Cirencester

From Academic Kids

Template:GBdot Cirencester is a market town in Gloucestershire, England, 93 miles (150 km) west northwest of London. Cirencester lies on the River Churn, a tributary of the Thames, and is the largest town in Cotswold District. It is home of the Royal Agricultural College, the oldest agricultural college in the English-speaking world founded in 1840. The town's Corinium Museum is well-known for its extensive Roman collection.

Contents

Local geography

Cirencester lies on the lower dip-slope 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.

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Castle_Street_Cirencester_30th_Aug_2001.jpg
Cotswold stone buildings in Castle Street

The town serves as a centre for the surrounding area, providing employment, amenities, shops, commerce, and education.

Transport

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

These good transport links bring the town passing trade. Although the ring-road and by-pass 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), about four miles from the town. The nearest airports are at Bristol, Cardiff and Birmingham, all more than an hour away by road.

History

Roman Corinium

When 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 situated 3 miles (5 km) to the north, to create a civil settlement near the fort. When the frontier moved to the north following the conquest of Wales, this fort was closed and its fortifications levelled c. 70, but the town persisted and flourished under the name Corinium.

Even in Roman times, there was a thriving wool trade and industry, which contributed to the growth of Corinium. A large forum and basilica was 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 (1 km²), making Corinium, in area, the second-largest city in Britain. It was made the seat of the province Britannia Prima in the fourth century, and some historians would date the pillar the governor L. Septimus erected to the god Jovian to this period, providing evidence of a sign of pagan reaction under the Roman Emperor Julian.

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Cirencester_Amphitheatre.jpg
The Roman amphitheatre

The amphitheatre still exists in an area known as the Querns to the SW of the city, but has not been fully 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 in 577. It was later the scene of a battle again, this time between the Mercian king Penda and the West Saxon kings Cynegils and Cwichelm in 628.

Medieval History

The minster church, founded in the 9th or 10th Century, was probably a royal foundation. It was destroyed by Augustinian monks in the twelfth Century, and replaced by the great abbey church.

The Normans

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. 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 to, 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 gild 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 1408‑1409 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 Cirencester

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 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 1200 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 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'.

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.

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. Coaches depart from London Road for Victoria 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 via Swindon.

In 1894 the passing of the Local Government Act brought at last into existence Cirencester's first independent elected body, the Urban District Council. The reorganization of the local governments in 1974 replaced the Urban District Council with the present two-tier system of Cotswold District Council and Cirencester Town Council. A concerted effort to reduce overhead wiring and roadside clutter has given the town some picturesque streetscenes. Many shops cater to tourists and many house family businesses.

The Name of the Town

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 formed from the cognate root Ciren and the standard cester ending indicating a Roman fortress. 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 ecclesiastical list from St David's gives another form of the name Caerceri where Caer is the Welsh for Roman fortress and Ceri is cognate with the other forms of the name.

In Saxon times the name of the town was written Cirrenceastre or Cyrneceastre pronounced Chirren Chester or Churn Chester. The Normans mispronounced the 'ch' sound as 'ts' resulting in the modern name Cirencester ['saIr@n 'sEst@(r)] (Syren-sester). The form Ciceter ['sIsEt@(r)] (sis-etter) invented by William Shakespeare was once used locally as an abbreviation. Sometimes the form Cicester ['sIsEst@(r)] (sis-sester) was heard instead. These forms are now very rarely used, while many local people simply abbreviate the name to Ciren (['saIr@n]).

Additional details -(today usually pronounced , formerly and occasionally still ),

Sites of Interest

The parish church of St John the Baptist, often referred to as the Cathedral of the Cotswolds, has a nave built in 1515-1530, and also features a high embattled tower and a remarkable south porch with parvise. A fine example of the wool church, among its numerous chapels, that of St Catherine has a beautiful roof of fan-tracery of stone that dates to 1508. Other wool churches can be seen in neighbouring Northleach and Chipping Campden.

To the west of the town is Cirencester House, the seat of Earl Bathurst. The first Lord Bathurst (16841775) devoted himself to beautifying the fine demesne of Oakley Park, which he planted and adorned with remarkable artificial ruins. This nobleman, who became a baron in 1711 and an earl in 1772, was a patron of art and literature no less than a statesman, and Alexander Pope, a frequent visitor, was allowed to design the building known as Pope's Seat in the park, which commands a splendid view of woods and avenues. Jonathan Swift was another appreciative visitor. The house contains portraits by Lawrence, Gainsborough, Romney, Lely, Reynolds, Hoppner, Kneller and many others.

Bibliography

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

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