess.
At the north west corner of the nave are the remains of a 13th century effigy. This is believed to be William de Braose (see our Tetbury town article). Bits of the effigy were found in the churchyard, and other bits under the floor of the church during restoration work. When the head and torso of the effigy were put together they fitted perfectly.
Though the de Braose effigy is quite worn, it is but a few steps to the north ambulatory where a quite different sight meets you. Here, two painted effigies lie against the wall; these are the Gastrells, and date to the late 16th century. At the west end of the north ambulatory are two further effigies, standing upright against the wall. These are believed to be medieval wool merchants, from the fact that one has his feet upon the figure of a sheep. Along the length of the north ambulatory are a number of memorial tablets of painted wood. In the south ambulatory is an exhibition of local history, which includes the original trophy handed out to winners of the annual Tetbury Woolsack Race.
The churchyard of St Mary the Virgin overlooks the possible site of an Iron Age hill fort, though this may be hard to see as the neighbouring houses have their back gardens somewhat obscuring the spot.
- 13th century William de Braose effigy
- 16th century Gastrell effigies
- 14th century tower and spire
- Georgian Gothic interior
Address: Church Street, Tetbury, Cotswolds, Gloucestershire, England
Attraction Type: Historic Church
Location: At the south end of Church Street. Very limited parking outside the church.
Photo Credit: David Ross and Britain Express
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Heritage Rated from 1- 5 (low-exceptional) on historic interest
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Nearest Accommodation to Tetbury: