In 2015 while I was in Basingstoke we had an overnight snowfall and I headed off to my local graveyard for some photography. That was quite a large cemetery and I spent a lot of time in it. Tewkesbury Cemetery is on the opposite end of town from where I live so any excursion to it in snowy weather on foot was not really a clever idea. However, apart from the churchyard of the abbey the closest cemetery was technically the old Baptist Chapel, which is literally over the road from the abbey. Unfortunately I can never remember where it is so had to backtrack a bit to find it. In fact, this post is going to backtrack all the way back to 2015 when I first arrived in Tewkesbury, because I have never done a post about the chapel before. This post covers the chapel and it’s associated burial ground and I am using a mix of images from my other visits as well as my Dec 2017 visit.
Situated at the end of one of the many alleyways in the town, it is one of those places you could miss unless you were actually looking for it.
The alley leads into The Old Baptist Chapel Court and the chapel is situated to the right in the image, while the burial ground is just past the building. A sign above the entrance to the court gives a brief history of what is within this small space.
I was fortunate enough to get a “tour” on my one visit so at least I know what it is like on the inside. The history of the chapel is quite interesting too.
The old Baptist Chapel started out in the mid 15th century as a Medieval hall house and it is thought that by the mid 1700’s it was the meeting place for the Baptists, who were another of the many non-conformist groups who held clandestine meetings of their faith. In the 18th century it was transformed into a simply decorated chapel with a pulpit, baptistery and pastor’s room.
The trapdoor on the right is the Baptistery, and water was presumably led or carried from the river at the bottom of the court. Prior to 1689, Baptists were persecuted by the authorities leading them to perform baptisms in secret at the nearby Mill Avon. The Baptistery was installed once the persecution ceased.
However, the property is much higher than the river, so I do not know how they got water to it. Although who knows what it was like 2 or even 3 centuries ago.
Most of the images were taken from the mezzanine level around the chapel and I seem to recall that there was a bricked up window that has a long story behind it. Unfortunately I no longer remember what it was (stare too long at the window and you loose your memory perhaps?).
In 1805 a new chapel was built and the old chapel was subdivided into two cottages with the remains of the chapel in the middle. The chapel may be amongst the earliest Baptist chapels in existence in the UK, and it was restored in the 1970’s to look as it did around 1720. It is almost impossible to get an exterior view of the building due to the narrowness of the alley at that point.
This is really the best that you can do. The chapel is the timber framed building.
The burial ground.
The earliest identified memorial in the burial ground is that of Mary Cowell and is dated 1689, with the newest dating from 1911.
That is the extent of the burial ground, it is not a large area at all, and is hemmed in by houses on either side and the river beyond the trees.
The Shakespeare Connection.
One of the more interesting burials in it is that of Joan Shakespeare, who was William Shakespeare’s younger sister. She married into the Hart family, and one of the Hart descendants moved to Tewkesbury. John Hart was a chairmaker, and so was his son, and there are two Shakespeare Hart burials in this tiny plot.
Somewhere amongst my photographs is a sign that pointed to a boat builder called W.A. Shakespeare in Tewkesbury but I have not researched him to find out whether he was related.
Curiously there is a grave in Cheltenham’s Prestbury cemetery with a Shakespeare connection too:
I was also able to visit the grave of William Shakespeare in Stratford-upon-Avon in September 2019 and photograph his grave there. The grave on the left is that of Anne Hathaway, the wife of William Shakespeare (1556-1623) and next to her is the grave of William Shakespeare (1564-1616). There are also graves are of his daughter Suzanna, son-in-law Dr John Hall and Thomas Nash, his grandson-in-law.
A list of the interments in the burial ground may be found at the Gravestone Photographic Resource, (and I believe there are records in the chapel too). According to that list the oldest identifiable headstone dates from 1777 and they identify 11 graves with 23 individuals. I doubt whether that list is complete.
Generally speaking many of the headstones are in a remarkable condition, and there are some very fine examples with intricate carving on them.
If you stood at the river end of the court and looked towards the chapel you can get a much better idea of the crowded area. The entrance would be on the top right of the image.
It is amazing to see how different the same space looks when it is blanketed by snow.
And having revisited the burial ground it was time to head off home. It had been an interesting visit, and at some point I must compare the images that I have with what is on that list. And of course find that sign from the boat builder. I will return here again one day to have a look at those registers because I would like to document the individual graves. My existing images are from 3 different dates and they really show how a relatively undisturbed plot of ground does change with the seasons, although Winter left its mark on this chilly day and of course there was however one occupant that I did not see on this visit, but I expect he is curled up somewhere warm.
DRW © 2017-2019. Created 10/12/2017. Some text originated from a Tewkesbury Heritage information board at the burial ground. Updated with new image 10/06/2018, updated with more images 18/09/2019