19th Century to the Present Day
Various attempts to keep the textile trade going were attempted, such as the carpet factory in Gloucester Street (which closed by 1842), but change was inevitable as machinery was introduced to production elsewhere. Some textile manufacture did continue into the 1880s.
The growth, in the first instant, of the edge-tool manufacture - making knives and agricultural implements - was very successful but gave way, by the 1880s, to the railway engineering works in Watermoor. Here running-gear - wheels and axles - and coaches were made for a while to support the two rail companies that set up services from 1841. The new faster form of transport caused the rundown of the canals. In 1882 the GWR (Great Western Railway company) bought the last of the canal companies.
In 1800 the population of about 4,000 was still quite modest with the town still confined to an area half the size of the Roman town. By 1837 it was expanding and had reached 6,000.
Business still maintained some wealth for the few but, as elsewhere, overcrowding and poor sanitation were rife. The next generation took the first big step towards serious change. The lord of the manor, the Earl of Bathurst, and Miss Jane Master, owner of the Abbey Estate, combined with others to improve the town by setting up a Commission.
From its beginnings in 1825 until its role was taken over by the Cirencester Local Board in 1876 (itself later replaced by the Urban District Council), the Commissioners worked to improve the living and working conditions of the town's now rapidly expanding population created by the arrival of the railway.
Over the centuries temporary market stalls had gradually been replaced by more permanent structures and buildings until by the early 19th century the area in front of and adjacent to the church porch was tightly packed with groups of houses and shops in Shoe Lane, Butter Row, Butcher Row and The Shambles. These were removed from about 1830 and the area opened up to give the wide market place which exists today. Drains and sewers were dug, open watercourses were culverted, paving stones were laid, street cleaners were employed, and regular policemen were appointed to control law and order.
The first gasometer was built in Watermoor in 1833 and gas lights replaced oil lights in the streets, with the lamplighter taking up his duties as dusk fell. Mains water was not installed until 1872 (in time to prevent the disastrous fire of April 1890 in Coxwell and Park Street which would have been much more damaging in the absence of mains water).
In 1841 a branch railway line was opened to Kemble to provide a link to the Great Western Railway at Swindon. The station building, designed by Brunel, still stands, opposite the original Corinium Museum building in Tetbury Road. The Midland & South Western junction Railway also had a station and extensive locomotive works at Watermoor, opened in 1883. In this way, from then until 1963, Cirencester was served by two railway lines, providing passenger and freight links to all points of the compass. By 1847 the town centre improvements had removed the cattle market from the centre of the town to a purpose-built market a short distance west of the GWR station (on the present site of the Leisure Centre).
The cultural life of the town expanded and a number of clubs and institutions were started. A public subscription library was opened in 1835. The Wilts & Gloucestershire Standard newspaper, which had started life in Malmesbury in 1837, moved to Cirencester in 1840 and soon developed a wide circulation. The writer Richard Jefferies was once a local reporter here, and vigorous campaigns to extend the franchise and improve the town's facilities were fully reported in its pages.
By the mid-19th century, cloth and edge tool manufacture in the town had almost ceased, but trade in corn and cheese continued and a new covered market hall, the Corn Hall, was built in the Market Place, opening in 1863 replacing the old Booth Hall, the site of the former wool trading.
The growing population of the town necessitated the building of a second church, and in 1850 Sir Gilbert Scott built Holy Trinity Church at Watermoor. A similar increase in people attending non-conformist chapels led to new places of worship for Baptists, Methodists and Congregationalists; the Roman Catholic Church was built on the former Ashcroft Estate in 1896.
Private benefactors included most notably Daniel George Bingham who funded the building of the Bingham Library, opened in 1905 and the Bingham Hall which was opened in 1908.
In 1894 the passing of the Local Government Act brought into existence Cirencester's first independent elected body, the Urban District Council. For three years meetings were held in the former town hall above the church porch, but in 1897 the Council moved to premises in Castle Street before transferring to Gosditch Street in 1932. Local government reorganisation in 1974 led to the demise of the Urban District Council, replaced by the present two-tier system of Cotswold District Council and Cirencester Town Council. The District Council occupies the former Union Workhouse in Trinity Road, while the Town Council has its offices in Dyer House in Dyer Street.
During the 20th Century there were many changes and considerable town expansion. Housing development has extended the town's boundaries, with residential areas on almost all approaches to the town. Only from the west does the extensive area of Cirencester Park (itself a Grade One parkland) provide a buffer.
Early development of land at The Whiteway was followed by The Mead and Bowling Green areas in 1933, and the Chesterton estate in 1938. After the Second World War, building on the Beeches Estate began, and in the early 1970's redevelopment of land at Watermoor, and the former Abbey Estate in the old Abbey grounds extended the housing provision within the town. More recently estates on the periphery have extended the town's limits even further.
Commercial development is centred on designated land at Love Lane, which was an early example of a business park, while within the town a real attempt has been made to provide sympathetic office space within listed buildings. Most recently some accommodation has reverted to residential with the increasing demand for smaller and affordable units. 2009 has seen the start of new developments at Kingshill, the London Road and Watermoor.
Public services and facilities both within and around the town centre include a Police Station and Magistrate's Court in South Way, a Leisure Centre off the Tetbury Road, a refurbished Museum in Park Street and a single-site Hospital at The Querns. Edge-of-town shopping, and college and school facilities also serve the needs of the community.
Transport links have changed dramatically in recent years. The loss of canal and rail links has led to a total dependence on road transport. An inner ring road system was completed in 1975 in an attempt to reduce town-centre congestion, and has now been augmented by an outer bypass with the dualling of the A417. Within the town centre car parks have been developed.
But it is not all tarmac and concrete. Cirencester residents and visitors can enjoy the green lungs provided by the open spaces and parks which survive within the town in the Abbey Grounds, St Michael's Park and Cirencester Park; further plans to open access to areas of woodland following the original path of the Whiteway are in process. These are reminders not only of the town's interesting history but also of individuals and benefactors who over the years have added to its public amenities.
A last word on street names, which are as fascinating in Cirencester as in many historic towns. Shoe Lane may have gone, but there is still Dollar Street (Dole Hall Street after the almshouse gate of the medieval abbey) and Coxwell Street, named after the Coxwell family, 17th-century clothiers who lived there (and formerly Abbot Street). Round the corner is Black Jack Street, the origins of which are still in dispute. A favourite explanation is the alignment of the street with the former statue of St John which, soot-blackened (hence Black Jack), was removed from its niche high up in the church tower in 1963 for safety reasons. Another origin for the name is from the nickname for recycled leather tankards used to dispense beers which were often discarded on the street. There are plenty more such stories to be unearthed in a wander around the town.