Circling Cirencester

Finally. After many years thinking about it, I finally got to see Cirencester on this overcast and gloomy day. I had some leave due (actually I have a lot of leave due) so went to Gloucester on Tuesday and Cirencester today. I travelled via Cheltenham and it was a long drive with the 51 bus and. I finally reached the town around 45 minutes later. The bus runs once an hour so I planned for an initial 3 hour stay. The first problem being that inbound bus stop is not the same as the outbound and I really need to sort that out before I made too many plans.  

In my navigation I had not really planned too much, but top of my list was the very impressive church that I saw while looking around on the net, and that also would include graveyards, cemeteries and anything else inbetween. The map below more or less shows the town and the major attractions. But given my dodgy leg and hip I was not in a mood to walk too far from the closest bus stop. 

Once I had orientated myself I headed towards Castle Street which was where I would find the church. The tower is probably the tallest structure in the town so all I had to look was peer into the distance until I saw it.

Cirencester (often referred to as the Capital of the Cotswolds) was the second largest town in Britain during Roman times and was  known as Corinium Dobunnorum. Even in Roman times, there was a thriving wool trade and industry, which contributed to the growth of Corinium.  There are many Roman remains in the surrounding area, including several Roman villas near the villages of Chedworth and Withington. When a wall was built around the Roman city in the late 2nd century, it enclosed 240 acres (1 km²), making Corinium the second-largest city by area in Britain. The wool trade continued long after the Romans left and there is a lot of sheepish evidence to point to it.

“The Ram”, sculpted by Jill Tweed FRBS. Unveiled by Joanna Trollope 19/04/1997.

Once in Castle Street I spotted the church in the distance. And, as usual they were building a road in the middle of the street and the traffic was somewhat chaotic as the lanes merged and the area was bogged down with large 4×4’s.

The Church of St. John Baptist,  does not seem very big from this viewpoint, but the bulk of it is behind the building in the foreground. Make no mistake, it is a big church and supposedly the biggest parish church in Gloucestershire, although I suspect Tewkesbury Abbey may hold that title.  The War Memorial is slightly to the left of the building and looked small in relation to the church, but I was soon to discover that there was more to it than what I was seeing.  

The wall closest to the memorial has the names engraved on the side of it which really solved the problem of engraving all the names on the memorial. I have only posted the First World War Roll of Honour, and it takes 6 panels to list all of the casualties, whereas the only 2 are needed for the Second World War.

Just as I was about to open the door into the church my cell rang, ruining my mood instantly. I had to answer it or they would be disturbing me the whole morning. Once I had gotten rid of them I tried to retrace my steps but instead of finding the North Door I ended up in a South Door which led to the extensive churchyard behind the church. 

I did not see any CWGC headstones although that is not to say that there aren’t any private memorials in the churchyard.

I could not even guess what the oldest headstone here was, but I suspect that some may date back to the `1700’s. The churchyard was closed to burials in 1871. 

I followed the path until I came out at the church once again and found the North Door with its huge round handles and heavy clanking noises as I opened it. It was a very impressive door!  Like so many churches in the UK it has a long history that is often difficult to make sense of. It has also been extensively restored and rebuilt, but the church is medieval and is renowned for its perpendicular porch, fan vaults and merchants’ tombs. The chancel is the oldest part of the structure, and construction of the current church started in the 12th century on the site of an earlier,Saxon one. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Church_of_St._John_the_Baptist,_Cirencester)

The church is not to be confused with St Mary’s Abbey though as that is a totally different building altogether.  The image below is credited to Traveler100Cirencester StJohnBaptistChurch, resize, CC BY-SA 3.0..  Why did I not have that glorious sunshine?

Inside the building is large and very ornate and beautiful. 

The Lady Chapel

Chapel of St Catherine and St Nicholas

The High Altar

There are a lot of beautiful wall memorials and artifacts in the church, and trying to show them all here would be impossible. Many are placed very high up too and are impossible to get decent images of.  I may have to do a separate page about the church at a later date. 

Visually the church is amazing, and my time there had come to an end as my bladder was getting impatient. I headed outside, and eventually had to ask a food vendor where the closest loo was. He pointed back the way I had come, the implication being it was somewhere in the park next to the church. I was quite amazed to find that there was this large park and it seemed that there may have been some significance to the long gone Saint Mary’s Abbey. I explored a bit and found outlines in the grass from old foundations and stonework. An information board provided the answer. 

Computer generated artist’s impression of the Abbey as it may have looked in the 14th Century. (Image from Information sheet)

St Mary’s Abbey was consecrated in 1176 in the presence of Henry II, remaining until the Dissolution in 1539 when the Abbey was completely demolished. The only remaining building is the Norman Arch situated at the north-eastern corner of the grounds.

I had a look on Google Earth to see whether I could pick up any of the vague markings left behind today, and they do show an outline, but it is partly obscured by trees. Inside the church is a Lego model of the Abbey, a tantalising glimpse is all that is left of that ancient building.

It was time to end my ecclesiastical meandering and see what else was out there.  The buildings around me were all of a light stone and some were obviously very old. There were all these winding streets and nooks and crannies that needed investigating which really justifies a  return to here one day (preferably in sunlight).

I was hoping to see evidence of the Roman occupation but did not have a lot of time to poke around in far away areas. If I missed the last bus I would end up stuck so instead I chose a street and headed down it.

 

I may be wrong but I get the impression that it is a very “arts and crafty” type town and there are an abundance of trendy and charity shops in the many nooks and crannies. 

It had a recorded population of 63.5 households in 1086, putting it in the largest 20% of settlements recorded in Domesday, and is listed under 3 owners in Domesday Book

Domesday entries for Cirencester

Land of King William

  • Households: 31 villagers. 2 freemen. 10 smallholders. 13 slaves.
  • Ploughland: 5 lord’s plough teams. 12 men’s plough teams.
  • Other resources: 3 mills, value 1 pound 10 shillings.
  • Annual value to lord: 20 pounds 5 shillings in 1086; 9 pounds 5 shillings in 1066.
  • Tenant-in-chief in 1086King William.
  • Lord in 1086: King William.
  • Lord in 1066: King Edward.

Land of William son of Baderon

Unfortunately I missed the Roman Amphitheatre and Corinium Museum as well as the Norman Arch in Abbey Park. However they are worth remembering for a future trip.  I have not explored the town as much as I would have liked to, but sometimes a return is always a good idea. The town used to be on the railway but fell victim to the Beeching axe in the 1960’s. Buses run from Cheltenham (51) and Gloucester.  

My verdict? a very pretty town with beautiful buildings and lots of history, apparently the crime rate is quite high and I do not know how much work there is in the area. Its really a touristy place, but how liveable it is I do not know. The weight of ages hangs heavily over it,  and of course the loss of the Abbey is tragic. Return? definitely, but in better weather. 

DRW 2022. Created 26/05/2022.  The Open Domesday Project and the associated  images are kindly made available by Professor J.J.N. Palmer. Images are reused under a Creative Commons BY-SA licence.  Image of St John The Baptist by  Traveler100Cirencester StJohnBaptistChurch, resize, CC BY-SA 3.0..

Posted in Cheltenham, Churches and Cathedrals, Gloucestershire, Heritage, Hobbies and Interests, Memorials and Monuments, Personal, Photo Essay, Retrospective, United Kingdom, War Memorial | Tagged , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Circling Cirencester

Saint Oswald’s Priory, Gloucester.

On this slightly chilly day I headed out to Gloucester to have a look at St Oswald’s Priory as well as St Nicholas Church. The two were close to each other and so it was not too much of a walk to make. After I got to the bus station I headed across to the square that they had been busy digging in last time I was in town. Theoretically it is finished, but I cant help but comment: “It looks real good, but what does it do?” Those fancy seating arrangements look suspiciously like rolls of puff pastry to me.  The bed in the foreground has a layer of shells on it which was really quite strange to see. You don’t even need to go to the seaside to look for shells now. There is even fountain… but I only saw it working long enough to grab a pic.  They are however, still digging and chopping and I have no idea when they will finish. 

That’s St Nicholas Church in the distance and hopefully I would not get too distracted on my way there.  

On the left side of the street is the Gloucester County Council Shire Hall, and it is a wide building that does not fit in my lens.

High up on a wall on  the corner of a building opposite were a group of cherubs looking down on us mere mortals. An information board  underneath gave their history.

The church was situated in an awkward spot which was going to be problematic for photography. I was also ready to accept that it was probably closed too.

No sooner had I taken this pic when a small van came along and parked in front of the door, rendering any additional images impossible. Unfortunately the church was locked and I did not tarry in the hope that it would miraculously open itself. The church was closed in 1967 and declared redundant on 7 May 1971, and care then vested in the Churches Conservation Trust on 25 June 1975.

The church was built in or around 1190 and by 1203 it was known as “St. Nicholas of the Bridge at Gloucester”. It was largely rebuilt in the 13th century, retaining some of its earlier features. Further alterations were made in the 15th century, and the west tower and spire were added. The spire was originally 200 feet (61 m) high. The northeast vestry was extended in the 16th and 17th centuries but in 1643 during the Siege of Gloucester in the Civil War the spire suffered a direct hit by cannon fire. It was reduced in height and capped in 1783 by John Bryan. In 1865 the church was restored by John Jaques and Son, and it was repaired following a fire in 1901. The tower was stabilised in 1927, and between 1935 and 1938 the north aisle was rebuilt and the church was re-roofed.  (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St_Nicholas_Church,_Gloucester) 

A bit further up Archdeacon Street is the Church of St Mary De Lode, and it would prove to be a difficult one to get a complete pic of as it was surrounded by very large trees.  It is believed by some to be on the site of the first Christian church in Britain and it is a Grade I listed  building.  It has also been known as St. Mary Before the Gate of St. PeterSt. Mary Broad Gate and St. Mary De Port. The word “Lode” is from the old English word for water course or ferry. 

I walked a bit further to see what I could do about getting a better image and spotted a large memorial a few metres from the church so headed in that direction.

It turns out that the memorial is to Bishop John Roy Hooper (also Johan Hoper; c. 1495 – 9 February 1555). When I got home I did some reading about the Bishop and the reason for this memorial. 

Unfortunately way back in 1555 this was a place of death, and reading between the lines he probably offended quite a few people with  his beliefs and courage. And those who branded him a heretic were in it for all the wrong reasons. England has a bloody history and I am afraid that this memorial, surrounded by trees and old buildings is a sign of what was done before.  

The best I could do with St Mary De Lode came from the another angle, but it was really overshadowed by the John Roy Hooper Memorial.

And then I returned to my original course and the priory was in site! 

St Oswald’s Priory (Or what is left of it)

To be frank all that is left is an ancient wall with windows and stones. However, the history behind it is interesting on it’s own.

The priory was founded by Æthelflæd, daughter of Alfred the Great, and her husband Æthelred, ealdorman of Mercia, in the late 880s or the 890s. 

Text from information board at the priory (new tab 1025 x 748)

I found a number of headstones around the ruins, but legibility on all of them was very poor.

And that concluded my brief look at St Oswald’s Priory. It was a friendly set of ruins though, and very peaceful inspite of the traffic passing by on one side. But, realistically there is not much to see. How much is there underneath is another story altogether.  It was time to head off to the Cathedral which is within easy walking distance from the priory. 

As you can see in the pic, the weather was changing all the time, and while it hadn’t rained yet I had a sneaky feeling that rain was not too far off  although the weather forecast had been favourable for my trip today.  I had no real plans for photography at the cathedral as I had photographed it before, but I had time to kill and I enjoy these beautiful buildings. 

They were holding a “Corgi Trail” at the cathedral, which does explain some of the strange plushies that I spotted scattered around it. Had I known about it at the time I would have gone ahunting. As it is I photographed 3.  

“King Edwoof II” (Tomb of Edward II)

“Abbess Kynbarker” (Statue of Abbess Kyneburga)

“Susan, the Queen’s first Corgi” (Processional Cross)

and outside the cathedral, on a red pillar-box was this very impressive display.

I am amazed at how talented those crochet hook wielders are.  Congratulations to them on a job well done.

It was time to find lunch before setting off for home. I was tired and had had a surprisingly educational morning. At the bus-station I photographed the section of Roman ruins that was on display. 

The stones were part of a large Roman building which once stood near this spot. When the transport hub was being built, archaeologists found the stone walls of the building about 2 metres below the current floor level. Most of the building still remains below the transport hub which was built so as to leave the ruins largely undisturbed.  

The story of Bishop Hooper struck me as a an example that had the exact opposite effect to what was intended. Nobody really remembers those who accused the bishop of heresy, but the death of the Bishop is still commemorated so many centuries later. But long before the Christian church dominated the scene, the Romans dominated the landscape. Both have left their marks on the city of Gloucester. 

DRW 2022. Created 24/05/2022. Some information is from info boards in various parts of Gloucester.  

Posted in Cemetery, Churches and Cathedrals, Gloucester, Gloucestershire, Heritage, Hobbies and Interests, Memorials and Monuments, Personal, Photo Essay, Retrospective, United Kingdom | Tagged , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Saint Oswald’s Priory, Gloucester.