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Cirencester, Gloucestershire

Historical Description

Cirencester (popularly Ciceter), a market-town, the head of a poor-law union and county court district, and a parish in Gloucestershire. The town stands at the meeting-point of the Fosse Way, Akeman Street, Icknield Street, and Ermine Street, on the river Churn, at a branch of the Thames and Severn Canal, 12½ miles by road and 16 by railway E by S of Stroud, and 95 by railway from London. It has a station at the terminus of a branch of the G.W.R., and another on the Midland and South-Western Junction railway. It occupies the site of an ancient British town, called Caer-Cori, and of a Roman town, called Corinum or Duro-Cornovium, and was the capital of the Dobuni. Traces of the ancient town have been observed round a circuit of upwards of 2 miles, vestiges of a Roman amphitheatre are seen in what is called the Bull Ring, and very many Roman relics, including coins, urns, statues, altars, inscriptions, pavements, and hypocausts, have been found. Environing walls continued to stand, or were reconstructed in the Saxon times, but suffered demolition in the reign of Henry IV., and a castle of some note comes into view in the time of the Empress Maud, but was destroyed in the reign of Henry III. The town was occupied by the Danes in 878, witnessed a great council of Canute in 1020, suffered severely in the wars of Stephen, was the scene of great military events in the times of John and Henry IV., and was stormed in 1642-43 by Rupert, and afterwards given up to Essex. A college of prebendaries was founded at it in the early Saxon times, and an abbey of black canons or Augustinians, stately and rich, succeeded this in 1117, and was given at the dissolution to Roger Bassinge, by whom the buildings were pulled down with the exception of a Norman arched gateway which still remains, and is called the Spital Gate. The site was granted by Queen Elizabeth to her physician, Richard Master, who built a house thereon, in which Charles I. was received by Sir William Master in 1643. Cirencester Abbey, the present mansion, still the seat of the Master family was erected about 1780 on the site of the former house.

The town is governed by a local board of fifteen members. It is well built, and presents a modern appearance, with but few traces of its antiquity. It has a good trade, and is known as the "Metropolis of the Cotswolds." The Corinium Museum, founded by the fourth Earl Bathurst, contains the tessellated pavements found in 1849, and many other relics of the Roman occupation found in Cirencester and the neighbourhood. The Church of St John the Baptist belongs chiefly to the Perpendicular period, and is the largest parish church in the county. It consists of nave, aisles with a N chapel, chancel with two N chapels, and one on the S side, S porch, and a W tower 134 feet high, with a peal of 12 bells. The S porch or gatehouse has three storeys, the uppermost of which, the par vis, was originally used as a church-house, and subsequently devoted to general parochial purposes as a town-hall. Traces of Early English work occur in the chancel, and St Catherine's chapel has a beautiful stone roof of fan-tracery, said to have been brought from the abbey church. The brasses are numerous, dating from about 1360. The church also contains some interesting frescoes and monuments of the Bathurst, Master, and other families. The church was restored in 1867 by Sir Gilbert Scott. Holy Trinity Church was erected in 1851. There are Roman Catholic, Congregational, Baptist, Wesleyan, Primitive Methodist, and Unitarian chapels, and a meeting-house for the Society of Friends. The chief public buildings are the town-hall, the corn exchange, the temperance hall, the Apsley hall, used for public meetings, &c., and the cottage hospital. The Royal Agricultural College, about 1 mile from the town, is a handsome Gothic building containing museum, lecture-theatre, laboratories, class-rooms, library, chapel, &c.; attached to the college is a farm of 500 acres. It was established and incorporated by charter in 1845 for the purpose of teaching scientific agriculture. A grammar school was founded in the reign of Henry VII. by Bishop Ruthal, but the endowment, together with that of two free schools, has been utilized by the Charity Commissioners to provide an upper school for boys in connection with the elementary schools. There are almshouses and other charities, and a cemetery, with two mortuary chapels, is about a mile from the town.

The town has a head post office, two railway stations, two banks, is a seat of petty sessions, and publishes a weekly newspaper. It is the headquarters of the Royal North Gloucestershire Militia, now the 4th battalion of the Gloucestershire regiment. Markets are held on Mondays, and fairs on Easter Monday and the first Monday of Aug., Sept., Oct., and Nov. Woollen manufacture was formerly extensive, but has greatly declined. The present trade is chiefly agricultural, but includes some cutlery. There is a large bacon-curing establishment, and also an iron foundry, a brewery, malting houses, and grist mills. The town sent two members to Parliament from the time of Elizabeth till 1867; from that date till 1885 it had one member; since 1885 it has been merged in a division of the county. Richard of Cirencester, who flourished in the latter part of the 14th century and wrote an account of Roman Britain, was a native; and the Duke of Portland takes from the town the title of Baron. The parish includes the tithings of Barton, Chesterton, and Wiggold. Acreage, 5286; population, 7521. Oakley Park, the seat of Earl Bathurst, adjoins the town. The mansion was erected by Henry, Earl of Danby, and passed in 1695 to Sir Benjamin Bathurst, whose son, the first Earl Bathurst, the friend of Pope, devoted much attention to laying out the fine park and woods of over 3000 acres in extent. The ancient high cross of Cirencester is erected in the park, which contains also the kennels of the Vale of White Horse Foxhounds; there is also a deer park. The living is a vicarage in the diocese of Gloucester and Bristol; net value, £250 with residence. Patron, the Bishop of Gloucester and Bristol.

Cirencester Parliamentary Division, or East Gloucestershire, was formed under the Redistribution of Seats Act, 1885, and returns one member to the House of Commons. Population, 53,341. The division includes the following:- Campden -Admington, Aston-sub-Edge, Chipping Campden, Clifford Chambers, Clopton, Cowhoneybourne, Dorsington, Ebrington, Hidcote Bartrim, Lark Stoke, Marston Sicca, Mickleton, Pebworth, Preston-on-Stour, Quinton, Saintbury, Welford, Weston-on-Avon, Weston-sub-Edge, Willersey; Moreton-in-Marsh -Batsford, Bourton-on-the-Hill, Lemington, Moreton-in-Marsh, Toddenham; Fairford -Bibury, Coin (St Aldwin's), Eastleach Martin, Eastleach Turville, Fairford, Hatherop, Kempsford, Lechlade, Maisey Hampton, Poulton, Quennington, Southrop; Stow -Addlestrop, Bledington, Bourton-on-the-Water, Broadwell, Clapton, Condicote, Donnington, Eyford, Great Barrington, Iccomb, Iccomb Church, Longborough, Maugersbury, Naunton and Harford, Notgrove, Oddington, Rissington (Great), Rissington (Little), Rissington Wick, Seasoncote, Slaughter (Lower), Slaughter (Upper), Stow-on-the-Wold, Swell (Lower), Swell (Upper), Westcote; Tetbury -Beverstone, Boxwell and Leighterton, Cherington, Didmarton, Kingscote, Newington Bagpath, Oldbury-on-the-Hill, Ozleworth, Shipton Moyne, Tetbury, Westonbirt and Lasborough; Northleach -Aldsworth, Aston Blank, Chedworth, Coin Rogers, Coin (St Denis), Compton Abdale, Dowdeswell, Eastington (tithing), Farmington, Hampnett, Hazleton, Little Barrington, Northleach, Salperton, Sevenhampton, Sherborne, Shipton Oliffe, Shipton Sollars, Stowell, Turkdean, Whittington, Windrush, Winson, Withington, Yanworth; Cirencester -Ampney Crucis, Ampney (St Mary), Ampney (St Peter), Bagendon, Barnsley, Baunton, Brimpsfield, Cerney (North), Cerney (South), Cirencester, Coates, Colesbourne, Daglingworth, Down-Ampney, Driffield, Dunsbourne Abbots and Lear, Dunsbourne Rouse, Edgeworth, Elkstone, Harnhill, Preston, Rendcomb, Rodmarton, Sapperton, Siddington, Stratton, Syde, Winstone.

Transcribed from The Comprehensive Gazetteer of England & Wales, 1894-5


The following is a list of the administrative units in which this place was either wholly or partly included.

Ancient CountyGloucestershire 
Ecclesiastical parishCirencester St. John the Evangelist 
HundredCrowthorne and Minety 
Poor Law unionCirencester 

Any dates in this table should be used as a guide only.

Church Records

The parish register of St. John the Baptist dates from the year 1560, but there is a lapse of four years from 1581: there is also a book containing the minutes of the vestry from 1586 to 1886.

The Gloucestershire Parish Registers are available online at Ancestry, in association with Gloucestershire Archives.


Church of England

Holy Trinity, Watermoor

The church of Holy Trinity at Watermoor, a chapel of ease to the parish church, erected in 1850, is an edifice in the Early English style, from designs by the late Sir G. G. Scott R.A. and consists of chancel, nave, aisles, north porch and a western tower with a light and graceful spire, containing 8 bells, hung in 1889, and a clock with chimes: a richly carved stone font was presented by Mrs. Sandys, and an organ was erected in 1893 at a cost of £400: there are 430 sittings.

St. John the Baptist (parish church)

The church of St. John the Baptist is a fine structure in the Early English, Early Decorated and Perpendicular styles, with traces of Norman work, and consists of chancel with one south and three north chapels, clerestoried nave of six bays, north aisle, with chapel, south porch or gate house and an embattled western tower of Perpendicular date, with pinnacles, and containing a peal of 13 bells, with a chiming apparatus, which strikes the quarters, and plays the 113th psalm at three, six, nine and twelve o'clock; in 1870 a clock was placed in the tower, the bells re-hung, and other improvements made, and in 1895 one bell was re-cast, and a new fire-bell, the gift of the Cirencester society in London, hung and so tuned as to be capable of making one of a second peal of eight hells: the nave, rebuilt in 1514, is Late Perpendicular, highly enriched, but the style is pure and not overloaded with ornament; there are six lofty arches on either side, supported on clustered columns; at the spring of the arches are figures bearing shields, with the armorial bearings of the various contributors to the work, mostly woolstaplers and inhabitants of the town: the tower opens to the nave by a fine arch: the east and west windows contain ancient glass, arranged about the year 1790 from detached pieces collected from various windows of the church, the designs being furnished by Samuel Lysons, the famous antiquary, and executed by a plumber of the town: the chancel is Early Decorated, the piers on the south side being very Early English: Trinity chapel, on the north side or the nave aisle, is a Perpendicular work, erected about 1440, and retains its altar steps and the sedilia, and on the wall is a curious painting in fresco, representing the martyrdom of St. Erasmus, with a singular list of the benefits to be derived from the worship of that holy saint, bishop and martyr: here also are several busts of the Bathurst family: St. Catherine's chapel, on the north side of the chancel, is narrow, but has a fine stone roof of fan tracery, taken from the Abbey church, and dates from 1508: on the wall to the right ot the altar is a representation of St. Catherine and other figures: the window has been filled with modern stained glass at the expense of Joseph Cripps esq. as a memorial of his family: northward of this is the chapel of St. Mary, 1440, and on the south side of the chancel is St. John's chapel, containing some good modern stained glass, and between which and the chancel is a short pillar with a foliated capital supporting an acute pointed arch in the Early English style, evidently part of a building much older than the nave or tower: at the south-east corner of the south aisle formerly stood a handsome carved oak screen inclosing the east end, or Jesus chapel, but now removed into the Lady chapel, to form a choir vestry: the fine three-storied porch or gate house, erected about 1500, has fan-traceried graining and pierced battlements with pinnacles; the upper story, lighted by three large windows, is used as a Town Hall, by the permission of the churchwardens: there are a number of curious brasses and some monuments, interesting as memorials of local families: the church was thoroughly restored in 1866-7, from designs by the late Sir G. G. Scott R.A. at a cost of about £14,000, and has since been decorated at a further cost of £2,500: the organ was built in 1896 at a cost of over £1,750, and placed in St. John the Baptist's chapel: the choir stalls, arranged by the late Sir G. G. Scott, outside the chancel arch, have been moved into the chancel, within the screen: there is a memorial window, erected in 1873, to Mrs. Cripps, and others to Mrs. F. Cripps, placed in 1877, and to Mr. F. Cripps, in 1888, and there is another to Allen Alexander, 6th and late Earl Bathurst, d. 1892: the communion plate includes two large chalices of the time of Edward VI.; two flagons of Queen Elizabeth's reign, dated respectively 1570 and 1576, and a covered cup, dated 1535, and surmounted by a crowned and sceptred falcon, the badge of Queen Anne Boleyn: the east end and reredos were restored and decorated in 1889, from designs by Mr. J. O. Scott: there are 1,498 sittings.


Baptist Chapel, Coxwell Street

Particular Baptist Chapel, Park Street


Congregational Chapel, Dyer Street

The Congregational chapel, in Dyer street, erected in place of the former chapel in Sheep street, is an edifice of stone in the Italian style, from designs by Mr. W. Gillbee Scott F.R.I.B.A. of London: in rear of the chapel is a long building, containing vestries, parlour, kitchen, large schoolroom, infants' school and class rooms: the total cost was about £5,200, and the chapel will seat 424 persons.


Primitive Methodist Chapel, Ashcroft

The Primitive Methodist chapel in Ashcroft is an edifice of red brick with stone facings, erected in 1896 at a cost of about £900, and will seat 250 persons.

Wesleyan Methodist Chapel, Gloucester Street

Society of Friends

Friends Meeting House, Thomas Street

Roman Catholic

St. Peter, Ashcroft

The Catholic church in Ashcroft, dedicated to St. Peter, and opened in February, 1896, is a building of stone in the Early English style: the altar, which is very handsome, was the work of Messrs. Boulton and Sons, of Cheltenham, and is designed in the style of the 13th century: there are 250 sittings.


Unitarian Chapel, Gosditch Street

Civil Registration

For general information about Civil Registration (births, marriages and deaths) see the Civil Registration page.

Directories & Gazetteers

We have transcribed the entry for Cirencester from the following:

Land and Property

The Return of Owners of Land in 1873 for Gloucestershire is available to browse.


Online maps of Cirencester are available from a number of sites:

Newspapers and Periodicals

The British Newspaper Archive have fully searchable digitised copies of the following newspapers covering Gloucestershire online:

Visitations Heraldic

The Visitation of the county of Gloucester, 1623 is available on the Heraldry page.

RegionSouth West
Postal districtGL7