The Parish Church

The most striking feature of the Market Place is the magnificent parish church, one of the largest in the country. It is one of the great 'wool' churches of the Cotswolds, so called because it was built from the prosperity based on the wool trade.

The long lines of the nave, the highly decorated three-storey porch and the soaring tower make it hard to believe that this began as a workaday parish church at the gate, as it were, of the huge Abbey and buildings which occupied the land alongside the Market Place. These buildings have sadly disappeared, as has the Saxon church which stood on the site before the Abbey.

The church porch stands right on the pavement, amongst the shoppers and bus queues, hiding the old, quiet churchyard behind the frontage of the Market Place. 

However, the porch itself is sufficient separation from the noise and bustle, being so large that it is more of an approach than a porch. It was added to the parish church in 1500 and the upper storeys were added to serve as office chambers for the abbot and the town. [After the dissolution the upper chambers were used as the Town Hall a name officially granted in 1630 and used by some to day.] 

It is constructed in the highly developed, yet strict, perpendicular style of the time, finished with pinnacles and decorated parapet at the same height as the nave roof. Inside, the stone roof of the porch is worked in sturdy fan tracery. No other church in the country has a similar porch.

Entering the church, the height and breadth of the great nave is noticeable; the lines are strict and clean. This is early-16th-century work, altering and raising an earlier nave. Above the tall chancel arch is a window of seven lights, which carries the eye up, illuminating the dark roof. These windows over the chancel arch are features peculiar to Cotswold wool churches.

The nave is stately and open, but beyond is a complexity of chapels, rich in historical content, notable brasses and intricate carvings on tombs and windows. In the detail of their construction and alteration over five centuries they show the history of the church from the first Norman rebuilding on the Anglo-Saxon foundation. The base of the short, broad pillar on the south arch of the chancel is Roman, probably a local find by medieval builders.

The pulpit is a delicate chalice of wineglass shape, worked in open stone tracery, decorated in soft tones of red and green. It is one of the very few pre-Reformation pulpits in the country, dating from the 15th century.

The great tower rises above the west end of the church. Perhaps more graceful than sturdy, it needed two flying buttresses to support it before the building was finished.

These now form part of the complex and fascinating appearance of the church. The tower adds richness to nearly every street in the town, for in the old days the streets were aligned with it.

The climb up the spiral staircase passes the door of the ringing chamber and the gate of the bell chamber which can prove quite an experience at 12 noon. The peal of 12 bells was cast by Rudhall of Gloucester, and is the oldest peal of 12 in England, some say in the world. The bells were re-hung in 1985 at a lower level to reduce stresses in the tower, at a cost of over £75,000 raised by public subscription.

The climb up the spiral staircase passes the door of the ringing chamber and the gate of the bell chamber which can prove quite an experience at 12 noon. The peal of 12 bells was cast by Rudhall of Gloucester, and is the oldest peal of 12 in England, some say in the world. The bells were re-hung in 1985 at a lower level to reduce stresses in the tower, at a cost of over £75,000 raised by public subscription.

The carillon was converted to electric winding and the Town Council's clock housed in the tower was similarly converted. The clock was completely overhauled, since it had run from 1873, when it was installed, without any but routine maintenance. It has now been given to the church.

Among the objects on display in the church is a silver-gilt chalice which once belonged to Queen Anne Boleyn, second wife of King Henry VIII.

Out on the tower, beneath the weathercock, there is one of the finest views of the town, the park and the surrounding countryside. In fact, it is the only vantage point providing a panoramic view of the shape of the town, the Abbey Grounds and the pattern of the roads. All the green space from the churchyard wall below to the distant stream was donated to the Urban District Council in 1965, after 750 years of monastic and private ownership.

This church, well worth a visit, is open for viewing from 10.00am to 5.00pm daily, and on Sundays, except during services and at lunchtime. Guided tours are available with adequate prior arrangement. School parties are also welcome. Nearby in Dollar Street is the vicarage, together with a church coffee and book-shop and the parish office.

The church has developed the adjacent former Unitarian church building to provide town centre meeting facilities for church and community use. The tower is not open to the public at all times, but guided tours are sometimes arranged. (Details can be obtained from the Parish Office.)

For further information contact: The Parish Office, Coxwell Street, Cirencester, Glos., GL7 2BQ. Tel: 01285 659317. Email: pocsc@tiscali.co.uk


The Roman Amphitheatre

West of the town, and now separated from it by the ring road, are the fine remains of the Roman amphitheatre. This is one of the best preserved in Britain - the large oval arena with its twin entrances and sloping earthen banks is plainly visible amongst the disturbed landscape of the Querns area which was used as a stone quarry throughout the Roman and later periods.

Sports and other mass entertainments were held in the amphitheatre, which was built early in the 2nd century as part of a grand scheme of Roman town planning. At its best, it was decorated in imported marble and marble-effect plasterwork, handsome stone gateways and stone stairways. The seating is thought to have probably been made of wood.

After the Roman period it was variously used as a defended campsite, an area for quartering armies, a king's temporary palace; the stone was recycled as with most of the building materials in the old Roman town. Locally it is still often referred to as the Bull Ring which may indicate a later use still.

New efforts are being made to once again use the theatre for gatherings and performances.

The amphitheatre is best approached from Sheep Street and Querns Hill into Cotswold Avenue. A leaflet and map are available from the Corinium Museum.


Cirencester Lock Up

Situated in the grounds of the Cotswold District Council offices in Trinity Road is the old town lock-up, now restored and open to visitors. This tiny two-cell building represents a part of Cirencester's history now largely forgotten, but the building itself is listed as of historical and architectural interest and has a distinctive domed roof shape which gave rise to its local name of 'the dumping house'.

The lock-up was built early in the 19th century and used for the overnight detention of wrong-doers in the days before the police force was established. In 1837 it was moved stone by stone to its present site to form part of the new town workhouse opened in that year. These buildings were refurbished some years ago as the District Council Offices, but it is still possible to appreciate the scale and something of the character of the old workhouse.

The Council's museum service looks after the building and has installed a sequence of displays to show the history of lock-ups in the county and also the workhouse itself; additional displays include the conservation work and refurbishment of historic buildings by local authorities in the district. Access to the lock-up is at no charge and a key is obtainable on request, during normal office hours, at the Trinity Road reception. A booklet is obtainable from the museum.


Cirencester's Living Memory Historical Association

Cirencester has had connections with the military ever since Roman times and conflicts such as the Norman Conquest, Wars of the Roses and the English Civil War impinged on the Town's history and left their mark.  In more recent times the 1st and 2nd World Wars were no less influential. 

A glance at the War memorials in Sheep street and on the South Porch of the Parish Church bear witness to the local inhabitants who gave their lives in both wars.   There is perhaps more tangible evidence of the 2nd World War to be seen as there were over 34 military establishments within 12 miles of the town including many airfields and a number of military hospitals. 

There are those of course who still personally remember the times from both military and civilian perspective.  However as their numbers diminish these memories fade and much historical evidence is lost.

In order to preserve as much as possible of this period, over twenty years ago the Living Memory Historical Association was established.  As a registered charity the LMHA has through its voluntary members established a centre in the Old Memorial Hospital Annexe and the Hospital Air Raid Shelter in Sheep Street.  Each year the LMHA presents an exhibition from May until October of "Life in the Cotswolds in World War Two".  

The Air Raid Shelter houses a display based on the military and medical services, while in rooms in the former Hospital Annexe there are displays based on ordinary civilian life and the civilian services, Home Guard etc.  LMHA volunteers also go out all year round giving talks to interested groups and work closely with schools within Gloucestershire and further afield.

Exhibition Details: The exhibition Life in the Cotswolds in World War Two is in the Old Memorial Hospital, Sheep Street, adjacent to the Sheep Street Car Park with pedestrian access to the rear of Tesco Metro off Cripps Road. (for sat nav GL71QW). 

It opens every Saturday from May until October from 10.30am to 4.30pm.  Other times and days for school and group visits can be arranged.  Admission is free with donations welcomed. For further details Tel: 01285-655650 or visit the website:  www.livingmemory.btik.com