With contributions from members of Cirencester Civic Society
St Thomas’s Hospital or Weavers’ Hall, Cirencester
Weavers’ Hall, Thomas Street, Cirencester is one of four charitable organisations providing almshouse accommodation in Cirencester. The working name of the charity is the Weavers’ Company owing to its historical connection to the weaving industry.
This charity is the smallest of the almshouse charities in the town. It owns just the one building, Weavers’ Hall, which contains two dwellings. Its founder was Sir William Nottingham who in his Will dated 1st September 1483 recorded the fact he had recently built a house in “Batel Strete” (now Thomas Street) for the use of four poor weavers.
Recently, the roof timbers have been dendrochronologically tested to reveal that they date back to about 1476. This ties in nicely with what is set out in the Will. The Weavers’ Hall is therefore shown to be by far the oldest building in Cirencester still in current use as an almshouse.
Sir William Nottingham’s father, also William Nottingham, was a clothier in the town and is known to have been one of a number of men who attempted to resist moves by Cirencester Abbey to restrict townspeoples’ trading rights. His son was, by all accounts, a man of considerable wealth and of note both within the county and nationally. He rose to become Chief Baron of the Exchequer and a member of the King’s Council. His Will provided for his burial in what is now Gloucester Cathedral and records confirm he also gave lands for the erection of a chantry within that building.
The charity has been administered from the outset by members of the Weavers’ Company whose function was originally to regulate the weaving trade in the town. Minute Books survive as far back as 1580 containing an unbroken record of meetings since that time. The Company were accustomed at one time to hold their annual meetings in the Hall. Their successors, as trustees, continue to administer the trust although their connection with the weaving trade ended long ago.
Weavers’ Hall is a Grade II* listed building and is generally recognised as the oldest domestic building still used for that purpose in Cirencester. It is currently divided into two dwellings but indications are it was of a medieval hall construction open to the rafters. There are signs of smoke blackening to the rafters which supports this theory. The rooms on the ground floor are separated by a central passageway panelled with plank and muntin screens believed to date back to the 17th century.
The building contains other interesting features including a statue above the main door believed to be of medieval origin inserted after the erection of the building and thought to depict St Michael and the Dragon. It has been recently protected against the ravages of modern pollution. There are paintings on one of the internal end walls of the building depicting the Royal Coat of Arms of James I and dated 1606 partly overlaid by one painted a century later depicting the Coat of Arms of Queen Anne. Until the 1960s these paintings were open to the room but they were then protected by a covering. They have recently been further stabilized and conserved, strongly supported with grants from the K D Winstone Charitable Trust in the town.
Michael Ralston, Senior Warden to the charity