1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Cirencester

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21539121911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 6 — Cirencester

CIRENCESTER (traditionally pronounced Ciceter), a market town in the Cirencester parliamentary division of Gloucestershire, England, on the river Churn, a tributary of the Thames, 93 m. W.N.W. of London. Pop. of urban district (1901) 7536. It is served by a branch of the Great Western railway, and there is also a station on the Midland and South-Western Junction railway. This is an ancient and prosperous market town of picturesque old houses clustering round a fine parish church, with a high embattled tower, and a remarkable south porch with parvise. The church is mainly Perpendicular, and among its numerous chapels that of St Catherine has a beautiful roof of fan-tracery in stone dated 1508. Of the abbey founded in 1117 by Henry I. there remain a Norman gateway and a few capitals. There are two good museums containing mosaics, inscriptions, carved and sculptured stones, and many smaller remains, for the town was the Roman Corinium or Durocornovium Dobunorum. Little trace of Corinium, however, can be seen in situ, except the amphitheatre and some indications of the walls. To the west of the town is Cirencester House, the seat of Earl Bathurst. The first Lord Bathurst (1684–1775) devoted himself to beautifying the fine demesne of Oakley Park, which he planted and adorned with remarkable artificial ruins. This nobleman, who became baron in 1711 and earl in 1772, was a patron of art and literature no less than a statesman; and Pope, a frequent visitor here, was allowed to design the building known as Pope’s Seat, in the park, commanding a splendid prospect of woods and avenues. Swift was another appreciative visitor. The house contains portraits by Lawrence, Gainsborough, Romney, Lely, Reynolds, Hoppner, Kneller and many others. A mile west of the town is the Royal Agricultural College, incorporated by charter in 1845. Its buildings include a chapel, a dining hall, a library, a lecture theatre, laboratories, classrooms, private studies and dormitories for the students, apartments for resident professors, and servants’ offices; also a museum containing a collection of anatomical and pathological preparations, and mineralogical, botanical and geological specimens. The college farm comprises 500 acres, 450 of which are arable; and on it are the well-appointed farm-buildings and the veterinary hospital. Besides agriculture, the course of instruction at the college includes chemistry, natural and mechanical philosophy, natural history, mensuration, surveying and drawing, and other subjects of practical importance to the farmer, proficiency in which is tested by means of sessional examinations. The industries of Cirencester comprise various branches of agriculture. It has connexion by a branch canal with the Thames and Severn canal.

Corinium was a flourishing Romano-British town, at first perhaps a cavalry post, but afterwards, for the greater part of the Roman period, purely a civilian city. At Chedworth, 7 m. N.E., is one of the most noteworthy Roman villas in England. Cirencester (Cirneceaster, Cyrenceaster, Cyringceaster) is described in Domesday as ancient demesne of the crown. The manor was granted by William I. to William Fitzosbern; on reverting to the crown it was given in 1189, with the township, to the Augustinian abbey founded here by Henry I. The struggle of the townsmen to prove that Cirencester was a borough 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 in 1343 the townsmen declared in a chancery bill of complaint that Cirencester was a borough distinct from the manor, belonging to the king but usurped by the abbot, who since 1308 had abated their court of provostry. Accordingly they produced a copy of a forged charter from Henry I. to the town; the court ignored this and the abbot obtained a new charter and a writ of supersedeas. For their success 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. These were confirmed in 1408–1409 and 1413; in 1418 the charter 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. Cirencester became a parliamentary borough in 1572, returning two members, but was deprived of representation in 1885. Besides the “new market” of Domesday Book the abbots obtained charters in 1215 and 1253 for fairs during the octaves of All Saints and St Thomas the Martyr. The wool trade gave these great importance; in 1341 there were ten wool merchants in Cirencester, and Leland speaks of the abbots’ cloth-mill, while Camden calls it the greatest market for wool in England.

See Transactions of the Bristol and Gloucestershire Archaeological Society, vols. ii., ix., xviii.