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Cirencester, market place.jpg
Cirencester marketplace
Grid reference: SP022021
Location: 51°43’8"N, 1°58’5"W
Population: 19,000
Post town: Cirencester
Postcode: GL7
Dialling code: 01285
Local Government
Council: Cotswold

Cirencester is a market town in eastern Gloucestershire of ancient roots.

The town stands on the River Churn, a tributary of the River Thames. It is home of the Royal Agricultural College, the oldest agricultural college in the English-speaking world founded in 1840.

The town was once the Roman town of Corinum and its Corinium Museum has an extensive Roman collection. The Roman name Corinium is believed to be from the ancient British language spoken by the Dobunni tribe hereabouts, and as having the same root word as the River Churn.[1] The earliest known reference to the town was by Ptolemy in AD 150.

The town in the landscape

Cirencester lies on the lower dip slopes of the Cotswold Hills, an outcrop of oolitic limestone. Natural drainage is into the River Churn, which flows roughly north to south through the eastern side of the town and joins the Thames near Cricklade a little to the south. The Thames itself rises just a few miles west of Cirencester.

The town is split into five main areas: The town centre, the suburbs of Chesterton, Stratton (originally villages outside the town), Watermoor and The Beeches. The village of Siddington to the south-west of the town is now almost connected to Watermoor.

Cirencester has an important tourist trade as well as being the commercial centre for shopping, entertainment, and sports facilities for the inhabitants of the town and the surrounding area.


Name of the town

The Fleece Hotel

The name stem Corin is cognate with Churn (the modern name of the river on which the town is built) and with the stem Cerne in the nearby villages of North Cerney, South Cerney, and Cerney Wick; also on the River Churn. The modern name Cirencester is derived from the cognate root Ciren and the standard -cester ending often used of an old Roman fortress or encampment. It seems certain that this name root goes back to pre-Roman times and is similar to the original Brythonic name for the river, and perhaps the settlement. An early Welsh language ecclesiastical list from St David's gives another form of the name Caerceri where Caer is the Welsh for fortress and Ceri is cognate with the other forms of the name.

In Anglo-Saxon times the name of the town was written Cirrenceastre or Cyrneceastre, in which each 'c' was pronounced like the 'ch' in change). Later ages mispronounced the 'ch' sound, resulting in the modern name Cirencester.

Today there is great debate on the pronunciation of the name. The most common pronunciation is the phonetic one: Sīren-sester, but a strong body of opinion favours Sissister, and whether the latter is more authentic has been argued over for generations.

The form Cicester, which appears in William Shakespeare's Richard II,[2] was once used locally as an abbreviation but is now rare.


Cirencester is the hub of a significant road network with important routes to Gloucester (A417), Cheltenham (A435), Warwick (A429), Oxford (A40 by way of the B4425), Wantage (A417), Swindon (A419), Chippenham (A429), Bristol, Bath (A433), and Stroud (A419).

These good transport links bring the town passing trade. Although the ring-road and bypass take traffic away from the town centre, both roads have busy service areas with adequate parking. Access to the railway system is at Kemble railway station on the main line to London Paddington station, about four miles from the town. The nearest airports are at Bristol, Cotswold Airport at Kemble, Heathrow Airport and Birmingham International Airport.


Roman Corinium

The Romans appreciated the Cotswolds for grazing land and fine living, and in these hills many Roman villas stood, with Corinum, Cirencester, as the most important town. Beside Verulamium and Camulodunum it was one of the great towns of Britannia. The Romans built a fort where the Fosse Way crossed the Churn, to hold two quingenary alae tasked with helping to defend the provincial frontier c. AD 49, native Dobunni were drawn from Bagendon, a settlement of the Dobunni 3 miles to the north, to create a civil settlement near the fort. When the frontier moved to the north following the conquest of western Britain, this fort was closed and its fortifications levelled c. 70, but the town persisted and flourished under the name Corinium Dobunnorum.

Even in Roman times, there was a thriving wool trade and industry, which contributed to the growth of Corinium. A large forum and basilica were built over the site of the fort, and archeological evidence shows signs of further civic growth. When a wall was erected around the Roman city in the late second century, it enclosed 240 acres, making Corinium, in area, the second-largest city in Roman Britain. It was made the seat of the Roman province of Britannia Prima in the fourth century, and some historians would date the pillar the Roman Governor L. Septimus erected to the Roman god Jupiter to this period, providing evidence of a sign of pagan reaction under the Roman Emperor Julian the Apostate.

There are many Roman remains in the surrounding area, including several Roman villas near the villages of Chedworth and Withington.

Sub-Roman and Saxon times

The Roman amphitheatre

The Roman amphitheatre still exists in an area known as the Querns to the southwest of the town, but has only been partially excavated. Investigations in the town show that it was fortified in the fifth or sixth centuries. Possibly this was the palace of one of the British kings defeated by Ceawlin of Wessex in 577. It was later the scene of the Battle of Cirencester, this time between the Mercian king Penda and the West Saxon kings Cynegils and Cwichelm in 628.

The minster church of Cirencester, founded in the 9th or 10th century, was probably a royal foundation. It was destroyed by Augustinian monks in the 12th century, and replaced by the great abbey church, know today as Cirencester Abbey.

Norman times

At the Norman Conquest, the royal manor of Cirencester was granted to the Earl of Hereford, William Fitz-Osbern, but by 1075 it had reverted to the Crown. The manor was granted to Cirencester Abbey, founded by Henry I in 1117, and following half a century of building work during which the minster church was demolished, the great abbey church was finally dedicated in 1176. The manor was granted to the Abbey in 1189, although a royal charter dated 1133 speaks of burgesses in the town.

The struggle of the townsmen to prove that Cirencester was a borough, and thus gain the associated rights and privileges, probably began in the same year, when they were amerced for a false presentment. Four inquisitions during the 13th century supported the abbot's claims, yet the townspeople remained unwavering in their quest for borough status: in 1342, they lodged a Bill of complaint in Chancery. The process of essay writing will be much easier with MarvelousEssays.Com as there are a lot of highly professional and talented writers who are always eager to help you out with any sort of academic assignments regardless of the complexity levels. I do know what I�m talking about! Twenty townspeople were ordered up to Westminster, where they declared under oath that successive abbots had bought up many burgage tenenments, and made the borough into an appendage of the manor, depriving it of its separate court. They claimed that the royal charter that conferred on the men of Cirencester the liberties of Winchester had been destroyed when fifty years prior the abbot had bribed the burgess who held the charter to give it to him, whereupon the abbot had had it burned. In reply, the abbot refuted these claims, and the case passed on to the King's Bench. When ordered to produce the foundation charter of his abbey the abbot refused, apparently because that document would be fatal to his case, and instead played a winning card. In return for a "fine" of £300, he obtained a new royal charter confirming his privileges and a writ of supersedeas.

Yet the townspeople continued in their fight: for their aid to the crown against the earls of Kent and Salisbury, Henry IV in 1403 gave the townsmen a Guild Merchant, although two inquisitions reiterated the abbot's rights. The struggle between the abbot and the townspeople continued with the abbot's privileges confirmed in 1408 or 1409 and 1413, and in 1418 the abbot finally removed this thorn in his side when the gild merchant was annulled, and in 1477 parliament declared that Cirencester was not corporate. After several unsuccessful attempts to re-establish the gild merchant, the government in 1592 was vested in the bailiff of the lord of the manor.

Tudor times

As part of the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1539, Henry VIII ordered the total demolition of the Abbey buildings. Today only the Norman Arch and parts of the precinct wall remain above ground, forming the perimeter of a public park in the middle of town. Despite this, the freedom of a borough continued to elude the townspeople, and they only saw the old lord of the manor replaced by a new lord of the manor as the King acquired the abbey's title.

Sheep rearing, wool sales, weaving and woollen broadcloth and cloth-making were the main strengths of England's trade in the Middle Ages, and not only the abbey but many of Cirencester's merchants and clothiers gained wealth and prosperity from the national and international trade. The tombs of these merchants can be seen in the parish church, while their fine houses of Cotswold stone still stand in and around Coxwell Street and Dollar Street. Their wealth funded the rebuilding of the nave of the parish church in 1515-30, to create the large parish church, often referred to as the 'Cathedral of the Cotswolds'. Other wool churches can be seen in neighbouring Northleach and Chipping Campden.

During the Civil War

The English Civil War came to Cirencester in February 1643 when Royalists and Parliamentarians came to blows in the streets. Over 300 were killed, and 1,200 prisoners were held captive in the church. The townsfolk supported the Parliamentarians but gentry and clergy were for the old order, so that when Charles I of England was executed in 1649 the minister, Alexander Gregory, wrote on behalf of the gentry in the parish register, 'O England what did'st thou do, the 30th of this month'.

At the end of the English Civil War King, Charles II spent the night of 11 September 1651 in Cirencester, during his escape after the Battle of Worcester on his way to France.

Recent history

At the end of the 18th century Cirencester was a thriving market town, at the centre of a network of turnpike roads with easy access to markets for its produce of grain and wool. A local grammar school provided education for those who could afford it, and businesses thrived in the town, which was the major urban centre for the surrounding area.

Cotswold stone buildings in Castle Street

In 1789 the opening of a branch of the Thames and Severn Canal provided access to markets further afield, by way of a link through the River Thames. In 1841 a branch railway line was opened to Kemble to provide a link to the Great Western Railway at Swindon. The Midland and South Western Junction Railway opened a station at Watermoor in 1883. Cirencester thus was served by two railway lines until the 1960s.

The loss of canal and the direct rail link encouraged dependency on road transport. An inner ring road system was completed in 1975 in an attempt to reduce congestion in the town centre, which has since been augmented by an outer bypass with the expansion of the A417 road. Coaches depart from London Road for Victoria Bus Station in central London and Heathrow Airport, taking advantage of the M4 Motorway. Kemble Station to the west of the town, distinguished by a sheltered garden, is served by fast trains from Paddington station by way of Swindon.

Under the patronage of the Bathurst family, the Cirencester area, notably Sapperton, became a major centre for the Arts and Crafts movement in the Cotswolds, when the furniture designer and architect-craftsman Ernest Gimson opened workshops in the early 20th century, and Norman Jewson, his foremost student, practised in the town.


St John the Baptist parish church

The Church of St. John the Baptist, Cirencester is renowned for its Perpendicular porch, fan vaults and merchants' tombs.

The town also has a Roman Catholic church of St Peter's; the foundation stone was laid on 20 June 1895.

The Baptist Church on Coxwell Street to the north of Market Square was founded in 1651, making it one of the oldest Baptist churches in Britain. Its current building was started in 1856.

Sites about the town

To the west of the town is Cirencester House, the seat of Earl Bathurst and the site of one of the finest landscape gardens in England, laid out by the first Earl Bathurst after 1714.

Abbey House, Cirencester was a country house built on the site of the former Cirencester Abbey following its dissolution and demolition at the Reformation in the 1530s. The site was granted in 1564 to Richard Master, physician to Queen Elizabeth I. The house was rebuilt and altered at several dates by the Master family, who still own the agricultural estate. By 1897 the house was let, and it remained in the occupation of tenants until shortly after the Second World War. It was finally demolished in 1964.

On Cotswold Avenue is the site of a Roman amphitheatre which, while buried, retains its shape in the earthen topography of the small park setting. Cirencester was one of the most substantial cities of Roman-era Britain.


The Sundial Theatre, part of Cirencester College, hosts drama and musical events by community groups and professional touring companies. Cirencester Operatic Society[3] and Cirencester Philharmonia orchestra[4] are also resident in the town.


  1. "Cirencester History Summary". Retrieved 2011-03-03. 
  2. Richard II, Act V, scene 2: Henry IV: Kind uncle York, the latest news we hear - Is that the rebels have consumed with fire - Our town of Cicester in Gloucestershire; - But whether they be ta'en or slain we hear not.
  3. "Cirencester Operatic Society". Cirencester Operatic Society. Retrieved 2011-03-03. 
  4. "Cirencester Philharmonia". 2010-11-27. Retrieved 2011-03-03. 


  • H.P.R. Finberg. "The Origin of Gloucestershire Towns" in Gloucestershire Studies, edited by H.P.R. Finberg. Leicester: University Press, 1957

Outside links

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