Parish Church of St Mary the Virgin and St Mary Magdalen

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Tetbury is a busy small market town with a splendid market hall standing in stilts and a range of Elizabethan and Jacobean buildings. It serves the local area and has a good range of shops including butcher and two bakers.

Tetbury’s prosperity is due to William de Braose, Lord of the Manor. Around 1200, he relinquished many of his feudal rights and granted Tetbury merchants the right to govern themselves in exchange for yearly ‘burgages’ (rent). Merchants now had the incentive to become involved in commerce and the growth of the town.

In 1623, the Berkeleys, then Lords of the Manor, offered leasehold tenants the right to purchase their houses. This enabled the Burgesses to establish a system of local government that granted them an unheard of level of independence. This structure of local government was headed by seven 'Feoffess', influential townsfolk who ruled Tetbury for over 250 years, until reformations of local government in the 20th century. Even today the Feoffees are responsible for maintenance of the Market Hall and several areas of local parkland.

The church is set on a mound to the south of the market place, shielded by trees. The churchyard is kept as a wild flower area with an information board with pictures of the flowers seen during the year. In early April there were lots of primroses, daisies and lesser celandine.

This is thought to have been the site of a Saxon monastery. A new church was built in 1160 with tower and spire added in the 14thC. At 186’, it is fourth highest in England. The church was badly damaged by a storm in the 17thC and fell into a state of disrepair. An Act of Parliament allowed the church to be demolished and new church built keeping the tower and steeple. Later, the tower began to list so was taken down and rebuilt using the same stones in 1891. The church is regarded as one of triumphs of Early Gothic Revival architecture.

The church is big and it is almost impossible to get a photograph of it all. The tower is a solid buttressed and battlemented square with pointed pinnacles at the corners. Above towers the very tall and elegant spire. The nave and chancel are very tall with huge clerestory windows, battlemented top and lots of crocketed pinnacles. Round the base are very low side aisles.

There is ramped access through the west door into a narthex below the tower. This has a modern mural of the Annunciation. We assume the parishioners are happy with it. To us it looked like a high energy modern advert. We didn’t like it. Simon Jenkins in his “England’s Thousand Best Churches” doesn’t either…

Inside the overwhelming impression is of light and height. The church is unusual as the side aisles form an ambulatory round the nave with doors off into a series of rooms. One of the rooms has a small Heritage Historical Exhibition, overing the history of Tetbury.

The church has been restored back to it’s original Georgian plan and is an uplifting building. The tall and very slender pillars soar up to the vaulted ceiling. The dark wood pews run across the pillars. A dark wood gallery runs round three sides of the nave also supported on narrow pillars. The organ now occupies the western gallery. On either side of it are large wall memorial slabs. On either side of the west door are boards with the Ten Commandments.

Hanging from the centre of the nave ceiling is a huge candalabra, made about 1781. The candles are lit for the great church festivals and for weddings.

Hanging at the end of the south aisle is a 17thC copy of Raphael’s “The Holy Family”. Above it is a large wooden cross.

The choir is empty apart from a few modern chairs. An altar rail encloses a small sanctuary. The altar front has tall thin arches painted in yellow, blue and red. On either side are very tall floor standing candlesticks. Behind is a tall backed celebrant’s chair. The east window contains 19thC stained glass of the Last Supper.

Don’t miss the very modern lectern/pulpit which appeared in 1992/3 and is based on a forged boiler plate.. The church guide explains it is ‘intended to reflect the clear simple lines of the nave and chancel’. It is certainly different and definitely minimalist.

There is a small shop at the back of the church selling books, cards, tea towels, tea spoons etc.

This is a most attractive church. Stunning simplicity is probably the best description. It spoke in a way many of the grand 15thC Perpendicular wool churches didn’t. Unlike nearby Lechlade, this is a worthy contender for the title of one of the “six finest churches in Gloucestershire”.

The church is open 9-5 every day. There is some on street parking near the church otherwise, there is a short term pay and display car park near the market place.

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