A day out in Cirencester

A prosperous past of markets and trading has made this gem of the south west a magnet for history lovers and shoppers alike, finds Anthony Burton.

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There are few market towns that can claim quite such a long history as Cirencester. They were holding wool markets when it was the Roman town of Corinium Dobunnorum and a market here is recorded in Domesday Book in 1086. The records show that one Tuscan wool merchant’s agent came here in 1397 and bought almost 40,000lb Cotswold wool to send back to Italy.

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Today the market place is still the heart of the town, with stalls selling a rich variety of products and produce every Monday and Friday, and a Farmers’ Market on the 2nd and 4th Saturday morning of each month. Historically, it is the wool trade that brought great prosperity to the town and the citizens used it to build a truly magnificent church at the end of the market place. It’s great glory is the beautifully ornamented south porch, rising a majestic three storeys high.

Given the wealth of the town, it is no surprise that by wandering down any of the streets that wind away from the market place, one finds a rich variety of fine buildings, many of which relate to the wool trade. The oldest are the medieval Weavers Hall in Thomas Street and St. Laurence’s Almshouses for poor widows in Gloucester Street, founded in the reign of Edward III. Apart from the religious buildings, the merchants built some grand houses for themselves, right through the 17th and 18th centuries. For anyone with a taste for old buildings, Cirencester is pure delight.

For those with more immediate concerns, like all market towns there is no shortage of excellent pubs and restaurants to choose from. You might prefer to go outside the town for a picnic, in which case a visit to the Corn Market will bring you to a handy group of three shops – baker, deli and wine merchant. And you won’t have to go far to enjoy your meal.

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You can walk straight out of town on the west side into Cirencester Park, open to the public for free thanks to the generosity of the Bathurst Estate. There is a grand Broad Avenue running for a full five miles, with an array of rides running off to all the points of the compass. There is woodland and parkland, and a collection of follies, including the sham castle, known as Alfred’s Hall. Or you can head out along the road towards Tetbury and visit the grassed over remains of the Roman amphitheatre. Cirencester really does have something for everyone.