CCS Snapshots of Local History: Cirencester’s Intriguing Street Names

Gloucester Street without car traffic!

There’s no doubt that Cirencester has its fair share of fascinating street and place names, which tell their own story in the town’s history. It’s over 30 years now since Richard Tomkins self-published his little book on the Street Names of Cirencester (Redbrick Publishing, 1987). Now out-of-print alas but if you can do lay hands on a second-hand copy as it is a mine of information and a good summary of all known street names up to the time of publication. There have of course been plenty more names to be added since then. In this short article we’ll make good use of Richard’s work and so acknowledge it properly here.

Some street names are obvious. The main through routes do what they say. No prizes for guessing the direction of Gloucester Street or Cricklade Street, which together from medieval times formed the town’s main historic north-south route right through the centre. These streets are much more domestic in scale now, and Cirencester has a ring-road and a by-pass to take the traffic of today.

Many of the most interesting names have a long history, usually associated with particular places or local activities. Gloucester Street was previously St Lawrence Street, after St Lawrence’s leper hospital founded on the corner of Barton Lane in the 13th century, becoming almshouses a century later. Other names in this northern part of the old town have pedigrees almost as long.

Around the corner is Gooseacre Lane where a water meadow beside the River Churn was recorded in 1540 as Goss Acre, ‘a field frequented by geese’. This now short cul-de-sac once had much greater significance as it marked the point where the old road up the east side of the Churn valley towards Baunton, North Cerney and beyond left the town. When the new Cheltenham turnpike was built in the 1820s this old line was abandoned.

Geese crop up again nearer the town centre, in Gosditch Street, where these same routes left the town centre via West Market Place and then along Dollar Street. Part of the drainage for all that was ‘a ditch frequented by geese’, hence the place names ‘Goguesdich’ in c.1150 and ‘Gosedichestrete’ in 1540. This is only a short stretch, quickly becoming Dollar Street heading north. Here the influence of the adjoining medieval Abbey of St Mary makes its presence felt. The name first appears in the 13th century as a corruption of Dole-hall or dole-hole, a place on the street where the Abbey community would ‘dole out’ charitable gifts to the poor and needy. This former entrance to the Abbey was called Dolehall or Almery; in degraded form it survives today.

Similar links give us Spitalgate Lane, again not far away. This too is a link with Cirencester’s charitable community activities, in this case St. John’s Hospital (hence ’spital’), founded in 1168-9 and still surviving as an ancient monument.

The location is important, just outside the abbey precinct but right by the site of the north gate of the Roman town. In later years Spitalgate Lane was an important exit point from the town, and remains so today.

Back in the town centre, the Market Place is an obvious focus with its long history (but it is not a Square!), from which Dyer Street leads off as the most prominent and busy route. Originally called Chepyng Street (from ‘ceap’ or market), livestock sales and a wool market were held here. The name was recorded in 1348, meaning a street where cloth dyers worked, although another possible origin is that a 14th century wool-merchant, Richard le Dyere, had premises here making this one of several town streets named after a specific individual.

By David Viner

Cirencester Archaeological & Historical Society


Cirencester Civic Society


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