14 Sep Planning History: Cirencester

Upon the creation of a Roman town such as Cirencester, commissioners and surveyors meticulously took charge in planning both the grid of the urban space and what was known as the ‘centuriation’ across the countryside. The squares of this grid were then subdivided and allocated amongst the new settlers of the town.

If we look at Cirencester as an example, it is noticeable that the local plan as it existed in Roman Times is still very much visible from aerial surveys. If we actually seek to examine the north-south lines running parallel between Watermoor Road, Tower Street, Bingham Close, Carpenters Lane, Purley Road, Victoria Road it is consistently noticeable that a distance of 20 actus or multiples of falls between them. Essentially it is a Roman landscape that has in various fundamental ways been predominantly unchanged for the past 2000 years.

Historically in itself this is fairly rare as within most British towns and cities of a medieval origin a distinct ‘cartwheel’ pattern exists displaying a clear movement away from the Roman settlement pattern. Many Roman settlements such as Cirencester were consequently deserted following the fall of the Roman empire between the fourth and fifth century AD, in favour of wooded settlements removed from the centuriation plans. However, some limited settlement in Cirencester did remain, given that it had been an important provincial capital within the empire.

One indicator to look for within Cirencester as to whether a specific area remained settled as per the original Roman town plan following the fall of the empire is often whether the street or area in question continues to retain a Roman name to this day, a fact that has been attested by many scholars on meta-analysis of chronological finds. Perhaps the most obvious example within modern Cirencester would be “The Forum.”

This is not to imply of course that Cirencester was immune from what would later be considered the Saxon and Medieval ‘castle-isation’ of villages. Castle, as per Castle street, is in itself a word with origins in the ninth century and actually replaced the roman term ‘villa’ for many of the agglomerations that represented present day villages.

Cirencester was gradually reborn following Saxon settlement in the 6th century, in planning terms Saxon Cirencester was only loosely based upon remnants of historical Roman structures, and the Saxons themselves had little regard for the intricacies of town or village planning, often favouring wooded settlements, as opposed to the formative ‘townships’ constructed by Rome.

In Cirencester specifically the planned estates of Roman times survived with much of its old organisation and population and provided the nuclei around which later manors such as the Bathurst Estate would grow. Within Cirencester the abbey is of Medieval, and Anglo-Saxon origin, whilst the Ampitheatre and Corinium museum display some of the most prominent Roman remains.

To this day many Roman remains continue to be regularly found within Cirencester, most commonly towards the Bathurst estate where a recent ‘Time-Team’ episode featured an excavation around Bathurst. It is for this reason that all significant new planning developments within the town often require extensive archaeological reports as part of any planning application to Cotswold District Council.