The history of Cirencester

Posted: 25/04/2019 By: Cheryl Webber

Widely regarded as the Capital of the Cotswolds, Cirencester is abundant in historical artefacts and architectural remnants – many of which are still in use today. There are innumerable stories hidden behind the historic Cotswold limestone, with its honey-like colour providing the town with a distinctive flavour of local provenance.

Cirencester’s history is a long one, having begun as a settlement following the Romans’ successful invasion of Britain in 43AD. The Claudian invasion marked the year that the Romans built a fort in the area, with the knock-on effect that civilians soon built up a settlement outside of the fort, using the shadow of the stronghold as a safe place in which to trade. Thanks to the Romans societal dominance, the fort eventually outlived its usefulness and was torn down in 75AD. Despite this, the settlement continued to flourish and Corinium (the Roman name for Cirencester) rose to prominence as the second largest town in Britain, after London.

The gradual decline of Roman rule in Britain occurred in the 4th century, with Cirencester’s influence diminishing alongside as, with the money generated by the town’s garrison no longer there, more and more of the town’s population dispersed into the countryside.

In the late 6th century with Roman influence long gone, the much-reduced settlement of Cirencester came under the dominion of the Saxons who had been invading South East England. At this time, Cirencester was simply a collection of wooden huts, but with the wool trade prominent in the area, the town began to grow once more, becoming a central hub for the surrounding areas.


Built in the 2nd century AD at the height of Roman rule, the Ampitheatre was originally created for sports – which included gladiatorial games, wrestling, animal fighting and even executions. Today, the banks that can still be seen mark the area where tiers of seats once stood. Historians estimate that, when combined with the area for standing spectators, the amphitheatre catered to a capacity of around 8,000. Given the town population at the time was only around 10,000 – this shows just how popular a pastime attending events at the amphitheatre was for the people of the time.

Cirencester Abbey

Another marker of history in the heart of Cirencester, the abbey was founded in the 12th century by Henry I. A significant event for the town, Cirencester effectively came under the rule of the abbey, with its abbot dubbed Lord of the Manor of Cirencester. With England broken up into ‘manors’ during the Middle Ages, the Lord of the Manor controlled influence within the town. As Cirencester increased in population and wealth, funds were donated to expand the church, with its authority continuing to grow before Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries saw the abbey’s disbandment in the 16th century.

While the original abbey buildings were demolished, today you can visit the abbey grounds – a lovely green space, which includes impressive trees, a lake and even a section of Roman wall.

Kings Head, Cirencester

The Kings Head Hotel itself can be counted amongst the wealth of history that Cirencester offers. Life in the Kings Head can be traced as far back as the 14th century, where it was used as a coaching inn, and was owned by Robert Strange of Cirencester – thought to be the High Sheriff of Gloucester – in 1550. After his death, the Kings Head was passed on to his great grandson, Robert Strange of Somerford Keynes. Strange passed away in 1654, and is commemorated by a large marble monument in the village church.

While that’s a brief overview, there’s so much more history to discover within Cirencester’s cobbled streets. If you’re planning to embark on a tranquil Cotswold getaway, why not stay with us at Kings Head? To find out more, click here.

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